The earliest mention of Sweetbrier Farm is in an assignment of a lease from John Eldred and William Whitmore to Sir Baptist Hicks in 1610 [W2297]. Eldred had leased the land from the Crown that same year for £7,060 [W2295]. At that date the land formed part of Park Grange, Old Warden and one of the fields was called Sweetbrere and consisted of 20 acres. It is likely that the farmhouse was not yet built.
The first mention of a farmhouse is on an estate map dating from the middle of the 18th century [Z1125/1] entitled: "Map of the Estate of Miss Katherine Davis Bovey situate in the Parishes of Old Warden and Northill in the County of Bedford". Sweetbrier Farmhouse and homestead is shown as are the great majority of the fields shown on the conveyance of 1858 [see below - for a larger version please click on the image].
Sweetbrier Farm in 1858 [HY478]
Another document [W2320] suggests that there was a legal action in August 1750 prior to the marriage of Miss Bovey to the future Sir Thomas Alston (died 1759) on 30th August 1750. In 1782 John Wasse junior, Katherine's son-in-law, who had been devised the land, along with many other pieces of land, in her will, enacted a deed to lead to the uses of a fine to better assure his title to the various lands. Sweetbrier Farm was described as a farmhouse in Warden Street in the occupation of William Lamb with closes in Warden Street and Northill and known as Sweetbryer Lane Farm [W2323]. In was still occupied by William Lamb three years later when Wasse conveyed his lands to trustees for sale [W2346-2347]. The land was sold to Samuel Whitbread I in 1786 [W2350-2351].
In Samuel Whitbread II exchanged land with Sir Thomas Miller – Whitbread getting a farmhouse in Warden Street, with 254 acres appertaining, formerly in the occupation of Henry Inskip, now Anne Inskip [HY469-470]. It is puzzling that the land described in this exchange includes most of the fields belonging to the later farm, the same fields which Katherine Bovey had had in 1750. One can only speculate that Samuel Whitbread I sold the farm to Miller and that his son bought it back.
In 1809 Whitbread sold Sweetbrier and the neighbouring Highlands Farm to William Walker of Highlands Farm for £8,167 [HY471-472]. In January 1825 Walker sold two farms called Highlands and Sweetbrier, the former "newly erected", to Jeremiah Rosher of Northfleet [Kent] for £17,490 [HY474-475]. William Rosher sold the farms to John Harvey of Ickwell Bury for £20,000 in October 1858 [HY478-479]. At that date Sweetbrier Farm was depicted on the map below (to see a larger version please click on the image).
The land was scheduled as follows:
1. Homestead: 2 acres
2. Sheep Leys and 3. High Field or Horse Close: arable and now in one field of 17 acres, 3 roods, 8 poles
4. Park Field: arable of 6 acres, 1 rood, 35 poles;
5. Home Close: pasture of 10 acres, 18 poles;
6. Middle Close: pasture of 9 acres, 3 roods;
7. Wood Close: arable: 11 acres, 3 roods, 6 poles;
8. Great Wood Close: arable: 27 acres, 3 roods, 3 poles;
9. Spinney of 1 acre, 1 rood, 20 poles;
10. Mary Slade: pasture: 4 acres, 1 rood, 2 poles;
11. Part of Mary Slade: pasture: 1 acre, 30 poles;
12. Greens Hill: arable: 27 acres, 2 roods, 4 poles;
13. Spinney of 1 acre, 3 poles.
Total 121 acres, 0 roods 9 poles
In December 1876 John Harvey made an agreement with Joseph Shuttleworth [SL1/151]. He had lately made up Warden Street as far as Sweetbrier Farmhouse and the two men divided the road into lengths that each would maintain.
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 Sweetbrier Farm [DV1/H50/54] then found it owned by the Shuttleworth Estate, who must have bought it from the Harvey family. The occupier was Ben Larby who had paid rent of 15 shillings per acre rent before the Great War, a figure raised to 18/6 per acre from 1925 and so totalling so about £160 for 172 acres.
The valuer commented: "Long way from high road. House and buildings very old, mostly thatch, badly off for water, only shallow well, some wet, heavy land". Another hand wrote, on 27th January 1927: "A good house – plenty of homestead but expensive. Lot of thatch. New double shed. [Ordnance Survey Map numbers] 292, 308. 289 useful land buy position bad. Note Landlord repairs. Game a curse".
The farmhouse comprised two living rooms, a kitchen, a dairy, two store rooms, five bedrooms and two attics. The valuer commented: "Very old house". The homestead comprised the following:
- West Block: stabling for six horses; four pigsties; two henhouses and a loose box;
- North Block: two large barns; a large chaff house; a mixing house; a cowshed for eight and six calf boxes.
- East Block: an implement shed; a loose box; an open hovel and a granary.
"All wood and thatch very old require a lot of keeping up"
The farmhouse was listed by the former Department of Environment in March 1985 as Grade II, of special interest. The department dated the property to the 17th century noting that it had probably been re-fronted in the 18th century. It is built of colourwashed roughcast over a timber frame and has a clay tiled roof, hipped to the south and east corners. It is built in a U-plan, the front block having two storeys, the cross-wings two storeys and attics.