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Blunham Court

Blunham House in 1870 [WG2601]
Blunham House in 1870 [WG2601]

Blunham Court, formerly known as Blunham House, is a comparatively recent structure, built in the early 19th century on the site of a mansion called Lawlesses. Bedfordshire  Archives and Records Service has the deeds for both buildings running from 1727 to 1843.

The "capital messuage or mansion house with a tenement adjoining, called Lawlesses House" is first mentioned in a marriage settlement of 1727 [X336/1-2] when its owner, Thomas Bromsall married Margaret Sherwill of Hackney [Middlesex]. Bromsall owned a total of ten or more properties and 559 acres of land in Blunham, Mogerhanger, Streatley and Wrestlingworth. Bromsall died in 1750 and was buried in the family vault of Saint Andrew's, Hertford, in his will [X336/4] he left Lawlesses, after the death of his widow Margaret, to John Orlebar of Hinwick, his cousin. In 1759 Orlebar and his son, Richard, executed a lease to trustees for 99 years to prevent a forfeiture [X612/26].

Richard Orlebar conveyed Lawlesses (except for a piece at the end of the garden, a house called The Dairy House in the orchard and a piece at the end of the orchard which were all copyhold and had to be surrendered instead) along with a number of cottages and farms, 337.5 acres and the "reputed manor" of Whitehouse in Blunham to John Campbell of Audley Square [Middlesex] for £4,300 in 1768 [X336/19-20]. The reference to "the reputed Manor of Whitehouse" is puzzling. There is no other reference to such a reputed manor, except in the lease to trustees of 1759 quoted above [X612/26] and sale particulars of 1870 [see below] and so there is good reason to think it spurious.

Campbell died five years later, having moved to Blunham, and left his estates to his wife Susannah with a reversion after her death to their daughters Elizabeth Maria and Charlotte Julia [X336/23]. In a codicil Campbell changed the reversion to his son John, instead but did not get it properly witnessed thus, in 1788 when Elizabeth Maria was about to marry John Payne of Tempsford Hall, she executed a release of the estate to her brother in return for an advance of £3,000 as her marriage portion [X336/24-25]. Charlotte Julia executed a separate release to her brother in 1797 [X336/26-27].

John Campbell, then a captain in the 1st Dragoon Guards, married Caroline Wyndham of New Sarum [Wiltshire] in 1797 and conveyed Lawlesses and the rest of his Blunham estate to trustees as part of the settlement [X336/28]. Susannah Campbell died in 1804 and duly left all her real estate to her son [X336/32].

It would seem that Lawlesses was pulled down at some point between 1797 and 1826 because by the time Campbell mortgaged his estates in 1826 the reference is to "a capital messuage or mansion house in Blunham with appurtenances and the scite where Lawlesses house once stood" [X336/34]. However, in January 1952 when the former Department of Environment listed Blunham Court (as it is called today) they stated: "Small country house now subdivided. Probably circa 1720-30 for Thomas Bromsall (Bedfordshire Record Office, X336)!" Perhaps part of Lawlesses was pulled down and part remained to form the core of Blunham Court. The Department also note about the house: "with various 19th century additions and alterations". Campbell sold Blunham House, so called for the first time, in 1835 to Sir Peter Payne (1763-1843) "late of Ruston Hall [Norfolk], now of Blunham" [X616/3-4].

Sir Peter Payne died in 1843 and in his will left all his real estate to trustees for sale and Blunham House was purchased by Rev.Thelwall John Thomas Salusbury of Offley [Hertfordshire] and George Hammond junior of Portland Place [Middlesex]. Sir Charles Gillies Payne, son of Sir Peter continued to live in the house, as did his son, Sir Salusbury Gillies Payne. His gravestone near the west gate of the churchyard notes that he died on 10th December 1893, aged 64. Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has sale particulars from sale of the house in 1870 when it is described as formerly the residence of Sir Salusbury Gillies Payne [WG2601].

Gravestone of Salusbury Gillies Payne October 2009
Gravestone of Salusbury Gillies Payne October 2009

The house was described as: The Old-fashioned Family Residence called Blunham House". It comprised the following accommodation:

Ground Floor

  • An entrance hall paved in York Stone measuring 22 feet by 20 feet;
  • A dining room measuring 33 feet 9 inches by 15 feet 9 inches "having a communication with the Domestic Offices and Stable yard";
  • A large drawing room measuring 24 feet by 18 feet "a lofty Apartment, with deep Ornamental Cornice and panelled Walls, with China Closet adjoining, leading into the Domestic Offices";
  • A small drawing room adjoining measuring 19 feet by 14 feet 3 inches with two pairs of French windows "which open onto the Carriage Drive";
  • The Library, or Justice Room measuring 16 feet by 14 feet with an entrance from the lawn;
  • The Domestic Offices comprising a kitchen, scullery, small meat larder with a bedroom over, a housekeeper's room, a side entrance to the stable yard, a W. C., a servants' hall, a butler's pantry with a wine cellar and two ale cellars in the basement.

