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Dell Farm Whipsnade

Dell Farm in 1915 [Z214/3]
Dell Farm in 1915 [Z214/3]

A short history of Dell Farm was prepared by Bedfordshire and Luton Archive and Record Service staff [CRT160/131]. The earliest reference to the farm may be at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries [MN71]. John Sutton died in 1795 and left a farm in his will to a relative, Isaac Dell who, in 1827, sold it to John Pedley. This was not necessarily the Dell Farm of a century later and may have had a different make-up in terms of land.

By 1842 the owner was Arthur Macnamara [MAT50] and his tenant was Thomas Fawcett; the 1841 census reveals that he was then about 35, his wife, Mary about 25 and their servant, Jane Benson, about 15. The Macnamaras and Pedleys seem to have done a good deal of cross-selling and exchanging of property in South Bedfordshire in the 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly the parishes of Whipsnade, Eaton Bray and Caddington.

The censuses of 1851, 1861 and 1871 record the occupier as Henry Perkins. He was born about 1810 and his wife Anne about 1820. Their children were: Henry H., Walter C, Edward and Emma Frances, born about 1858, 1860, 1866 and 1870 respectively. In 1851 their servant was 15 year old Mary Griffith and in 1871 15 year old Fanny Minards. The 1851 census describes Perkins as farming 125 acres with five labourers; in 1861 he is farming 142 acres with six men and a boy and in 1871, 140 acres with five men and a boy.

Repairs to the buildings were carried out each year from 1881 to 1887, particularly in 1884 - the combined bill for those years being £866/14/8 [BML6/2/7 (iii)]. In 1882 the tenant was William Gladman and the farm comprised 141 acres, 2 roods, 10 poles of which 3 acres, 2 roods, 5 poles were in Eaton Bray [BML6/6/3 (xvi)].

In 1905 Arthur Macnamara let the farm, then comprising 132 acres, 1 rood, 17 poles to James Hain and James Purton Turvey, both of Whipsnade, for £132/7/- per annum [BML6/6/1 (xxxvi)]

In December 1915 the second auction of Pedley Settled Estates of the late Arthur Macnamara took place. It included 2,050 acres in Eaton Bray, Whipsnade, Totternhoe, Studham and Caddington as well as the Hertfordshire parishes of Markyate and Flamstead. Lots 3 and 4 in the sale particulars [Z214/3] included parts of Dell Farm, along with other property.

The Dell Farm elements comprised 125 acres, 3 roods, 39 perches in Whipsnade and Eaton Bray, now let solely to James Hain. The farmhouse was described as a “superior residence” of brick and stucco with a slate roof. It comprised five bedrooms with, on the ground floor, a dining room, a drawing room, a kitchen, a pantry and store cupboards. There was a cellar. A well house stood outside in a paved yard with a coal barn and washhouse.

The farm buildings comprised: three barns; cow houses; a calf pen and meal house; loose boxes; open cattle sheds; stables; a trap house; a hay store; a wagon shed; a piggery; a fold and rickyards. The farmer was allowed to graze nine cows on Whipsnade Green.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 led to every property and piece of land in the country being assessed to determine its rateable value. Hill Farm was visited on 7th September 1926 [DV1/H23/28] and the valuer found that James Hain had bought the place in 1915. The farm was the same size as in 1915 and the valuer noted: “A badly arranged homestead. Saw Mr Hain 22 years. Rent before War (1915) when purchased … Good Farmer”.

The farmhouse comprised two reception rooms, a conservatory, a kitchen, a dairy and a wellhouse with four bedrooms and a boxroom on the first floor. There was also a cellar. The homestead comprised the following buildings in the rickyard: a timber built twelve bay shelter shed; a zinc and weather-boarded implement shed; two boarded pigsties; a brick and slate workshop; a weather-boarded and tiled fowl house and two food stores and a brick and slate lean-to loose box.

Other homestead buildings comprised: a brick, corrugated iron, weather-boarded and thatched barn, a brick and slate garage, a weather-boarded and slated barn, a trick and tiled stable (“bad”), a brick and slate calf box and two bay open shed, a weather-boarded and thatched four bay open shed and loose box, a brick and tiled cow shed for four with a loose box at the end and a timber and corrugated iron four bay cart shed. At the end of the common was a weather-boarded and corrugated iron garage for one car.

In 1967 Dell Farmhouse and about 30 acres were bought by Luton County Borough, who subsequently sold 20 acres to The National Trust. The council used the farm as an Educational Activity Centre as part of their Youth Service, with children staying in overnight accommodation [PCWhipsnade18/1]. When Luton County Borough was abolished in 1974 ownership passed to Bedfordshire County Council. In the early 1970s the dormitory block for the children was extended [CA8/203]. When Luton became a Unitary Council in 1997 the farm passed back into its ownership. The farm remains an Outdoor Education Centre at the time of writing [2014].