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Fishers Farm, Carlton

This page has been written by volunteer Pamela Hider

Fishers Farm is marked as such on the first Ordnance Survey map and also on a mid C18 map (Jefferys 1765). The Fisher family had lived in Carlton since the 16th century and probably since the 15th century, since a John Fisher was recorded as the joint purchaser of Pakenham Wood surrounding Carlton Manor in 1495. 

Jeffries Map - Fishers Farm

Extract from Jefferys map 1765

16th and 17th Centuries

One "FISHER, JASPER , divine and dramatist, born in 1591, was the son of William Fisher of Carleton, Bedfordshire, deputy-auditor for the county of York (descended from a Warwickshire family), by Alice Roane of Wellingborough" (Visitation of Bedfordshire, Harl. Soc. publ. 1884, xix. 107). Jasper matriculated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford in 1607, going on to become a Doctor of Divinity and Rector of Wilden, Bedfordshire in 1624 until his death in 1643, his patron having been his elder brother, Gideon Fisher of Carlton (1), born c.1588, whose name as thus appears in a list of students admitted to the Inner Temple in 1606 (Foster's Inns of Court Register). Gideon had married Anne Dayrell of Lamport, Bucks and his Will of 1654 was made in favour of Anne. There is no record of his death but this may have been because he died not long before 1660 ie. during the Commonwealth period, a time of conflict and turmoil during which registers were often incomplete.  It was Jasper's nephew, also named Gideon Fisher (2), born 1615, who went to Oxford in 1632 aged 17 (Alumni Oxoniensis 1500-1714) and succeeded to the estate at Carleton (Visitation of Bedfordshire, 1634, Harl. Soc. 107)". (Jasper's son, another Jasper, married Mary Gray at Pertenhall and he also owned land in Carlton).

Gideon (2) married Judith Lidcott of Towcester, Northants at St.Bennet's, Paul's Wharf, in the City of London in 1640 (H.xxvi 255; xix 107) and their names appear in many of our documents concerning land ownership, together with Jasper Fisher of Pertenhall and the Bithrays eg. GA328 of 1675. Carlton Parish registers for the 17th century record the baptisms and deaths of several children of a Gideon Fisher, but registers were often incomplete, hardly any records being made, of course, during the Civil War as well as the Commonwealth period (1642 - 1660). The Parish Registers do tell us however, that Gideon Fisher (3) a 'son of Gideon Fisher Jnr' was born in 1642 and that a 'daughter Judith of Gideon Fisher Jnr' was born in 1646.

A Gideon Fisher made a Will in 1667 (proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, which dealt with the Wills of wealthy individuals), and it might be presumed that the death record of "Gideon Fisher, son of Gideon Fisher" which appears in Carlton parish records for 1671 is that of Gideon Fisher (2). In the register of deaths, he was described as a Gentleman and an Armiger (a person of high status who is entitled to bear arms). However, a document of 1674 (BC517), reveals Gideon Fisher & wife Judith as being active, which suggests that it was their son, Gideon Fisher (3), then aged 29, who died in 1671. Judith must have died shortly after 1674 as she is never mentioned again in documents, but neither is there a death record for her.

In 1672, a house at Carlton belonging to one Gideon Fisher was licensed for Congregational worship at the 'First Declaration of Indulgence' . The 1672 Notes of Licence show it to be one of the very few places licensed for worship in Bedfordshire and it is virtually certain that Gideon's house and this farm were one and the same; and being isolated from the rest of the village, as this farm was, was very important in those unsettled times. John Bunyan, himself, is said to have preached in a barn here, which at the time was sited in a large orchard: "This is a 5 bay 17th century stone barn built in two phases, the earlier with a 'show' gable end of alternating bands of wide and narrow stones" (Historic Environment Record).   Although part of the main barn remains today, it is unrecognizable, as it has been converted into a modern dwelling house which has been much modified.

 Fishers Barn 2

Fishers Barn 3

Both sides of Fishers Barn, early 21st century (courtesy of Pauline Dynes)

In June 1685, there is a burial entry in the Carlton Parish registers for a Gideon Fisher, the last of its kind. We cautiously assume that this is of Gideon Fisher (2) although his father is not stated.

