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Barford House

Barford House about 1910 [Z50/5/5]
Barford House about 1910 [Z50/5/5]

Barford House stands on a hill above the road to Roxton. From the new bypass the tower looks very like a church tower. The property was listed by the former Department of Environment in May 1952 as Grade II, of special interest. The small country house was originally built in 1843 (for Joseph Humbley at a cost of £2,800)but was remodelled and extended by John Usher to plans drawn up in the 1850s. The house is built of yellow brick with stone dressings and a hipped slate roof with wide bracketed eaves. It has an irregular plan of two storeys, dominated by the four storey square tower in the Italianate style.

John Usher's plans are held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service [CDE54/1-19] and are dated 1852.They show a tower with a very different top to that of today. A postcard of around 1910 still shows this original top [Z50/5/5] but one taken about 1920 [Z1306/5/13/2] shows the top to the tower that survives today [2010]. Oddly, although plans accompanying applications for planning permission from Bedford Rural District Council survive for the period [RDBP], none of them are for alterations to the tower. Local historian Richard Wildman, who has done considerable research on Usher states in an issue of the Bedfordshire Magazine that the original tower was built in 1856.

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. Bedfordshire was valued in 1927 and the valuer visiting Barford House [DV1/C125/95] found it owned, like Lowlands and Villa Farm nearby, by J. Arnold Whitchurch, who also lived there. The house stood in over nine acres but the valuer commented: “Very poor – 100 years behind the times”. He “saw maid and went over”. The accommodation comprised an entrance porch, a drawing room measuring 28 feet 3 inches by 18 feet 6 inches, a w. c., a study (“bad”) measuring 18 feet 9 inches by 11 feet, a kitchen measuring 16 feet 9 inches by 15 feet 9 inches (“not used”), a second kitchen measuring 15 feet 6 inches by 12 feet 6 inches, a larder, a scullery, a lobby, a second larder, a cellar, a housemaid’s pantry (“big”) and a dining room measuring 21 feet 3 inches by 13 feet 6 inches.

Upstairs lay a w. c., a double bedroom measuring 19 feet by 11 feet, a small single bedroom and a small bathroom (“ the only one”), a sitting room and a double bedroom over the dining room measuring 22 feet by 13 feet 6 inches. Three attics and a boxroom lay above this. A bedroom lay in the tower, over part of the drawing room and measuring 18 feet by 11 feet 9 inches and a further double bedroom measuring 18 feet by 16 feet lay above that.

A coach house lay outside together with an old boiler house, a stable used as a store, a loose box and three stalls, another coach house, a covered way, a straw barn, a heated glasshouse measuring 66 feet by 16 feet, a smaller heated  glasshouse measuring 22 feet by 12 feet, a harness room, a stoke hole, an earth closet, a gardener’s shed, a third heated glasshouse measuring 30 feet by 14 feet, a partly walled kitchen garden and a wholly walled kitchen garden, a timber and thatch carpenter’s workshop and a summer house. The valuer commented: “Grounds very small but well kept, say shrubberies about 9 acres”.

Overall the valuer was not impressed. He observed: “Not a lettable place. Not modernised in any way. Oil lamps, no heating, drawing room only room of any size in house. Do not like it as much as The Highlands. Good situation but would not let unless modernised”. Though he did add that there were radiators in the hall and dining room. 

The various directories for Bedfordshire list the following occupants of Barford House. The dates are not complete but just refer to the earliest and latest directory entry – directories were not published every year.

  • 1854: Joseph Humbley;
  • 1861-1864: Joseph Arnold;
  • 1869: Miss Arnold;
  • 1885-1894: Mrs. Whitchurch;
  • 1898-1940: John Arnold Whitchurch.

The lodge at the entrance to the grounds was for sale in 2010. The sale particulars [Z449/5/17] described the single storeyed residence as comprising: a lounge measuring 16 feet by 11 feet 1 inch; a kitchen measuring 15 feet 11 inches by 14 feet; a rear hallway; a shower room and three bedrooms measuring, respectively: 12 feet 2 inches by 11 feet; 12 feet 2 inches by 9 feet 4 inches and 8 feet 5 inches by 7 feet 2 inches.

Barford House about 1920 [Z1306/5/13/2]
Barford House about 1920 [Z1306/5/13/2]

John Arnold Whitchurch, who was born in Melton Mowbray [Leicestershire] in 1873 and died in Bedford in 1953, was a great benefactor of Bedford Hospital and one of the older wards at South Wing is named after him. The Great Barford Women's Institute scrapbook [X535/5] has a photograph of him together with his obituary cut from a local newspaper.

"A leading and well-loved figure in Bedfordshire life for more than half a century, Mr. J. Arnold Whitchurch, J. P., C. C., of Great barford House, Great Barford, died at Rye Close, Bedford County Hospital, on Tuesday, at the age of 80".

"He was truly a remarkable man, one who never spared himself in time or money to serve his fellow men".

