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Hill Farm Studham

Hill Farm January 2010
Hill Farm January 2010

The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record describes Hill Farmhouse as an 18th century structure, extensively rebuilt in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is constructed of brick, some of which are vitreous headers and has two storeys. There is timber framing in the upper part of the right hand gable end [HER 6955].

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has an abstract of title to the farm from 1746 to 1818, prior to its purchase by the Earl of Bridgewater, Lord of the Manor of Studham, in 1821 [BW68]. The chain of events is a little tortuous but, essentially, runs as follows. John Sibley of Studham, gentleman, published his will in 1746 by which he devised all his real estate to his sister Ann. His real estate was described as including the Manor of Studham. This does not seem to have been either the Manor of Studham, or the Manor of Studham cum Barworth and may be a spurious manor. These curious things appear in 17th and 18th century records but never seem to have manorial courts attached and are often just a way of denoting a reasonably large farm, as seems to be the case with this supposed manor which was based around Hill Farm.  His will was proved, following his death, the next year. Ann married John Bentley in 1748 and conveyed her real estate, including Hill Farm, to trustees as part of the marriage settlement.

Ann Bentley made her will in 1758, devising all her real estate to her husband for his life, indicating that most her lands in Studham should then descend to her Godson, Edward Nicoll but that Hill Farm (then in the occupation of John Dimock) should descend to Richard Page and Thomas Vaux as trustees for the use of her cousin Rebecca, wife of Adam Gladman, for her life, after which it would descend to her cousin Thomas Gladman for his life then to his heirs. Ann died in 1773

In the same year Thomas Gladman married Mary Jarman and their eldest son John was baptised a year later. Ann Bentley's estate must eventually have passed to Thomas Gladman, then living in Chesham [Buckinghamshire], because he was declared bankrupt in 1778 and in 1784 Hill Farm, along with the rest of his estate, was conveyed to assignees John Pope of Chesham and Edward Nicoll of Studham by the court.

Hill Farm then comprised the farmhouse, eighty acres of pasture and arable in Studham, two woods called Ashen Grove and Long Grove (still extant and lying north-west and north-east of Hill Farmhouse, respectively) and a "hedgerow or spring" called Ten Acres Spring comprising twenty acres. In 1786 the assignees conveyed the farm to Thomas Creed of Chesham for the life of Thomas Gladman (as he was only entitled to it for life under the will of Ann Bentley) for £493/10/-. In fact the money was not Creed's but belonged to the assignees and they agreed between them that the property should be evenly divided between themselves with Creed acting as trustee.

Edward Nicoll died in 1799 and in his will of 1796 devised his share of the "Manor of Studham" and Hill Farm to his wife Ann and his two eldest sons Edward and Thomas as tenants in common to hold during the life of Thomas Gladman.  In 1800 John Pope conveyed his half of the property to his eldest son James for the nominal sum of £5. In 1801 James Pope conveyed his half of the property to Edward Nicoll junior for £300 to be held during the lifetime of Thomas Gladman.

The following year a rather complicated legal position became evident when it was realised that Thomas Gladman owned more than just a life interest in Hill Farm as it was to descend to his son and heir, John, after him. As Edward Nicoll wished to acquire the whole farm he had to buy the shares of his mother and brother during the lifetime of Thomas Gladman. He also agreed to pay a further £1,200 to James Pope as he was now entitled to the freehold in trust because his father had outlived Nicoll's father! In order to remove all doubts about Nicoll's title to the farm a common recovery was then enacted (a fictitious legal case to prove entitlement) to bar John Gladman, the bankrupt Thomas' son from being able to claim any ownership of the property. In the event Nicoll did not pay £1,200 to Pope. Rather Nicoll, Pope, Thomas and John Gladman agreed that Nicoll should pay £300 to John Gladman in compensation for him not receiving his inheritance and that Nicoll should keep the remaining £900 himself in recognition of Thomas Gladman's outstanding debts. It was also agreed that Nicoll would pay an annuity of £24 per annum to Thomas Gladman for the rest of his life. He would then pay interest at 4% on the £900 to John after Thomas' death until he procured discharges from Thomas' creditors for the remaining debts. Once these debts were all satisfied if any balance of the £900 remained it would then be paid outright to John Gladman.

