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8 and 8a Leighton Street Woburn

8 and 8a Leighton Street March 2012
8 and 8a Leighton Street March 2012

8 and 8a Leighton Street are two parts of one large house, which was listed by the former Ministry of Works in January 1961 as Grade II, of special interest. The property dates from the mid 18th century and is built of red brick of which the headers (bricks laid with their shortest side facing outwards) are vitrified. Features of architectural decoration are in lighter red brick. The roofs are covered in 20th century tiles. The property has a double-pile plan, that is, it sits beneath two parallel roofs which are both of a type known as mansard. The property comprises two storeys and attics.

The property was used as a school for Quaker boys from 1811 under the leadership of Jeremiah Holmes Wiffen. His daughter wrote a biography of him and his brother, edited by Samuel Rowles Pattison, and published in 1880. A copy is available in the Searchroom library. Wiffen was born in 1792, his father was John, an ironmonger in the town, and his mother was Elizabeth, both members of the Society of Friends. The biography describes the house in Leighton Street as “a comfortable house, with a pleasant garden at the back, and the view from it, and from the windows on that side, stretched away over a green plain of fields, to the belts of dark pine trees, and the feathery beechen glades of the distant Brickhill woods”. Perhaps more than a schoolmaster Wiffen saw himself as a poet. An example of his poetry is the following section from his Aspley Wood

O nature! Woods, winds, music, valleys, hills,
And gushing brooks, - in you there is a voice
Of potency, an utterance which instils
Light, life and freshness, bidding Man rejoice
As with a spirit’s transport: from the noise,
The hum of busy towns, to you I fly;
Ye were my earliest nurses, my first choice,
Let me not idly hope, nor vainly sigh;
Whisper once more of peace – joys – years long vanished by!

Jeremiah Holmes Wiffen
Jeremiah Holmes Wiffen

Wiffen later wrote a history of the Earls and Dukes of BedfordMemoirs of the House of Russell. He died suddenly in the night of 2nd May 1836 at his home, Froxfield in Eversholt, aged just forty three, without any signs of apparent illness. The school seems to have been quite short-lived, when Thomas Evans undertook his survey of Woburn in 1822 Numbers 8 and 8a Leighton Street are shown in the occupation of George Rock who paid rent to the Duke of Bedford of £20 per annum [R1/240 and R2/68]. In 1821 Wiffen had been appointed librarian to the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey and that may be the year in which he gave up the school.

The house has undergone a number of different changes of number over the years. It seems to have been 17 Leighton Street in the 1820s. In the 1881 census it is Number 16, Number 17 again in the 1891 census and Leighton House in the 1901 and 1911 censuses (not to be confused with today's Leighton House!). Directories for Bedfordshire were not published every year but every few years from the early 19th century until 1940. A number of these early directories list private schools in Leighton Street including those run by Miss Juliet Daniel (a "ladies' boarding school") in 1847, Edward Henrie (also a boarding school), again in 1847, William Pickering (another boarding school) in 1853 and 1854 and finally Anne Harrison (a "school for young ladies") in 1877. Some, none or all of these may have been at 8 and 8a Leighton Street, unfortunately census information cannot confirm any of them.

We do know, from a rating valuation survey carried out in 1910 that at that date the Misses Andrews were in residence. Their father, James Andrews, was the Congregational minister and had come to Woburn in 1845. The 1851, 1861 and 1871 censuses show him living in Bedford Street but by the time of the 1881 census he had moved to 8-8a Leighton Street. He is listed at Bedford Street as late as a directory of 1877.

