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Clapham Park

Clapham Park in 1985 [Z1091/4/1/12]
Clapham Park in 1985 [Z1091/4/1/12]

Clapham Park was listed by English Heritage in August 1987 as Grade II, of special interest. The house was built in 1872 by architect John Usher of Bedford, for James Howard the Liberal M.P. for Bedford; he was also co-founder of Britannia Ironworks in Kempston Road, Bedford. The house is built of dark red brick, with stone details and a tiled roof; its architectural style is described as Gothic. The listing notes: “The interior remains virtually intact. There is an oak staircase with wrought iron flower motifs between the balusters. The hall is lit by a lantern supported on an arcade of Bath stone with red Mansfield stone columns (now painted white). The arcade is blind along one wall. Some of the ground floor rooms retain oak floors inlaid in geometric patterns. Most of the original carved oak doors remain, and some moulded skirting boards. Many of the windows have interior surrounds of slender columns supporting Tudor roses”.

Notes on the history of Clapham Park [CRT130Clapham2] reveal that in 1279 John le Brun held one carucate of land in Clapham from its overlord, the Honour of Wallingford, the Victoria County History for Bedfordshire, published in 1912 tells us that this was two-fifths of the Manor of Greenacres or Fitzjeffrys. The holding comprised 26 acres acres of land, 6 acres of meadow, two fishponds and “one ancient park of 32 acres”.

The boundaries of the park were mentioned in 1583 [FN377] and the Victoria County History states that when the Manor of Greenacres or Fitzjeffrys was sold in 1591 it included Clapham Park. A map from the 17th century [FN1014] shows the park as already wooded and bounded by Lodge Close to the north and Jackmans to the east. In 1708 [S/AM79] the park comprised one hundred acres.

The Victoria County History tells us that the Earl of Ashburnham “sold a large part of the Clapham estates to James Howard in 1862, who established there a model farm and farmed the land under new and scientific methods” and that “a private road near the church leads to Clapham Park, a fine modern building of the Elizabethan type standing on high ground to the south of Clapham Wood”.

We know from the 7th June 1873 edition of the Bedfordshire Times that the completion of Clapham Park as residence for James Howard MP was celebrated on 5th June with a substantial party.

In 1889, after James Howard’s death, the Clapham Park Estate was put up for sale. The particulars [X67/338] are very full as concerning the house and are transcribed below.

Clapham Park entrance front in 1889 [X67/338]
Clapham Park entrance front in 1889 [X67/338]

A fine Example in the Elizabethan Style of Architecture,
presenting an attractive Elevation of Red Brick, with Bath Stone Dressings and Roofed with Red Tiles,
Is admirably placed on the Southern Slope of a gently rising Hill,
Commanding probably

The Finest Views in the Midlands extending into Five Counties.

It was erected some 15 years since in a most substantial manner and in material, workmanship, and perfection of detail, leaves nothing to be desired. It is approached from the Kimbolton Road and the Clapham Road by


Protected by
Built of Red Brick with Tiled Roofs, and terminating in

The Accommodation comprises -

On the Top Floor

About 18 feet by 13 feet, fitted with a handsome Hanging Cupboad in Pitch Pine, and a Specimen Marble Chimney Piece and Kerb with Tiled Sides and Hearth

About 18 feet by 16 feet 9 inches, with Two Windows facing south and west, one forming a deep alcove.
THE TOWER DRESSING ROOM communicating, fitted with Pitch Pine Hanging Closet

About 22 feet by 18 feet with Bay Window, similarly fitted to the Tower Bedroom

LINEN ROOM, fitted with Range of Cupboards with Sliding Doors; w.c. SERVANTS’ BED ROOM, with Dwarf and Hanging Cupboard. WORK ROOM, about 14 feet 6 inches by 9 feet, fitted with Hanging Closet and Stone Chimney Piece. Another SERVANTS’ BED ROOM, about 17 feet by 15 feet, fitted with Stone Chimney Piece.

There is a Secondary Staircase to this Floor

On the First Floor

Off the Secondary Staircase is a Lobby and w.c.; another Lobby, with Housemaid’s Cupboard; Housemaid’s Room, with Sink and hard and soft water supply, and fitted with Shelves, &c.

BED or DRESSING ROOM; Lobby with spacious Bath Room, fitted with Marble Chimney Piece and Tiled Hearth and Sides.

