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Herne Farm Toddington

There have been numerous farms in Toddington called Herne Farm or some variation thereon, such as Herne Grange Farm, Herne Manor Farm, Herne Willow Farm, herne Dairy Farm or Herne Poplar Farm. There have even been several farms simply known as Herne Farm at the same time! The Herne Farm of today [2016] was also known as Herne Dairy Farm at times in the past. It lies off Park Road not far from Herne Grange Farm.

The farmhouse was listed by the former Department of Environment in 1980 as Grade II, of special interest. It dates from the 15th century and is a timber-framed building, though re-faced in the 19th century. The ground floor was faced with roughcast, the first floor with tiles. An old clay tiled roof sits over the two storeys.

In 1686 Herne Farm was in the possession of Ekins Lenton of Wigtoffe [Lincolnshire] and in that year he and his wife, Martha, sold it to John Marshe of Leighton Buzzard for £3,200 Z455/1]. Included were the farmhouse and 220 acres of land in Herne, on both sides of Herne Lane. The farm was rented to Henry Wells on a 21 year lease dated from 25th March 1679.

John Marshe made his will dated 5th September 1699 which was proved on 9th July 1700 [Z455/3]. In it most of his property was divided between his two daughters, Blandina and Mary (who later became Mary Lockington). His son, John, was not left a great deal under the will as he had been well provided for on his marriage. The daughters were to hold the property bequeathed to them as tenants in common and not as joint tenants.

In 1730 both Blandina and Mary made their wills. Blandina created, by her will, almshouses at Dunstable for six maiden gentlewomen, of good character,  over the age of 40, and members of the Church of England. She provided for £80 3s in various annual sums, paying £10 to each of the inmates yearly, with another £2 per annum for firing, 3 guineas for an annual dinner for the trustees and £5 for repairs [Z455/6]. Mary also left her estate to Charity - to Christ's Hospital in London - although her sister was to have the interest until her death [Z455/8]. Mary died in that year (1730) and Blandina in 1741.

There was a problem in that the property was held by them as tenants in common so permission had to be obtained, from the High Court of Chancery, for the estates to be divided. The Commission of the High Court reported in 1742 and allowed the splitting of the estates [Z455/8]. Herne Farm went to Blandina's estate together with property on the west side of Herne Lane, amounting to 125 acres. The annual rent charge of £80 3s was secured on the Herne property, and also on various pieces of land in Hockliffe. This Hockliffe property was sold to Thomas Gilpin in June 1765 without any reference to the rent charge. When Thomas Gilpin realised this he requested that the property be exonerated from the payment of the rent charge. This the executor had agreed to, without apparently having authority to do so. The problem came, when after his death, the Herne property was proposed to be sold. The lawyers settled it by granting Thomas Gilpin an annuity of £80 3s out of the unsold estates, which meant, presumably, that if he was asked to pay the money, he could call on the annuity to pay it. 

The property at Herne was put up for sale by auction on 26 May 1777 but did not reach its reserve of £1050. It was, therefore, bought in by Thomas Herbert of Grosvenor Square, London, and a buyer was found for it after the sale, for the sum of £1050. This was George Ridge, also of London [Z455/16]. At the time the Herne estate was leased to John Butcher, at an annual rent of £135, which eventually rose to £150 per annum in 1811.

However George Ridge must himself have been acting as agent for the current holders of the property as subsequent transactions show. Blandina Marshe had appointed Marshe Dickinson as her executor. On his death his son succeeded to his property and obligations. This son, John Dickinson, appointed James Cocks and Laurence Holfer as executors and trustees on his death, and James Cocks, in his turn appointed George Ridge and three relatives to carry out the provisions of his will. On his death James Cocks had left his property to trustees for sale, the proceeds to be divided between his four children. However, one son, also James Cocks, bought separately in 1805 an undivided third part of the property for £350 and he appointed George Ridge to hold it for him as a trustee.

Exactly why James Cocks, the son, took this action, is not clear - the various deeds do not say. Certainly it did not prevent the sale of the property which took place in 1811 when George Armstrong, of Battlesden, dairyman, bought Herne Farm, for £3,300 [Z455/25-26]. To raise the money George Armstrong had borrowed it from the Leighton Buzzard banking firm of Bassett, Grant, Exton and Sharples, and he deposited the deeds with them as security [Z455/28].

In 1827 the banking partnership split and the assets were divided between the two new firms concerned. The deeds of Herne Farm went to the new firm called Grant and Bassett of Leighton Buzzard. However, it seems as though George Armstrong was unable to repay the loan made on the farm because it was the bankers who sold it to Edmund Sear, a farmer, formerly of Westoning, on the 8th September 1841 [Z455/34]. In the deed for the sale it is mentioned that the property had recently been occupied by Mr John Stopp. The farm was still charged with the payment of the annual sum of £80 3s and the annuity of the same amount to Thomas Gilpin. Edmund Sear also had to borrow from the firm of Bassett, Grant and Bassett (as the Leighton Buzzard bankers were now called) to meet the full purchase price of £3,800. However his indebtedness was only for £800 [Z455/36].