The 1881 census lists Andrews himself, then aged 62 and a native of Walsall [Sraffordshire]. His wife, Emma, was 54 and came from Shefford. Their eldest child was Agnes Mary Eliza who was 21 and had been born in Woburn, she is described as a school governess. Algernon was 19 and a student of theology; Rose Annie Jane was 18 and an assistant governess, Blanche was 16, Clara 11 and Ada 9, all three scholars. Living with the family was Valentine C. Field, from London, a 16 year old unmarried servant. The 1891 census shows that the Andrews family had opened a small boarding school at the house. Rev. Andrews, his wife, Rose and Blanche are all described as teaching the children of whom eight are named as follows: Edward A. Goodwin, 14, born in Walsall; Sydney A. Goodwin, 13, born in Walsall; John Messe, 12, born in Smethwick [Staffordshire]; Howard H. Shantlow, 12, born in Lincoln; Elizabeth Orchard, 16, born in Hemel Hempstead [Hertfordshire]; Elizabeth Mary Orchard, 13, born in Saint Albans [Hertfordshire]; Kate Braybrookes, 13, born in Potton and Annie E. Miller, 10, born in Dalston [Middlesex]. The servant was now 20 year old Jane Ricketts, from Tilsworth.

Rev. Andrews died in 1900. The 1901 census shows his widow still living at the property, now called Leighton House, together with Agnes and Rose, who are described as principals of the school. Arnold P. Andrews, Emma's 6 year old grandson (born in Staffordshire and presumably Algernon's son) was also living with the family. Jane Ricketts was still their servant though she now had help from 18 year old Lizzie Jones from Luton. The pupils, now all girls with two exceptions, had a mistress to help Agnes and Rose in their education - she was 22 year old Flora Ethel Vowles, who had been born in Clapham [Middlesex]. The pupils were: Salome Mann, 14, born in Spalding [Lincolnshire]; Ruth Mann, 12, also from Clapham; Marjorie Brice, 8, who had been born in far-away Tasmania; Kathleen Hill, 10, born in Potsgrove; Robert Hill, 8, also from Potsgrove; Alan Duncan Day, 8, born in Bow Brickhill [Buckinghamshire]; Dorothy Chaffen, 11, born in Birmingham and Alice M. Chaffen, 8, born in Durba, South Africa.

Finally, the 1911 census shows that Emma, now 84, was still alive, and the school, still run by Rose and Agnes, seems to have been flourishing. Interstingly Rose, not her mother, is described as head of household. Two relatives were also living with the family, Rose's niece, 10 year old Aufrey Clare Hutton (born Birmingham) and her brother Thomas William, aged 6. Flora Vowles was still on the staff and is described as governess. Boarding with the family is the new Congregational minister, 30 year old James Leonard Buddell, who had been born in Writtle [Essex]. Jane Ricketts was still a servant, now described as cook and 17 year old May Elizabeth Stevens from Cople is described as a domestic housemaid.

The pupils were as follows: Phillis Christina Clarke,18, from Bedford; Eileen Esther Lawson, 16, from Dulwich [London]; Florence May Elliott, 14, from Bedford; Marjorie Alice McCubbin, 14, from Dumfries [Kircudbrightshire]; Brian Arthur McCubbin, 13, also from Dumfries; Florence Victoria Baumbrough, 13, from Leighton Buzzard; Annie Doreen Baumbrough, 8, also from Leighton Buzzard; Emlyn Rees Davies, 8, from Twickenham [Middlesex]. Nine year old Faith Audrey McCubbin from Leighton Buzzard was visiting, obviously a relation of Marjorie and Brian.

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. Woburn, like much of the county was valued in 1927 and the valuer visiting 8 and 8a Leighton Street [DV1/C126/133-134] found that the building had now been divided into two parts. It was still owned, like most of Woburn, by the Duke of Bedford’s London and Devon Estates Company.

Number 8 was occupied by Mrs. Louise Abbiss whose rent was £20 per annum for a hall, two living rooms and a kitchen downstairs with two bedrooms and two attics above. She had a washhouse and W. C. outside. The valuer noted: “Was originally one house with page 133” [i.e. 8a Leighton Street]. 8a was in the occupation of William Jesse Hile who obviously worked for the Duke as one of his staff as his rent was included in his wages. His accommodation comprised two living rooms and a kitchen with two bedrooms and two attics above. The valuer noted: “No bath”. Outside stood a washhouse with a loft over, a pigsty (“very small”), a glasshouse and a W. C.

8 and 8a Leighton Street seen from London End March 2012
8 and 8a Leighton Street seen from London End March 2012