About 28 feet 8 inches by 18 feet, facing South, having a Bay Window and commanding lovely Views; and fitted with a fine Specimen Marble Chimney Piece with Black Marble inlay, Tiled Sides and Hearth.

About 21 feet by 18 feet 6 inches, situated in an angle of the Building, with a Bay Window facing West and another Window to the South. The Chimney Piece is similar to that in the previous Room.

THE RED DRESSING ROOM, under the Turret, has a Door to Balcony overlooking the Grounds, and is fitted with a Specimen Marble Chimney Piece and Kerb with Tiled Sides and Hearth

About 18 feet by 15 feet, fitted with similar Chimney Piece, and Pine hanging Cupboard

About 18 feet by 18 feet, has a Bay Window facing West, and a Second Window, and is similarly fitted.

LARGE DRESSING ROOM communicating, having a similar Chimney Piece, the Window having a Hatch Gate admitting to
A SPACIOUS BALCONY about 12 feet by 12 feet, over the Entrance Porch.
ANOTHER PRINCIPAL BED ROOM, about 18 feet by 13 feet, facing the Entrance Front, with Marble Chimney Piece and Pine Hanging Closet.

On the Ground Floor

An ENTRANCE LOBBY with handsome Encaustic Tiled Floor and Wall Panels divided from the Entrance Hall by a fine Carved Oak Partition with Stained Glass Side Panels, and Centre Doors having Panels of Engraved Plate Glass. The Floor is Tesselated, and the Walls are Tinted and Stencilled in Designs. Divided from this by an Oak Partition and Double Doors with Plate Glass Panels is

With Panelled Pitch Pine Ceiling and Parquet Floor. And off which is

About 19 feet 6 inches by 15 feet, with a fine Bay Window facing West looking on to the Sunk Lawn and Shrubbery, and another Window looking towards the Entrance Front. It is fitted with a massive Gothic Chimney Piece of Marble inlaid with Tiles, and having Tiled Sides and Hearth, and a Marble Kerb. The Walls are Tinted and Stencilled in Design, and have a Lincrusta [linseed gel mixed with wood flour on a paper base] and Varnished Wood Dado. The Ceiling is in Panelled Pine.

Entered from the Inner Hall under a Bold Arch is

About 21 feet by 18 feet laid with Parquet, and fitted with a handsome carved Chimney Piece of Red Sandstone and Coloured Marbles, with Tiled Sides and open Hearth. From here springs

Of polished Oak, with a terminal Gallery on the First Floor, and having a Balustrading of most artistic design, also in oak, with Walnut Handrail, the spaces between each Baluster being filled with foliated Ironwork. The Walls are panelled and tinted, relieved with stencilling and enrichments, and the Gallery on the Second Floor presents a Series of Arcades in Bath-stone, with Sand-stone Pillars and Carved Capitals, with a Balconade between the Pillars similar to the Balustrading. The Ceiling is in Pitch Pine, deeply panelled, each having a stencil to represent an inlay of coloured woods, and the whole is surmounted by a fine Lantern Light partly in Cathedral Tinted Glass.

About 18 feet by 15 feet
Has Triple Windows facing West, is fitted with a Massive Veined Marble and Inlaid Chimney-piece with Tiled Sides and Hearth and Marble Kerb. The Walls are tinted and stencilled, and the Dado has a Lincrusta inlay. The Ceiling is panelled in Wood, painted, stencilled and gilt, and the Floor has a Border of Parquet.

About 30 feet by 22 feet
With Recesses for Sideboard and Buffet, and, having a Serving Door, is well lighted by a Fine Bay Window with a Southern aspect and a splendid outlook over the Terrace, Flower Garden, Plantations and beautiful Country beyond. The Room is fitted with a Massive Marble Chimney-piece of chaste design. The Ceiling is panelled in Pine and stencilled, the Walls tinted, with stencilled Borders, and finished with a Dado Lincrusta and grained Wood; the Floors bordered with Parquet

about 28 feet by 18 feet 6 inches
With Recesses for Sideboard and Buffet, and, having a Service Door, is well lighted by a Fine Bay Window with a Southern aspect and a splendid outlook over the Terrace, Flower Garden, Plantations and beautiful Country beyond. The Room is filled with a Massive Marble Chimney-piece of chaste design. The Ceiling is panelled in Pine and stencilled, the Walls tinted, with stencilled Borders and finished with a Dado of Lincrusta and grained Wood; the Floor bordered with Parquet.