In 1808 Nicoll mortgaged Hill Farm to William Washington for £500. In 1811 Edward Nicoll bought his brother Thomas' share of the freehold of a number of fields in Studham, not hitherto part of Hill Farm, devised in their father's will jointly to them and their mother, for £550. These fields were then, presumably, added to Hill Farm. They comprised 12 acres, 3 roods, 33 poles in Toby's Mead, Rotten Row Field, Toby's Field, The Half Acre and Upper Toby's Field. He also purchased the tithes of corn, grain and hay of Studham Rectory on those fields. In the same year Nicoll paid off Washington's mortgage by borrowing £1,200 from Christopher Pryor. He borrowed a further £400 two years later and then a further £500 later in that same year of 1813 by providing extra collateral in the shape of the land bought from his brother in 1811. Nicoll borrowed a further £900 from Pryor in 1815, making the total debt £3,000, a truly massive sum for that date. In fact, £1,400 of this total of £3,000 belonged to Luton banker Leonard Hampson and in 1816 he took over the whole mortgage, paying £1,400 to Christopher Pryor.

In 1818 it was fond that John Gladman's inheritance of Hill farm had not, due to error, been extinguished. Consequently in that year Gladman, then of Maiden's Bridge, Enfield [Middlesex], took part in a common recovery to ensure the title of Hampson, as mortgagee, to the farm. Given the large sums borrowed by Edward Nicoll it is not surprising that he, in his turn, became bankrupt in 1818. The bargain and sale to assignees of this date reveals that Nicoll was a wine and brandy merchant. He was principally indebted to three distillers and all his estate was conveyed to assignees John Sewell of Upper Thames Street, distiller and Ann Nicoll of Studham, widow. At that date Hill Farm comprised 142 acres, 1 rood in the occupation of John Raggett. In 1821 Sewell and Ann Nicoll conveyed the farm to the Earl of Bridgewater and it became part of the Ashridge Estate, which passed to the Brownlow family in 1848.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every piece of land and building in the country was to be assessed to determine the rates to be paid on it. Studham was assessed at the end of 1926 and the valuer visiting Hill Farm [DV1/H23/38] noted that it was owned by the Ashridge Estate; it was also occupied by trustees of the estate because the previous tenant, like many in Studham, was now bankrupt. The part had a "Lot of waste land which last tenant spent £100's in getting in order" which led to his bankruptcy (at least the third involving the farm in a hundred and fifty years). Kelly's Directory for 1924 gives the farmer at Hill Farm as Henry Horn; interestingly the directory for 1928 also lists him as farmer. The rent had been £160 per annum in 1924, then £206 during the First World War, falling to £173 from 1925. The farm had comprised 180 acres in 1914 but was now up to 206. Sporting rights were let to a W. F. Tuke.

The "poorish" farmhouse comprised a reception room, kitchen, dairy and pantry downstairs with four bedrooms above, a cellar lay beneath the house. Outside stood a weather-boarded and tiled lean-to washhouse and shed and a weather-boarded and tiled shed. Water came from a well.

The "decent" homestead comprised the following:

  • In the west block: a weather-boarded and tiled cow shed for five beasts and two loose boxes; a brick and slated one bay open fronted shed; a weather-boarded and tiled small loose box;
  • In the north block: two loose boxes, a brick and slate loose box, stable for six horses and food store;
  • In the east block: a weather-boarded and corrugated iron barn and a weather-boarded and corrugated iron chaff cutting place, three bay open fronted shed and three bay open fronted cart shed.

In 1945 a German V2 rocket exploded in Twelve Acre Field belonging to Hill Farm, doing damage to windows in Studham and Dunstable [WW2/AR/CO/3/2]. 

Directories reveal the following people living at the farm (directories were not annual, and so the dates should not be regarded as beginning and end dates):

1864-1885: William Bailey (also at Church End Farm);
1890: Frederick Sanders;
1894-1928: Henry Horn;
1931: Frederick William Butt;
1936-1940: Edward Percy Martin.