"Born At melton Mowbray in 1873, he was the son of the late Mr. Nathaniel Whitchurch, M. D., and in 1906 married Norah Madeline Penelope, daughter of Canon W. Williamson, formerly Rector of Tempsford".

"Mr. Whitchurch's greatest work - and that which he loved best - was for Hospitals. By his death, Bedford County Hospital has lost not only a loyal servant, but one of its most devoted friends and greatest benefactors. He was Hon. Patron of the Beds County Hospital and in 1949 a ward was named after him at Clapham Hospital".

"As long ago as 1911 he became a member of the Committee of Management of Bedford Hospital. In November of the following year he was made Chairman of the Committee and held that office continuously until 1948".

"Under the directions of Mr. Whitchurch the following moneys have been voluntarily raised: £10,057 for a Convalescent Home for the Hospital; £5,144 for the equipment of the Hospital Nursing Institution, Rye Close, Bedford: £3,129 for Maternity Department; £15,000 towwards the provision of the Nurses' Home".

"Great Barford Church had no more faithful or sincere worshipper than Mr. Whitchurch, indeed he was a pillar of the Church. Since 1905 up to the time of his death he had been Churchwarden, and for 55 years he conducted a Bible Class for young men at his home. This class has been appreciated by very many residents in the village".

"In religious circles he went further afield than Great Barford. From 1922 to 1952 he was Chairman of the Saint Albans Diocesan Board of Finance. He was a Trustee and Manager of Great Barford School 1900-1953".

"Mr. Whitchurch was an indefatigable worker and he probably graduated into a life of puiblic work in 1900 when he first became Chairman of Great Barford Parish Council. He was first elected a member of the Beds County Council in 1913 was a former Vice-Chairman, and became an Alderman in 1927. He was Chairman of the County Health Committee. In 1915 he was appointed a County Magistrate, and 1919-1920 held the honour of High Sheriff for Bedfordshire".

"Appointed one of the first Trustees of the Sidney Howard Lovell Memorial Almshouses, Mr. Whitchurch paid periodical visits to the homes where he was always welcomed".

"Mr. Whitchurch's busy public life did not prevent his entering wholeheartedly into the social and sporting activities of village life. He was President of Great Barford Cricket Club for 55 years, President of Great Barford Parish Hall and Institute for 30 years".

"Connected with many kinds of sport in the county, he was a member of the oakley Hunt for 55 years, and being very fond of walking often followed the hounds on foot. For 30 years he hunted with Mr. W. L. Addington's beagles".

"Entering politics at a very early age, Mr. Whitchurch warmly supported the Conservative cause all through his life. In 1894 he became a Warden of the Primrose League and in 1893 Secretary of the Blunham Habitation. In those days the Primrose League did a great work for the Conservative cause".

"In 1907, Mr. Whitchurch became chairman of the Great Barford, Roxton and District Conservative Association. From 1922-1946 he was Chairman of the Bedford Division, Conservative and Unionist Association. Being well versed in politics, and an able speaker, he was often one of the principal speakers at meetings, especially at Election times".

"Mr. Whitchurch loved walking and very often made the journey to Bedford and back on foot".

John Arnold Whitchurch [X535/5]
John Arnold Whitchurch [X535/5]

In 2013 the house was for sale. The particulars [Z449/6/44] detailed on the ground floor: the ground floor area of the tower measuring 9 feet 3 inches by 6 feet 7 inches; a reception room measuring 28 feet 8 inches by 18 feet; a W. C.; a dining room measuring 23 feet 10 inches by 13 feet 6 inches; a study measuring 10 feet 10 inches by 9 feet 6 inches; a family room measuring 19 feet by 11 feet 2 inches; utility rooms measuring 7 feet 5 inches by 4 feet 9 inches and 8 feet 3 inches by 8 feet respectively; a kitchen/breakfast room measuring 15 feet 2 inches by 20 feet 6 inches and a boot room measuring 7 feet 6 inches by 6 feet 1 inch.

The first floor contained: a tower room measuring 8 feet square; a bathroom measuring 17 feet by 11 feet 5 inches; an en-suite bedroom measuring 23 feet 8 inches by 13 feet 6 inches and 17 feet by 7 feet 6 inches; three bedrooms measuring, respectively, 19 feet 2 inches by 11 feet 5 inches; 18 feet 1 inch by 16 feet 2 inches and 18 feet 1 inch by 11 feet 7 inches and a W. C.. The second floor contained a bedroom measuring 26 feet 7 inches by 16 feet, storage measuring 14 feet by 10 feet and eaves storage. the top of the tower was 8 feet square inside.

Outside were grounds of 10.4 acres. these included a driveway, a thatched game larder, a thatched barn, an ornamental lake with an island and two bridges, a walled kitchen garden; two large greenhouses (one measuring 30 feet by 14 feet), garaging, stables, general stores, a hard surface tennis court and a swimming pool.