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Manor Farm Stevington

 Manor Farm 1960 [Z49/66c]
Manor Farm 1960 [Z49/66c]

The old Manor House, seat of Stevington Manor, and possible site of Stevington Castle, was demolished in 1872 and a new farmhouse - Manor Farm built in 1875, with farm buildings being constructed on the site of the old Manor House. The farmhouse, now called Stevington Manor, is faced in ashlar stone and comprises two storeys and attics. Two gables project to front and rear. There are two stone ridge chimney stacks and an extended stone stack to rear. The design mimics a house of the 16th or 17th century.

In 1877 the Duke of Bedford bought Manor Farm from the Lord of the Manor, Crewe Alston [R1/433]. In March that year the Duke's agent reported on Manor Farm [R4/148], which was then tenanted by James Charles Robinson, (who later had Hart Farm and West End Farm) who had a yearly tenancy and paid £575 per annum. He seems to have succeeded William Pike as tenant in 1851 [X117/19].

The farm then comprised 378 acres, 2 roods, 36 poles of which 241 acres, 1 rood, 1 pole was arable and the rest grass. The report says this of the buildings: "There is a very superior Farm house and Agricultural premises which have been recently erected on this Farm. They are, in fact, only just completed. They are amply sufficient in every respect for the land now held together. The farmhouse has been erected upon the lines of an ancient House which was worn out, and it, with the Agricultural buildings, are in a conspicuous position from Oakley Park and have been erected at a larger cost than under other circumstances would have been necessary". The report noted that the house was supplied with water from wells.

The report then goes on to describe the land: "The land lying north of Stevington village is kind and easily worked for roots &c. The more distant portions of the Farm are of stiff clay land and difficult to work. There is a large proportion of Grass land, that adjoining the River Ouse is very subject to floods. It is productive land but is very risky. The other pasture land is close to the village, and of fair quality. Two fields recently purchased from the Bromham estate have been laid to Grass for permanent pasture and are in a very good and profitable state. The arable land purchased at the same time was in a foul condition, but the present tenant has much improved it. The remainder of the Farm was, I understand, also a recent purchase and owing to the uncertainty of the tenant's occupancy he had allowed the land to get into a somewhat unclean and low state of cultivation, but since the purchase by His Grace the land has been improved and is getting into a good state of cultivation".

Of the tenant, James Charles Robinson, the report says: ""The tenant is a man of substance and is intelligent and industrious. He has, I understand, other land in his occupation". The report then recommended that the rent should be raised to £600 per annum!

Another report was made for the Duke, by James Beadel, in 1880 because of the tenant, still James Charles Robinson, now duly paid £600 per annum, or 31 shillings per acre being in difficulties.

Beadel reported that the farmhouse: "which is situate in the Village of Stevington has been recently erected and at the time of my inspection was scarcely furnished so far as internal painting and papering and provision being made for preventing the rain flooding the Hall and passage were concerned". He noted that the homestead was "well arranged and complete" but went on to state his opinion that: "This Farm is by no means convenient for occupation, many of the fields are detached and intermixed with alien Owners".

Beadel then reported in detail on the land: "Part of the Arable land is distant upwards of a mile from the Homestead in a South Easterly direction whereas another portion is nearly a mile and a half from the Homestead in a Westerly direction. With regard to the latter containing 48 acres 0 roods 16 poles … it would, if practicable, be very desirable to lay them to Stevington Tithe Farm of which they appear to form an integral part, their value to an occupier of that Farm is far greater than to an Occupier of the Manor Farm, to whichsoever Farm they may be attached it is necessary that they should be properly drained. A great proportion, nay almost the whole of the Arable land, is very wet and much in need of underdraining…These [fields] are very foul and although some blame probably attaches to the tenant, I think the Seasons have more to do with their foul condition than anything else and for this reason other portions of the ploughed land (not so wet) are clean and creditable".

"The Grass land varies very considerable in quality that portion bordering the River Ouse is subject to flood, in ordinary Seasons this is not an unmixed evil although during the last 2 unprecedented wet Seasons the losses to the occupier must have been very considerable … Mr. Robinson's losses in Sheep this Spring have been most serious, out of a flock of 300 ewes, 200 have succumbed to the prevalent liver disease. Some of last year's lambs (locally named shear hogs) … have also succumbed, and from the condition of the Sheep left upon the farm at the time of my visit, the probability was great of all being affected sooner or later. When Sheep have been recently ourchased it is not a matter of surprise that disease should be prevalent, but in Mr. Robinson's case the Sheep have all been bred on the Farm and as I am informed none purchased excepting Tups, used for purposes of breeding, clearly therefore the disease must have been generated on the Farm, and although it is possible that flock may not have been heated so well as should have been having regard to the special peculiarities of the Season, still the usual practice has been adopted which has answered the purpose in past years, his therefore is misfortune rather than the result of imprudent investment or bad management".

