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Tempsford Hall

Tempsford Hall about 1890 [Z48/146]Tempsford Hall about 1890 [Z48/146]

In the late 18th century, probably between 1777 and 1787, Sir Gillies Payne, Lord of the Manors of Tempsford, Drayton and Brays built himself a new seat at Tempsford which became known as Tempsford Hall. In a deed of 1814 the house is still referred to as being the “newly built manor house” [WY216]. It was then leased to Robert Denn.

In 1844 Anne Elliott made statements, supported by her household staff (butler William Johnson, nurse Ann Deane, lady’s maid Sarah Barker, kitchen maid Louisa Sims footman William Haythorn and groom William Tompkins) and even local policeman James Smith, about the hall being haunted. Knocking and other strange noises had been heard and apparitions glimpsed [WY1019]. It may have been relevant that Mrs Elliott was newly married and a stranger to the area, her husband working in Bedford where he spent most of the week in lodgings.

In November 1898 this grand house, just over a century old, was destroyed by fire. The newspaper report in the Bedfordshire Times of 18th November is very lengthy beginning: “The outbreak was discovered by Mr Bulkeley Hughes, a visitor, between twelve and one o’clock [a.m.] and in two or three hours resulted in the destruction of Tempsford Hall and its valuable contents, save a few pictures and other articles. Even the master of the house and the other inmates escaped with their lives only under circumstances of difficulty and danger”. Tempsford had its own fire brigade, patronised by the hall’s owner Major Dugald Stuart. The house was also well provided with fire-fighting equipment but, unfortunately, this was the area most quickly attacked by the fire which spread so rapidly that little could be done.

The newspaper related: “Old Tempsford Hall was built about 120 years ago, and formerly consisted of what has since constituted the central part. About twenty-two years ago this portion was cased with brick and stone work, and two wings were built, north and south, with a house for men-servants at the northern extremity. The Hall was the repository of many treasures of literature and art, some of which were associated with the famous William Penn, founder of the State of Pennsylvania, and connected with the Stuart family, as all the World knoweth. It was a building in the Italian style with massive stone balls for finials and tall chimney stacks at regular intervals. There was an elegant portico in the centre, leading into an entrance hall, from which a grand staircase led to the first floor. Over the hall was a guest chamber, which on the night of the fire was occupied by Colonel Josselyn. The south wing contained the rooms occupied by the family, and on the ground floor, next to the hall, were the smoke room and adjoining it the library at the front, and a drawing-room next to it, commanding from the windows a very pleasant view of the gardens. Major and Mrs Stuart’s apartments were on the first floor, above the library and adjacent rooms. The building was in three stories and on the second floor, over the hall, was the night nursery, in which slept Esmé, the son and heir. The north-wing contained on the ground floor the dining room, the butler’s offices and on the first floor, for the most part, the servants’ bedrooms. The projecting portico on the west front was flanked by two large bays, the one on the north side containing the window of Major Stuart’s study and the one on the other side lighting the smoke-room as already pointed out”.

Tempsford Hall about 1920 [Z50/121/1]
Tempsford Hall about 1920 [Z50/121/1]

A new hall rose from the ashes of the old, being completed in 1904 [X403/27] and in 1905 the new hall was leased to Sir George MacKenzie [WY916]. In 1911 particulars of the mansion were drawn up with the prospect of seeking a new tenant. The read as follows [WY918]: “The gabled MANSION is built of red brick with stone mullioned windows and dressings, and has been most carefully planned with the view of combining spaciousness of area with compactness for convenience of working. It is fitted throughout with electric light, with engine, dynamo and batteries complete and is amply supplied with water pumped by oil engine and filtered for domestic purposes”.

“The MANSION is entered from the carriage drive through vestibule 18 feet x 10 feet which opens into the entrance hall 28 feet x 18 feet with walls panelled in oak, leading to the lounge hall 30 feet x 25 feet, including bay opening on to lawn, and having handsome stone open fire-place panelled in oak with mountings of old carving by Grinling Gibbons. Opening from this lounge hall is the drawing room 34 feet x 18 feet (having communication also with the boudoir and entrance hall). Boudoir 19 feet 6 inches x 21 feet 6 inches inclusive of bay, dining room 28 feet x 25 feet, inclusive of bay. From the entrance hall but shut off by a door are business room or library 21 feet 6 inches x 18 feet with lavatory and W.C. adjoining, and the billiard room 28 feet 6 inches x 18 feet with bay 18 feet x 9 feet. Approached by a back corridor is a gun and smoking room with lavatory and W. C. attached”.

“The OFFICES comprise a good Butler’s Pantry with strong room, housekeeper’s room, china closet, kitchen with scullery and larders, and servants’ hall, with usual out-offices including laundry, dairy etc.”.

“The principal BEDROOM floor is reached by an oak staircase with characteristic balustrade, newel posts, finials and arcading, and contains 6 large bedrooms and 4 dressing rooms, 2 bathrooms, store room and linen room, and on the upper bedroom floor are 10 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. There are 3 men’s bedrooms off the back staircase, which, with luggage lift rises to the top of the house and communicates with each bedroom corridor”.

“There is ample cellarage; the house is heated throughout by hot water and there are hot and cold supplies at all convenient points. Also ample fire service”.

“The STABLING are convenient and amply sufficient”.

“The PLEASURE GROUNDS are charming, consisting of Acres 15. 3. 25 and the kitchen garden most productive and recently planted with young fruits. There are sufficient glass-houses, vineries etc. In addition to the lodge are a gardener’s cottage and coachman’s cottage. There is a small Farmery with all necessary buildings”. The letting included 93 acres, 29 poles of parkland and fishing rights on the Great Ouse and the Ivel.

Between 1917 and 1920 the stables were occupied by a gang of German prisoners-of-war who were set to work as ploughmen in the general area [WY919]. It is believed that the hall was used by the Special Operations Executive during World War Two, for agent reception and pre-flight preparation but Bedfordshire Archive and Record Service has no records about this. After the war it was used as a clinic until 1964 when sold to present owners Kier Group as their headquarters.

The sale particulars of 1964 [X403/27] add some details about the grounds (now 112 acres) and outbuildings. The latter comprised garage accommodation for six cars, stables, workshop, fuel store, toilets, dairy, open shelter and first floor rooms “suitable for  variety of purposes such as offices or staff accommodation subject to Planning Consent”. The entrance lodge “erected about two years ago” comprised two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, bathroom and WC. There was a summer house “suitable for extension and conversion to staff accommodation” and an annexze with nine bedrooms, two bathrooms and two WCs.

The grounds were described thus: “The residence is surrounded by spacious lawns which are bounded by a wide variety of ornamental deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. There are interesting secluded walks through dense shrubbery and a well-stocked Rose Garden provides a pleasant secluded retreat. Beyond the shrubbery is a walled Kitchen Garden of about two acres, Heated Greenhouse and Two Orchards containing a variety of fruit trees”.

Former entrance to Tempsford Hall from the Great North Road February 2016
Former entrance to Tempsford Hall from the Great North Road February 2016