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Hillersdon Mansion Elstow

Remains of the Hillersdon Mansion February 2012
Remains of the Hillersdon Mansion February 2012

The Hillersdon mansion at Church End is a Grade I listed building, the highest category. It was listed by the former Ministry of Works in 1952. The listing states that the house was built between 1620 and 1630 (as we will see below this is not entirely accurate) for Thomas Hillersdon and incorporated parts of the 14th century west and south cloisters of Elstow Abbey, which had been dissolved in 1539. The walls are coursed rubble and red brick with ashlar facings and the porch is faced with Totternhoe clunch and is otherwise red brick. The house originally joined the church. The building is now also a scheduled ancient monument.

In 1616 Sir Thomas Hillersdon bought Elstow Manor from Edward Radcliffe and Thomas Cheeke for £700. Hillersdon obviously thought he needed an imposing manor house to go with his new status as Lord of the Manor and began building the mansion accordingly. Volume V produced by Bedfordshire Historical Record Society in 1919 includes a transcription of the will of Sir Thomas Hillersdon’s son, also Thomas, dating from 28th August 1632 and made just before he died as the will was proved just a fortnight later. He was only 21 at the time of his death. He wanted to be buried in the chancel of the church next to his father and he bequeathed £500 to his wife Margaret to finish building the mansion.

The Victoria County History for Bedfordshire states that the house was still standing in 1759 when it was described as attached to the church and as having a large window “in the body of it”. A survey of 1767 for Dennis Farrer Hillersdon states that the house was leased by a man named Wells and that mansion and gardens together extended over 10 acres, 35 poles [X1/6/1-2].

A survey for the new Lord of the Manor, Samuel Whitbread, in 1781 does not mention the mansion clearly implying that it was no longer fit for habitation and in the Bedfordshire pages of his Magna Britannia Lysons in 1806 says the house was “now in ruins, the greater part of it having been pulled down a few years ago”. This all suggests that the dismantling took place between 1767 and 1781. In 1978 the ruins were stabilised and partially restored [CA2/531].

Remains of the Hillersdon mansion with the church behind February 2012
Remains of the Hillersdon Mansion with the church behind February 2012