"Mr. Robinson must have lost a very considerable sum during the last 2 years and his case is in my opinion exceptional and one which should be dealt with quite distinctly from other tenants upon whose Farms I have been asked to advise. What Mr. Robinson's position upon the Estate may be, viz, as to whether he is in most respects an eligible tenant or not, is neither within my province nor am I competent to form an opinion upon the point. If it be desirable to get rid of him from the Estate there need be no difficulty in accomplishing the object by requiring him to pay his rent and cultivate the Farm in accordance with the covenants of his Agreement. If it be desirable to retain him as a Tenant and to recognize the misfortunes which have overtaken him some substantive allowance should be made out of the present year's rent, and he should be allowed to hold the Farm for 2 or 3 years at a considerable abatement. In my opinion 31 shillings per acre is more than the farm is worth in ordinary Seasons and certainly more than it would realize in these times to a solvent and respectable Tenant, in fact, many tenants would be deterred from taking an occupation of the kind if they could get one more compact and where the soil was less retentive". He considered that £525 was a more realistic rent.

Evidently the estate considered Robinson a worthwhile tenant because Kelly's Directory of 1885 still has him at Manor Farm. The directory for 1890, however, lists M. Sharratt as tenant of Manor Farm and that of 1898 has John Teasdale there. Kelly's Directory for 1903 lists Jesse Norman as tenant of the farm. In 1913 a small part of Manor Farm land was taken by the church as an extension to the churchyard [P71/2/3/3].

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has a number of documents showing the tenancy and ownership of Manor Farm around the time of The Great War [BML10/68/2]. In 1914 the Duke of Bedford was owner and brought in a new tenant, [Louis] Richard Higgins, to replace Jesse Norman. In 1919 the new owner, Samuel Prentice, received a claim for compensation from Higgins on the termination of his tenancy. On termination, Higgins sold fifteen head of dairy cattle, a cart mare, fifty head of young poultry, an assortment of agricultural implements, dairy utensils and the produce of three walnut trees.

It is not generally realised but the U-Boat menace was as sever in the First World War as in the Second. By 1917 Britain was looking at a very serious situation given the large amounts of merchant shipping that were being sunk. In desperation War Agricultural Executive Committees of each County Council were asked to find land which could be ploughed up for food. Not surprisingly this ancient grassland was often not suitable for arable farming and the farmers involved usually objected. One such was Louis Richard Higgins of Manor Farm [WW1/AC/OP2/65] who objected to ploughing up nearly twenty six acres. Fortunately the introduction of the convoy system brought the losses of merchant shipping back to acceptable levels.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Stevington was assessed in 1926 and the valuer visiting Manor Farm [DV1/H8/8] noted that it was owned and now occupied by Samuel Prentice and the farm contained 115 acres. Prentice had bought the property in 1919, when he ejected Richard Higgins, for £4,600. He let the sporting rights to Lord Ampthill, of nearby Oakley House, for £14 per annum.

The valuer commented: "The buildings are mostly of brick and slate and in good repair. Water is laid on to all yards. Used to serve 600 acres, now 115 acres". Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has a number of records involving land from Manor Farm, showing successive sales by the Duke of Bedford, though the farm, as noted above, had only been just over 378 acres when he acquired it in 1877. The three sales made during his ownership were:

  • the sale of a combined total of 336 acres from Manor and Tithe Farms (unfortunately the catalogue does not break this down further by farm) in 1881 [X65/21];
  • the sale of 106 acres of grassland in 1894 [SF81/4/1];
  • the sale of land to the County Council in 1910 [R1/434/1-7].

The house comprised two reception rooms, a kitchen, scullery and larder, with a dairy, wood and coal house and two earth closets. A cellar lay beneath. The first floor comprised five bedrooms, a bathroom and boxroom. "Water pumped to bath (no tank), hot water carried". The valuer commented: "Construction of the best".

A nag stable for two beasts and a garage lay next to the house. The rest of the homestead, which was "nearly new" was as follows:

  • On the left flank: a six bay wagon hovel and a hen house;
  • In the first yard: a four bay open bullock hovel, three pig barns, three pig sties and a cooling house;
  • In the second yard: a three bay bullock house, four calf pens, two cow places for ten beasts, a loose box and a further cow place for six beasts;
  • In the third yard: a horse place for ten beasts, a horse place for three beasts, a grinding barn, a five bay open hovel and a loose box;
  • On the right flank: a double closed implement shed with two further sheds on two wings

Samuel Prentice is still listed at Manor Farm in the last Kelly's Directory for Bedfordshire, that of 1940.

Stevington Manor December 2008
Stevington Manor December 2008