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Old Warden Manor

Volume III of The Victoria County History for Bedfordshire, published in 1912, has details of each manor in Old Warden. Old Warden Manor had its genesis in land owned by William Speke, or Espec, as recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.

The Wake family coat of arms
The Wake family coat of arms

The manor formed part of the Barony of Warden, which was created prior to 1166. In 1153 Walter Espec, perhaps the son or grandson of William, died and his possessions were divided between his three sisters. Old Warden passed to his eldest sister, Hadwisa, wife of William de Bussy. She passed it to her granddaughters Maud, wife of Hugh Wake and Cecilia, wife of John de Buili or Buly. The former woman's holding continued as Old Warden Abbey and that of her sister later became known as Bowels Manor. Aline Wake was lady of the manor in 1235, she had married Maud's son James and died holding Old Warden Manor in 1254.

The arms of Warden Abbey
The arms of Warden Abbey

Aline's heir was Barnabas, grandson of her first husband Walter de Stivecle. Barnabas died childless and by 1284 William Coynte, husband of Alice, Barnabas' sister held the manor. He died in 1317 and left the manor to his daughters, Joan, wife of Walter de Shelvestrode and Margery, then aged six weeks. Margery was taken into the wardship of John de Bowels. In 1341 she and her sister granted the manor to Warden Abbey.

In the 1340s Bowels Manor was also granted to Warden Abbey, thus re-uniting William Speke's former holding. Warden Abbey was dissolved in 1537 and in 1542 Old Warden Manor was annexed to the Honour of Ampthill as its overlord. In 1550 the manor was granted to Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), with a similar grant to Henry, eldest son of James I (1603-1625) in 1611 and, after his death, to his brother Charles, later Charles I (1625-1649), In 1617 a lease for ninety nine years was made to Sir Francis Bacon.

The Palmer family coat of arms
The Palmer family coat of arms

In 1628 the reversion of the lease was granted to Edward Ditchfield and other trustees on behalf of the Corporation of London. At some point between 1699 and 1714 the manor was purchased by Sir William Palmer. In 1773 his son Charles sold Old Warden Manor to Samuel Whitbread the elder, founder of the Whitbread Brewery. The manor remained in the Whitbread family until a succession of Law of Property Acts in the 1920s abolished manorial fines and incidents as well as copyhold land tenure, thus abolishing manors in practically all but name.