In 1686, a closer connection between Bunyan and this farm arose, when his daughter Sarah married one William Brown, a farmer. It has been written that Sarah & William lived at Fishers after 1686 and that "It is virtually certain that John Bunyan (not only) preached in this barn in the 1670s and 80s, but it is highly likely that Bunyan's daughter lived at the farm after her marriage in 1686 two years before his death" (HER). No Will of the last Gideon Fisher has come to light.

The HER goes on to say "...the Brown family are known to have lived in Carlton and neighbouring Harrold since the late sixteenth century. It is documented that Sarah and William married in St Cuthbert's, Bedford in 1686 though then they were both 'of this parish'. Gideon Fisher died in 1685, as far as it is known without children, and therefore there is likely either to have been a change of ownership or he left Fishers to William Brown: in either case the farm was available for the couple to move into. As it is documented that the Brown family were living at Fishers in the C18 (eg. "John Bunyan, his Life, Times and Work" by John Brown [no relation]), the connection is even more certain". However, there is no evidence to support this popular line of thought, which the HER also acknowledges.

18th Century

In fact, there is evidence to the contrary. There exists in the Archive a document of 1735/36 which is a Marriage Settlement between "Charles Bithray of Town of Bedford, merchant, and Persiana Moxon, late of St.Clement Danes, Middlesex, but now of Bedford, spinster (in which) Charles Bithray is seised of reversion on death of Elizabeth Bithray of Bedford, widow, of premises first hereafter mentioned…".  One of those mentioned is "Manor House in Carlton formerly in the occupation of Gideon Fisher, gentleman, deceased" (V479 - 480). As Gideon Fisher is the most recent 'occupant' mentioned, this does suggest that no other 'occupant' came after him and that Elizabeth Bithray was the new owner. (Although the word 'occupant' has been used in respect of Gideon Fisher, the likelihood is that in this case the 'occupant' was also the owner).

The identity of Elizabeth Bithray is uncertain, but she is the only lady of that name in our records who was a widow in 1735, so she could very possibly be Elizabeth Knight who married Thomas Bithrey (1st cousin of Charles) in 1727, and gave birth to 3 sons, before she was widowed in 1731. Both her father & father in law were landed gentry and she herself is mentioned often in our records (as Elizabeth Bithray, widow) appertaining to land ownership throughout her long life (she died in 1799 aged 91). It would appear that at some stage she had a controlling interest in FIshers and leased it to Charles, as he is regularly referred to in records as "Charles Bithrey of Carlton Fishers, gentleman". As he died in 1784, the lease passed to his second wife, Frances.

Charles & Persiana lived in Bedford, but when she died, less than 10 years after the marriage, in 1744, she was buried in Carlton. Three years later, Charles "of St.Paul, Bedford, widower" married Frances Brown "of St.Cuthbert, Bedford, spinster". They lived at Fishers Farm until his death in 1784. There were no children of the marriage.

Frances Bithrey Z50-141-244

Frances Bithrey nee Brown c.1752

Frances Bithrey, nee Brown, and known to be Bunyan's great granddaughter, died at Fishers in 1803. Her husband's family, the Bithreys, had lived for a large part of the 18th century not far away at Staysmore Manor. She outlived her husband by 19 years, became the owner of Fishers by Charles' will (ABP/W1784/29) and she left the farm to the family of another William Brown, her nephew, who had died at Fishers 3 years before she did. This last does suggest the Browns might have moved in with Frances after she was widowed.

Gentry such as the Fishers, the Bithreys and possibly the Browns, would not have lived in a farmhouse. They would have occupied a much grander dwelling and indeed we have evidence of this. The document mentioned above (V479-480) referred to the Manor House at Carlton once occupied by Gideon Fisher; and a glebe terrier of 1822 (FAC35/11) describing land in the vicinity of Fishers Farm refers to "an old Mansion called Fishers". There is no trace of this now and it sounds as if it might have been derelict then. The HER suggests that the gable end of the old barn faced "what is now just orchard but what is likely to have the been the Fishers house since there are undulations in the ground further to the east". The same glebe terrier also refers to the surrounding land and that of "Widow Brown's of Fishers" (ie.Mary Brown, the widow of Frances's nephew, William, to whose family she had left the farm).

