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Old Warden Manors

Domesday

In 1086 Old Warden had three landowners. The largest was William Speke, who held nine hides from King William I "as one manor". The manor contained 18 villagers, 4 smallholders and 4 slaves, as well as a mill. The manor had belonged to eight freemen in 1066 but, true to form, the new Norman King took their land away and gave it to one of his supporters. In their day the manor had been worth £8, by 1086 this had fallen to £6.

land near Brookland Farm March 2008
land near Brookland Farm March 2008

Ralph de l'Isle held virgates from the King in Old Warden, the Domesday Book making the statement: "This land lies in Biggleswade; it is assessed there". This suggests that if it lay in the modern parish of Old Warden it was close to the modern A1 perhaps in the vicinity of Brookland Farm.

Finally, Azelina, wife of Ralph Tallboys held half a hide in Old Warden, her tenant being one Walter the Monk; Domesday Book noted: "it is her marriage portion" [in other words land she owned in her own right and had brought to into the marriage with her]. The holding included a smallholder and woodland for forty pigs. In 1066 it had been owned by Goding "Edric the Bald's man" and it had been worth £1; when he, as a native Englishman, was deprived of it by the Norman William I, it was still worth the same, but by 1086 the value had been halved to ten shillings, presumably through the depredations of William I's armies as they rode north to deal with rebellion.

Wake coat of arms
Wake coat of arms

Old Warden Manor

William Speke's manor formed part of the Barony of Warden which was created before 1166. After the death of his descendent Walter Espec in 1153 his possessions were divided amongst his three sisters with Old Warden going to the eldest, Hadwisa, wife of William de Bussy. She left it equally to her granddaughters Maud, wife of Hugh Wake and Cecilia, wife of John de Builli.

Hugh Wake's half of the manor, had passed to Lady Alina Wake by 1235; she had married James Wake, perhaps son of Hugh and Maud and she died still owning it in 1254 - her heir was Barnabas, grandson of Walter de Stivecle, her husband who had died childless. By 1284 this half of the manor was held by the husband Barnabas' sister, William Coynte. On his death in 1317 his daughters Joan, wife of Walter de Shelvestrode and Margery (then just six weeks old) jointly inherited the manor - Margery under the wardship of John de Bowels. In 1341 the two sisters granted the manor to Warden Abbey.

Bowels Manor

This was the second half of Old Warden Manor, that granted to Cecilia Bussy, who had married John de Builli sometime before 1185, he was still in possession in 1210. Peter de Bueles was tenant-in-chief in 1274, on his death his son John was a minor, who attained his majority in 1283. It was probably this John's son John Whipsnade, in 1330, claimed a market and manorial rights at Old Warden. He had mortgaged the manor to John de Saint-Amand in 1328 and eventually the manor seems to have been conveyed to him because in 1343 Almaric de Saint-Amand was in possession of the manor and he alienated it to Warden Abbey in that year in exchange for Abbey land in Millbrook.

Palmer coat of arms
Palmer coat of arms

Old Warden Manor

Between this date and 1542 the now reunited Manor of Old Warden was held by Warden Abbey. On the dissolution of the abbey in 1542 the Manor was attached to the Honour of Ampthill and in 1550 was granted to Princes Elizabeth, later Elizabeth I. In 1611 Prince Henry of  Wales had the manor and, on his death it passed to his brother Charles, later Charles I.

In 1616 the manor was leased by Charles to Francis Bacon for 99 years and in 1628 the reversion of this lease was granted to trustees for the Corporation of London. Some time between 1699 and 1714 the manor was purchased by Sir William Palmer and his son Charles sold it in 1773 to Samuel Whitbread and the Whitbread family continued and Lords of the Manor until successive acts in the 1920s rendered the title meaningless in all but name.

Warden Manor

This manor is listed in th Victoria County History, but the information given there is wrong. It suggests the origin of the manor was in a grant of Ravenesholt Wood to Warden Abbey. However, Ravenesholt Wood was in Cambridgeshire, not in Old Warden, and there is no evidence this manor ever existed. 

 Mordaunt coat of arms
Mordaunt coat of arms

Hill Manor

This manor was created after the dissolution of Warden Abbey, being in John Harding's hands at his death in 1550. Hill was a hamlet in Old Warden just north of Broom. Harding's heir was his daughter Cecilia. A Cecilia, wife of George Mordaunt held the manor in 1585 though her precise relationship with the earlier Cecilia is not known. At about this date the Mordaunts conveyed the manor to Lord Lewis Mordaunt and his son Henry, who sold it in 1604 to Sir William Palmer, High Sheriff of Bedfordshire who still owned it at his death in 1626. In 1642 the manor was part of a settlement on the marriage of William Palmer and Margaret Gardiner. Interestingly, given the future history of the manor, in 1685 it was conveyed by William Palmer to trustees as part of a mariage settlement, one of whom was Thomas Halfpenny of Lilley [Hertfordshire].

By 1729 the manor belonged to Mary Mackdowall, mother of Thomas Palmer, who had died without heirs that year and she conveyed it to trustees as part of a marriage settlement between her nephew Thomas Halfpenny and Lettice Drage [W2382-2383]. On Mary's death in 1735 the house passed to Halfpenny [W2384]. A document of 1766 [AD2974] has both the Manor and Hill House being put up for sale by Halfpenny. However, he did not sell as his son Bernard conveued it to Bedford lawyer Jeremy Fish Palmer in 1772.

In 1799, after Fish Palmer's death, his executor and brother sold both Hill Manor and Hill House to Samuel Whitbread MP of Southill for £6,100. Samuel Whitbread seems to have sold both the manor of Hill and Hill House to the Second Baron Ongley in 1800. The manor is last mentioned as owned by the 3rd Baron Ongley in 1837.

The Hill House March 2008
The Hill House March 2008

It seems likely that the current The Hill House is the manor house - it was listed by the former Department of Environment in 1972 who reckoned it to be a 17th century house which had been reworked in the 18th and 19th centuries, which suggests that it was originally built by the Palmers, though whether or not on the site of an earlier building is not known. Most of the exterior of the house is colour-washed rough-cast over a timber frame, although the ground floor and north gable end were rebuilt in 18th century brick. The house is in a U-plan of two storeys with attics, the main entrance being in the east elevation of the central block.