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Chicksands Priory in the Time of the Osborns

Chicksands Priory about 1730 by N and S Buck
Chicksands Priory about 1730 by N and S Buck

There is no record of the relationship between the early members of the Osborn family and the Priory, but we know that in 1740 Sir Danvers Osborn (Third Baronet) planned to renovate the building. Well-known contemporary architect Isaac Ware remodelled the East and South fronts of the priory. It is suspected that this was the first time that major alterations had taken place since the monastic period. Prior to this, in 1721, an inventory was taken of the building and its contents, published as part of Bedfordshire Historical Record Society Volume 74: Country House Inventories by James Collett-White. The rooms in the building are described as follows [note the original spellings]: Great Hall; Chappell Closett; Withdrawing Room; Matted Chamber; Yallow Chamber; closett; Corner Room; lobby; Green Bed Chamber; dressing room; Long Bed Chamber; room within; Canopee Room; pasage; Long Gallery; Room over the Pantry; Pantry; pasage; Parlour; closett; parlour chamber; parlour chamber; closett; Stoor Room; Maids Room; Corner Room; Inward Room; Dairy; Landry; Wash House; Larder; Pastry; Bake House; Kitching; Hall; Yard; Celler; Brewhouse; Stoor Room in the Yard; Stewards Room; men's Chamber; Room over the Sink House.

General Sir George Osborn commissioned another famous architect, James Wyatt, to undertake further re-modelling to the building's east and south fronts in 1813. The gothic design of the entrance hall and, the main staircase and the east porch are good examples of Wyatt's work. Also originating from this period are small friezes of classical stonework and some plaques and stained glass. Andor Gomme attributes most of the external appearance of the building to Wyatt [CRT130CHI 6]. Sir George also built summer-houses, a fishing lodge and a 'gothick' ruin. The diarist John Byng (the fifth Viscount Torrington) visited the Priory in this period, and scathingly remarked that "About this sweet place not an addition to taste has been bestowed! What is done is done wrong; ground levell'd improperly; nothing to uphold monastic grandeur". Later, he lamented "Adieu to all the gravity and respectability of such a place". Sir George's remodelling is described in volume VII of The Bedfordshire Magazine – "The remaining traces of the mediaeval priory on the principle fronts were removed, and the building was refaced in the gothic of 1814. A vaulted hall, with an imposing staircase rising from it, was formed on the east side, the greater part of the cloisters being demolished in the process. The south front was remodelled, and two new bays in imitation of the old were added to the vaulting in the west range to form a study or library."

It was in 1813 that the gardens were landscaped, and the removal of earth from the area revealed that the lawn which leads between the Priory and the river was used as a burial ground prior to 1536. Remains have been found there as late as 1971 [X758/12/26].

A letter written by Frances Ongley (who held the Manor of Sandy) to the Reverend Coventry Payne of Hatfield Peverel in Essex, dating from 1830, stated that the Priory had been let by the Osborn family to a Mr Line Stephens, who was "building stables, the estate finding Timbers, and otherwise doing a great deal to the House; he has certainly a million of money so he may be called a good Tenant. He married his Daughter last week & only gave her two Hundred Thousand Pound!!" [D119].

In January 1877 the Osborns were back in residence at the Priory and a ball held there was the subject of an article in local paper The Bedfordshire Mercury. The article stated that "Sir G. Osborn and Lady Osborn gave a ball to a distinguished party at their residence Chicksands Priory. The arrangements were as usual very complete, and a pleasant evening was spent".

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 priory was owned at this time by Sir Algernon Osborn, and the tenant was A B Williamson. The valuer described the property as "Part Built in 1150 then added to. Historical old Place. Belonged to the Osborn family since the 14th Century" [we know from the records that the valuer was incorrect in this as the Priory was still a religious house at this time, not becoming the property of the Osborns until the 16th century]. It already had central heating and electric light, and the valuer mentions a waterfall opposite the house. He goes on to describe the contents of the priory: entrance porch, hall ('very cold - not for comfort, stone floor', 'Dank and cold'), two recesses ('pretty but useless'), two toilets, a bath and dressing room ('now sun room' and 'day room'). There was a 'very good' dining room with recess, a smoking room with a vaulted ceiling. There was also a chapel, boiler room, coals, woodshed and toilet. Notes appear in the margins but it is not always clear how they relate to the main content. The smoking room possibly contained two columns, and may have been later adapted into a pantry and servants hall. The boiler room and coals were adapted into a kitchen. There was also a pantry, a big brushing room, strong room and a Butler's bedroom ('now stores').

Downstairs was a cellar, servants hall and sitting room, wine cellar, three footman's rooms, linen room ('now Butler'), store, day larder and toilet. The kitchen was 'light, good', and there was a scullery, knife room, china room ('chauffer'), a bake house ('used for Bikes'), and a Housekeepers room.

Up the main stairs was a landing, billiard room with room to watch, library (with a "very fine old painted ceiling"), drawing room, morning room, boudoir, "very nice" bedroom, bath and toilet, two bedrooms with dressing rooms, bathroom, small toilet, King James' bedroom ("period, very nice", "vaulted ceiling"), with a "not period" dressing room. There were also four batchelors [sic] rooms and two good double rooms.

There was a housemaid's pantry, a second linen room, toilet and bath, and two servants bedrooms. The second floor held six further servants bedrooms "all good, slope in one only". There were also six further batchelors bedrooms "all face West and have slight slope, all nice rooms".

Outside was a coal shed, battery room, engine room, garage for three cars, wash place and wood barn. Four 'good mens rooms' were located over the garage. There was also a harness room ("not used"), four stall stable, one box and an open shed.

A separate brick and tile building contained a store, four boxes and one stall (unused), a gun room and estate office. There was also an unused bedroom and an old brew house. Another building housed a mess room and two stores, and had a walled in kitchen garden. There was also a glass house and peach house, both heated, and some potting sheds. The valuer noted another building "old Grange House: useless".

The grounds are described as possessing "kitchen gardens, fair, hardly any ornamental flower beds. Sloping lawns to river. 2 grass tennis courts. Waterfall". Overall, the valuer comments that the priory was "A rather charming old place. Dignified. Is a Place. Accommodation short on the ground floor but plenty on the 1st and 2nd". When considering the valuation overall, the property is compared to those of similar stature in the area. "Smaller than Old Warden + Southill. Less grounds [therefore] Less upkeep [therefore] more lettable", "very very fine, must be [worth] more than Tempsford Hall". The valuer records that he was shown around by the Butler, and that the property's "only disadvantage" was the "distance between Kitchen + Dining Room" [DV1/R47/11-15].

A number of resources are available which provide further information about the priory. These include further pages on this website, pamphlets published by The Friends of Chicksands Priory [pamphlet 130CHI]. Detailed notes concerning the building itself, created by Dr Andor Gomme [CRT130CHI6], and a description in O'Brien and Pevsner's The Buildings of England: Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Peterborough (2014). All of these resources are available in our public search room.

Chicksands Priory about 1900 [Z1052/8/2]
Chicksands Priory about 1900 [Z1052/8/2]