There would have been a farmhouse too, of course, for the farmer and his family and possibly one or two small cottages for agricultural workers, including one known as Piper's Lodge at the entrance to a drive which led to the mansion (see page on Piper's Highway). Once the mansion had become derelict, the farmhouse would have become the centre of the estate and probably underwent substantial improvements.

19th Century

William and Mary Brown and their two children, may have moved to Fishers in 1784 when Frances was widowed. William had died in 1800 and by 1803, when Frances died, Mary and her (by now) five children would have inherited and indeed Mary's name appears in Carlton Land Tax records after that date. By 1806, those records show that half the land had been sold. By 1812, son William (2) was married and living in a house at Fishers, but Mary, his mother, was also still there. By 1818, daughter Sarah and her husband, Stephen Benbrook, were also living in a house at Fishers. In 1824, William's family, including mother Mary, moved away to another farm several miles away in Farndish (the 1841 census shows them all to be still there, Mary now 86 years old). Mary's five offspring (a son and four daughters) were still owners of the land, although by 1825, more land had been sold off and three of the landowners no longer lived in Carlton. Of the remaining two (both sons-in-law), one had a house (perhaps the farm house) and land; and the other just a small house (perhaps one of the small cottages). Although still alive in 1841, they were not mentioned at Fishers at all in the census of that year.

Censuses for the rest of the century, refer to the properties as 'Fishers', 'Fishers Lodge', 'Fishers Farm Cottage' or 'Fishers Farm'. Until 1861, unsurprisingly, they were each occupied by agricultural labourers and their families (at least two and sometimes three families). Occupation then reduced to one family, until by 1891, it was described as 'Uninhabited'.

20th Century

The censuses of 1901 and 1911 refer to 'Fishers Farm' and occupancy had reverted in 1901 again to several families, but by 1911 to just one family which, with their descendants, would retain ownership for more than a hundred years, the Edens.

Fishers Farm 1901

The Betts family, occupants of the farmhouse c.1901 (courtesy of the Betts family)

In 1907, the 100 acre farm was bought by brothers Harold and Gerald Eden. The lane that led to the farm was caused to be named after them and remains so to this day - Eden's Lane. 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 Fishers Farm at 90 acres [DV1/H18] in 1926 remarked as follows: "A useful small holding. Ample supply of buildings. Not a good supply of water. 6 1/2 acres are rented from Mr.Skevington at £14 p.a." He also noted "Plenty of grass. Orchard poor. Three lots of buildings. Long narrow place. Second house to Cottage Brook". The house was described as stone & thatch and comprised: scullery, livingroom, washhouse and dairy; 3 bedrooms upstairs and closet outside - 'quite a good house. Water from a good well' . The buildings consisted of N. 4 bay open cart shed, trap house and tool shed. 2 piggeries, barn & loose box. E. 3 bay open hovel, loose box, stable for 4. Stone & tiled, quite good buildings, water from well. Pipers Lodge was also included - stone & tiled barn (other buildings burnt down). Orchard Barn - stone & tiled barn and hovel.

Harold Eden BTNeg6083-10

Joseph Harold Eden, September 1958 (BTNeg6083/10)

The farmhouse was occupied by Harold and his family until it was demolished in the 1940s and replaced by a bungalow, where they continued to live. Harold died in 1971, before which, his son Claude had taken over the business and after which, lived at the bungalow with his family until his death in 2013. It has since been sold and much extended.

Fishers Barn 1 v2

Manure Cart at Fishers Farm 1920s (photograph taken by Harold Eden, courtesy of his granddaughter Pauline Dynes)

Other references:

  • Carlton & Chellington Historical Society Newsletters Z1521/1/13/2 & Z1521/1/17/1
  • Listing Document 2007

Footnote:  There are one or two references in Bedfordshire Archives records about a Manor of Carlton called Stokes 'formerly in the occupation of Gideon Fisher'. Indeed the Arms (but not the pedigree) of 'Stokes of Carlton' are described under an Addenda of the Herald's Visitation of Bedfordshire in 1566. It may well be that the Fisher family took over Stokes' Manor from the Stokes family at some point and it is quite possible that they were related, but there does not appear to be any family records to this effect.