24 feet by 18 feet 6 inches,
With Pitched Open-Timbered Roof in Pitch Pine, has an outlook to the Dining Room, is fitted with an Ornamental Stone Chimney-piece. The walls are treated like those of the Dining Room, and the Room is heated by Hot Water Coils concealed by an Ornamental iron Grating in the Dado. The Floor has a Parquet margin and centre.

Out of the Corrdor, shut off from the Central Hall, is

about 18 feet 6 inches by 13 feet,
Fitted with Dove Marble and Inland Chimney-piece with Tiled Hearth and Sides and Marble Kerb, Pine Cupboards with Drawers under, and a Hanging Closet with Store Cupboard over.

GENTLEMAN’S LAVATORY with Two Basins and Hot and Cold supply, W. C. &c.


BUTLER’S PANTRY with Sink and Hot and Cold supply, Dresser with Drawers, Shelves, &c.; KITCHEN paved with Tiles and fitted with Stove, Ovens, Dresser and Cupboards; LARGE SCULLERY, also with Tiled Floor, Range, Sink and Copper; STORE ROOM with a capital range of Pine Store Cupboards, Shelves, Drawers &c; SERVANTS’ HALL, with Lamp Room, and Store Closet; LARDER

Outside, off a Paved Yard with Verandah all round, are Knife House, Coal and Wood Stores, Two W.C’s, and a Capital Game Larder with Slate Shelves and Tiled Floor.

The Woodwork generally throughout the House is in Varnished Pitch Pine, most artistically treated

Is the WELL ROOM, with a Well 120 feet deep, from which the Supply is Pumped into the MANSION, ENGINE HOUSE and BOILER ROOM under.

At a further remove from the House, is quadrangular in form, with an Enclosed Yard, is built in character with the House, surmounted by a Turret with Clock, and comprises
On one Side, Four Loose Boxes and Two Stalls, Harness Room and Washing Room; and on the other Side, Two Loose Boxes, Washing Room, COACH-HOUSE for THREE CARRIAGES, and Chaise House; Spacious Lofts, and a COACHMAN’S DWELLING, with Four Rooms, Pantry &c.

There is also a GAS HOUSE, with Retorts and other Appliances for the production of Oil Gas, with Mains and Supply Pipes to the Mansion

Adjoining the Mansion, are
Of great Natural Beauty,
and comprise
Flower Garden, Rosery, &c., with Gravelled Walks, and a Terrace on the South Front of the Mansion.

Within the Precincts of the Pleasure Grounds is
Built in the Bungalow Style with a Verandah on the Southern Front, and containing Four Rooms, Larder &c., The Interior Woodwork is in Varnished Pitch Pine.

is partly Walled, and there are
A Span-roof Peachhouse, a Greenhouse, and Fernery with Potting Shed and other Adjuncts.

Clapham Park south front in 1889 [X67/338]
Clapham Park south front in 1889 [X67/338]

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 Clapham Park [DV1/R91/17-20] found it owned and occupied by John Howard Howard. The valuer commented: “Saw Mr Howard. Too public, footpaths cross it. Make own electric light. Pump own eater - empty well when they pump. No central heating, very cold position. Only two bathrooms!! Want two more. Bathrooms bad. Two miles of drive, too many drives”.

Downstairs was a porch (“bad - tiles”), a lobby and a hall (“fair, very high”), a back kitchen with stairs up to an unused attic room (a later had has amended this to read “bedroom for three”), a larder, a servants’ hall measuring 14 feet by 15 feet (“good”), a kitchen (“good, light, north”) which a later had has amended to read “now sitting room 18 feet by 11 feet” and a silver pantry. A billiard room to the south measured 24 feet by 18 feet (“not much room to watch”) and nearby were a lavatory (in the sense of a place to wash) and WC. North was an “odd room or school room” which measured 18 feet by 14 feet and a dining room measuring 28 feet by 19 feet lay south of it. To south and west was a drawing room measuring 26 feet by 19 feet with two bays. A morning room lay to the west (“small”) mag 15 feet by 18 feet and nearby was an 18 feet by 15 feet 6 inch smoking room.