Edmund Sear only enjoyed the Herne Farm property for two years, dying on 13 September 1843. After his death his grandson, William Fane, carried on the farm. In 1848 the bankers called in the mortgage debt of £800, which was taken over by William Peppercorn Squire, a Silsoe farmer. The mortgage was still in existence on W.P. Squire's death on 3 April 1873. However Mrs Frances Eagles agreed to pay off the amount owing and to take over the mortgage. She also lent William Fane some extra money so that his debt to her became £1,000 [Z455/39]. This was in February 1874. In August of the same year she lent him a further £150.

William Fane's eldest son, born 31st March 1852, was called George. In 1895 he became bankrupt and the Lockington Charity were forced to issue a distress warrant to extract the £80 3s to which they were entitled annually under the will of Blandina Marshe [Z513/7].

The deeds at Z455 end at this point, but from a schedule of deeds and from various directories the further history of the ownership of the property can be worked out. George Fane, the eldest son of William (born on 31st March 1852) held the farm from about 1877 to 1906 or a little later. Whether George remained owner all this time is not clear as the schedule of deeds refers to a conveyance on 20th December 1907 from Sarah Annie DuSautoy and another to J.H.Blundell [Z455/40].

On 28th February 1912 J.H. Blundell made a lease to Warren [Z455/40], and Harold Warren is in the Kelly's Directory for 1914 directory as occupier of Herne Farm. On 18th June 1930 J H Blundell made a lease to A E Martin (though evidence below shows that this was a new lease, the original having been made in 1923), which seems to have been surrendered to Mrs Blundell on 19th September 1947 [Z455/40]. The 14th January 1948 saw the sale by Mrs Blundell to John F.C. Cox, who owned 36 Townsend Lane, Harpenden, before 1957 and it was in the attic of this house that the deeds were found.

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. The valuer visiting Herne Dairy Farm, as it was then called [DV1/H4/36] duly found it owned by J H Blundell and leased by A E Martin for £230 per annum, a rent set in 1923 the previous rent, set in 1916, having been £225. The farm comprised 128 acres and the valuer commented: "Buildings some distance from road". A colleague wrote: "House reserved in rent. Goodish farm. Know it well, 5 days arbitration here. Decent little homestead".

The house [DV1/A9/21a] was let to G Walker for £73 per annum and consisted of a hall, two reception rooms, a kitchen, scullery, bathroom and earth closet with a library, bedroom and maid's room upstairs; a timber and corrugated iron garage stood outside. The valuer remarked: "Water from spring. Lamps. Telephone. No drainage. House old has just been dome up is some distance from main road". The homestead comprised: a timber and corrugated iron cart shed, a timber and slated loose box and wood barn; a timber and corrugated iron cow house for four; a timber and thatched cow house for four; a brick, timber and tiled cow house for eight; a brick, timber and thatched stable for four; a timber and corrugated iron three-bay open hovel with a manger and hay rack; three timber and corrugated iron calf pens; a large brick, timber and thatched barn; a brick and tiled cooling house; a timber and corrugated iron cart hovel and four brick, timber and thatched pigsties.

In 2013 the house was on the market. The sale particulars [Z449/6/3] stated: "A residential farm providing equestrian facilities … the current owners have been successful in obtaining full planning permission for demolition of the existing farm buildings to allow for the construction of a 5,300 square feet country residence". The ground floor comprised: a reception hall measuring 17 feet 6 inches by 15 feet 7 inches; a sitting room 21 feet 9 inches by 12 feet 6 inches; a boiler room measuring 9 feet 4 inches by 7 feet 1 inch; a dining room 17 feet 7 inches by 15 feet; a utility room measuring 14 feet 8 inches by 8 feet 8 inches; a back kitchen 14 feet 8 inches by 8 feet 3 inches; a kitchen/breakfast room measuring 14 feet 8 inches by 14 feet 1 inch; 2 WCs; a family room measuring 17 feet by 13 feet; measuring bedrooms 12 feet 9 inches by 9 feet 11 inches and 17 feet by 13 feet and a games room 43 feet 11 inches by 27 feet 6 inches. There was a mezzanine area measuring 18 feet 2 inches by 13 feet 7 inches. The first floor contained a bathroom and bedrooms measuring 14 feet 8 inches by 14 feet 5 inches, 14 feet 3 inches by 12 feet 4 inches, 13 feet 10 inches by 14 feet 3 inches and 18 feet 5 inches by 12 feet 10 inches. There was also a cellar measuring 14 feet 3 inches by 13 feet 7 inches. Outside were 16.5 acres of land, traditional outbuildings, modern farm buildings, a wooded copse and fields.