First Floor, reached by "an old Oak Staircase, with Twisted Balustrade and Handrail"

  • Five principal bed chambers;
  • Two dressing rooms;
  • A box room;
  • A W. C.;
  • A secondary staircase;
  • Four "good-sized servants' bed rooms approached from the Domestic Offices";
  • A line closet and store room.

Outside were:

  • The out-offices in a small yard at the rear comprising a wash-house, closet, coal house, knife house, dairy and meat larder;
  • A range of brick and tile stables with a loft over being a three stall stable for four horses, a carriage house, a closet and two loose boxes;
  • A weather-board and tile range comprising an aviary, an apple room, a harness room, a nag stable or loose box all enclosed in a good yard, part paved;
  • A Farmery comprising a weather-boarded and slated range with a carpenter's shop, a cow house, a hen house, an enclosed cart house, a lean-to shed, a potting house, two piggeries and a tool house;
  • An orchard;
  • A coachman's cottage of brick, plaster and thatch with four rooms, a closet, out-house and garden;
  • An "excellent" kitchen garden walled all round with "numerous thrifty fruit trees" and a 14 feet by 9 feet greenhouse.

Blunham House - downstairs
Blunham House - downstairs

Blunham House - upstairs
Blunham House - upstairs

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has a pair of plans of Blunham House drawn up by Usher and Anthony, a firm of Bedford architects. The plans are undated but are presumably either late 19th or early 20th century. John Usher (1822-1904), the founder of the firm was born in Blunham and the company had property in the village as late as 1927, consequently they did a fair amount of work in the vicinity. Please click on the small images above to see larger versions.

The Rating and Valuation Act of 1925 specified that every piece of land and building in the country should be assessed to determine the rates to be paid on it. Blunham was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting Blunham House [DV1/R47/39] noted that it was both owned and occupied by a Mrs. Anderson ("gone to India. Caretaker showed me the house. Very, very good…Planning excellent"). It then boasted electric light and central heating. Despite his initial enthusiasm the valuer, rather oddly, finished by saying "Not an attractive Place" allowing some money off the valuation for "general unattractiveness. Also for bad residential position".

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has a flyer for a lecture and discussion weekend on the theme: "Accent on Peace" held at the house, then a nursing home specialising in natural medicine, in May 1951 [CRT130Blu1]. The house is described thus: "Blunham House is an attractive red-brick Georgian house, completely modernised, with central heating throughout and h. & c. [hot and cold water] in all main bedrooms. It is well laid out for the comfort of patients, and its situation - in 33 acres of parkland, ornamental garden, smallholding and market garden - ensures peaceful and welcoming surroundings. The river Ivel runs alongside the estate and there is also an all-weather tennis court within the grounds".

"The professional side of the centre is under the supervision of P. G. la Barre, assisted by J. D. R. Watson - both members of the Incorporated Society of Registered Naturopaths and graduates of the Edinburgh School of Natural Therapeutics. Visiting consultants are Mr. and Mrs. James C. Thomson, of The Kingston Clinic - who are to be at Blunham for the week immediately following the May Study Week-end".

The weekend's structure was as follows:

Saturday 19th May:

  • 3 p.m. The Implications of Pacificsm by B. J. Boothroyd [Editor of Peace News which ran from 1936 to 1961]
  • 8 p.m. World Health and Personal Health by P. G. La Barre

Sunday 20th May:

  • 11 a.m. Round Table Discussion on Peace.
  • 3 p.m. The Politics of Peace by John Parke, B.Sc.
  • 8 p.m. Social Evening, with Music

There was a Special Announcement: "Following this week-end there will be a week of intensive Nature Cure, with Mr. and Mrs. James C. Thomson as Resident Consultants and Lecturers. Appointments may be made, and further particulars of the week's activities obtained through the Secretary".

Blunham Court is built of red brick with hipped roofs, partly of clay tile, partly of slate. The earlier block stands to the west with later additions to north, east and south forming a quadrangle around a small courtyard. "Payne", for Sir Peter Payne, is incised in the brick surround of left-hand ground floor window of the east block.