On the first floor was a bedroom over the dining room (“very good”) measuring 16 feet by 19 feet and a dressing room measuring 18 feet square. South and west was a bedroom over the drawing room measuring 18 feet by 19 feet with a bay. To the west was a bedroom over the morning room, another over part of the smoking room and a dressing room. North was a bedroom over the school room. “Through to servants’ landing top of back stairs” was a WC, an “old-fashioned” bathroom and a housemaid’s closet. A further bedroom lay to the south and a work room to the east.

On the second floor was a bathroom and WC, and three servants’ bedrooms (“all good”), one then passed into a tank room, another servant’s bedroom (“not used”) and a small servant’s bedroom. To the south was a bedroom measuring 21 feet by 19 feet with a “lovely view”, a box room, a bedroom and another bedroom which was “not used”.

Outside were: a WC; a coal shed; another WC; a knife place; two more coal sheds and a covered yard. There was also a brick and tiled block (annotated “A”) containing three garages, two more garages which were not used, a two-stall stable, and seven loose boxes and five stalls which were not used. All had a loft over which was also not used. A coachman’s cottage (“nice” and annotated “B”) comprised a kitchen, a living room and two bedrooms and was attached to the stables. It had a wood and tiled store and open hovel. There was an unheated peach house measuring 15 feet by 50 feet and a heated vinery measuring 12 feet by 70 feet. The “not very good ornamental grounds”. Extending over 3 ¾ acres contained two tennis courts, a “good” vegetable garden.

The house was summed up as: “”Good solid House built 60 years ago. Only 2 Baths, Red Brick. Not pretty. Well arranged But very cold in Winter. Good view from South windows. Extensibe stabling not used. Position is Good”. Another comment was: “A Funny House. Not very attractive but Has some good accommodation”.

John Howard Howard died at Clapham Park on 30th September 1940 [Z210/141]. In 1949 the house opened as a Rehabilitation Centre, run by the Industrial Orthopaedic Society. An illustrated programme of the opening [Z627/2] tells us: “Clapham Park Rehabilitation Centre, near Bedford, was purchased from a generous gift of over £65,000 from the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations made through the British War Relief Society of America. The estate is of 36½ acres and consists of a well-equipped mansion with lounges, dining rooms, kitchen, rest rooms, etc., and modern dormitory accommodation, also a first-class gymnasium for remedial exercises, physiotherapy, occupational-therapy and rehabilitation departments, with up-to-date workshops, a canteen and club equipped with a billiard table and other amenities”.

The centre did not have a long life. In 1958 Clapham Park was sold to a Bedford convent. In 1904 a group of French nuns arrived in Bedford, having left France as a result of laws passed in 1902 designed to suppress teaching in France by religious orders and confiscating their property, thus making them homeless. These nuns belonged to the Convent of the Daughters of the Holy Ghost. Having settled in Bedford, in 1907 the nuns opened a school in Lansdowne Road which became known as the School of the Convent of the Holy Ghost or, more familiarly, as the Convent School. The school moved to Bromham Road in 1914. In 1976 the school was taken over by the Diocese of Northampton and became Saint Bede’s Middle School. At this point the nuns removed to Clapham Park to found a retreat and conference centre. This also had a chapel and Bedfordshire Archive and Record Service has three marriage registers for weddings taking place in the chapel between 1976 and 1985 [X674/2-4]. The convent put Clapham Park ip for sale in 1985, due to the small numbers of women wanting to become nuns, and the building then suffered the usual fate of large houses in modern times, division into “luxury flats” [X907/38]. More houses were also built in the grounds.

Clapham Park had a number of lodges, one of which, where Carriage Drive meets Hawk Drive, which carries on into Brickhill, was listed by English Heritage in August 1987 as Grade II. The description notes that, like the house, it was built in 1872 to the designs of John Usher, noting: “The best preserved of the surviving lodges to Clapham Park”. Like the house it is in dark red brick with stone dressings, with a clay tiled roof. It comprises one storey and forms a T-plan with a right hand forward projecting wing which has an apse at the end. The Rating Valuation report notes that it comprised a kitchen, scullery and two bedrooms. The valuer noted: “fetch own water from farm buildings”. 

A lodge of Clapham Park in 1889 [X67/338]
One of the Clapham Park Lodges (228 Kimbolton Road) in 1889 [X67/338]