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Kempston Bury

The Place just before demolition [Z50/67/113]
The Place just before demolition [Z50/67/113]

Kempston Bury stands on the site of a former mansion. This belonged to the Cater family and, as can be seen from the illustration above, was a fine red brick Carolean mansion. It had a date of 1630 over the porch [CRT130Kem3].

William Cater of London bought the manors of Kempston Hastingsbury or Greys and Kempston Hardwick in 1624 from the executors of Sir John and Lady Weld for £7,200, and rebuilt the mansion house, called The Place. In 1728 the Trustees of the Kempston Charity Estate, who owned the Church Walk or Causeway, gave permission for the Cater family to cut down trees along the walk which impeded the view from The Place [SW6].

In 1725 the last Cater, John, made his will [X441/1]. He left specific sums of money amounting to more than £2,250 as well as a number of annuities. He left all his real estate in Bedfordshire to trustees to raise money to pay debts and legacies, the residue of the property then to be devised to his cousin Robert Kendall and his heirs provided they also took the name Cater. He died in 1735

In 1769 another John Cater, the eldest son of Beckford Kendall Cater, devisee in Robert Kendall Cater’s will and the current owner of The Place and its estate made his will [X441/13] in which he devised his various manors which were not part of his marriage settlement with his wife, to his twin daughters Sophia and Frances and his other daughter Mary, to be divided equally between them. The will was proved in 1772.

In 1801 The Place, Bury Close, The Warren, Church Close, Great Dixlands, and coppices and woods at Wood End containing 87 acres were conveyed by Mary Cater, now living in Sutton [Lancashire], Sophia Sherbourne of Ravenhead [Lancashire] and Frances Spencer of Sutton, widow to William Long of Bedford for £29,000 [X441/23]. Long was a brewer, later became Mayor of Bedford and was knighted. By 1803 he was living at Kempston House [BD815-816].

A sale catalogue of 1851 [TY181] gives details as follows:


Is, for its size, a peculiarly choice and valuable Property, particularly as respects its Situation, Compactness, and Fertile Soil; combined with which, its FREEHOLD TENURE, its exoneration from Tithes, its Manorial Rights, excellent Fishery, vicinity to Hounds, and other great local advantages, - as to Neighbourhood, Church, Markets, Roads and Railway communication, - render it most desirable as a RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY, or as a


It is situated about 3 Miles from the County Town of BEDFORD, in a perfectly Rural District


Lot 1
(Now out of Repair) surrounded by about
177 Acres of very Fertile Sound LAND
Skirted by the RIVER OUSE, in which, and in several interesting Branches, it commands

Appertain to the Estate

There are Two Copyhold Estates tributary to the Manors, one of which is subject to a Fine arbitrary and a Heriot; £40 was received for the last Fine and Heriot.

(A few Years since the Residence of the late Sir William Long) stands upon a gentle Elevation, on a Dry, Gravelly Soil, approached from a Lodge on the Bedford Road, by a fine Avenue of Elms, through


The Walls are of Substantial Brickwork, in the Olden Style, with Stone Quoins and other Dressings; but the Interior is out of order, but might be re-arranged, so as to form a most convenient and comfortable House.

It contains numerous Bed Rooms and Dressing Rooms; spacious Drawing Room, 24 feet 6 inches by 19 feet, and 11 feet high; Second Ditto 26 feet by 18 feet; and Dining Room 22 feet by 18 feet; Library; Large Hall, 30 feet by 18 feet 6 inches, paved with Black Diamond Reliefs; Arched Cellars under; Dairy, Kitchen, and various useful Offices; the whole most amply supplied with superior Spring and Soft Water

Is enclosed by Walls, which might be lowered to form and Italian Parterre and Terrace; on the Eastward side is


Backward is a Brick and Tiled Building, easily restored as capital STABLING; and beyond a variety of FARM BUILDINGS, at present out of Repair, but which might be removed, as the Land would readily let at very High Prices, without any or with a few Buildings, to Neighbouring Occupiers.

From the Mansion is a Walk through Avenues of Limes and Firs into the Church Paths, which are here kept up in a pleasing and superior manner.

The property was bought by Bedford banker Talbot Barnard. In its edition of 12th August 1854 The Bedfordshire Times described an excursion by the Bedford Archaeological Society to a number of buildings in the area. The chapter on The Place, now know as Kempston Bury runs: “They first visited the old mansion house formerly belonging to Sir William Long and lately purchased by Talbot Barnard, Esquire. It was originally the seat of the Caters, wealthy gold and silver merchants in London, a family now extinct. It is of the Jacobean style, built with red brick and white stone dressings. A good deal of amusement was afforded by the inspection of the various parts: the curious arrangement of the rooms and galleries is very suggestive of ghost tales and, of course, the old house has its full share of them. Alas, these old romantic associations are soon to be dispelled, for the house being much dilapidated, is doomed to be pulled down immediately. There are several family portraits, and one grave old gentleman with a skull-cap, flowing robe and leather buskins, is reputed to be one of the unquiet spirits which still haunt the Bury. He looks like a severe father who would crush the tender affections of any sweet young lady without the slightest remorse”.

Perhaps this was William Cater himself. The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record contains information on the county’s historic buildings and landscapes and summaries of each entry can now be found online as part of the Heritage Gateway website. There are two peculiar entries for The Bury. One is a version of the hoary chestnut about secret passages from great houses to nearby churches [HER 11542]. The entry notes: “Mains sewerage to Church End in the 1960s involved cutting a trench 13 feet to 15 feet deep, which failed to reveal a tunnel. A deeper tunnel would have been below the water table”. A site visit was made in March 1982 when the Historic Environment Officer was: “Shown a blocked up entrance to the “tunnel” by a local resident. She blocked it for safety. Her next door neighbour has apparently been down the “tunnel” some way but did not manage to reach the church … The entrance is in the north wall of the orchard. In the field north-west of the Bury a large brick lined well had appeared during recent ploughing. This appeared to be a cess pit rather than a well, widening out beneath the cover to give a profile like the top of a bell. This feature is apparently on the line of the “tunnel” and I think the tunnel is a sewer leading to this.

The other odd reference [HER 11588] involves the find of a human skeleton. It quotes from a letter of 1899 from A. M. Carter of The Hoo, Aspley Guise to Anne Charles-Williamson of Kempston Manor [X254/33]. It says: " In the Barnards’ time [perhaps as the new house was being built about 1856] a male skeleton was found buried under a stone slab outside the north door of the Bury leading to the garden, and many thought this was John Cater; an old doctor from Bedford judging so by the conformation of the upper teeth … John Cater, this Doctor Robinson said, had called on him on his return from abroad and said he was going to his friends to see how he would fare - and the doctor expected him to return and tell him, but he never saw or heard anything more of him. The skeleton lay only one foot below the ground, and the Kempston people, Mrs. Crowsley said, had a rumour that there had been a plot to waylay and kill him: the skeleton was that of a man about 40 so speaking roughly this must have happened about a century ago." As we have seen one John Cater died in 1735 and another in 1772. If Doctor Robinson was alive in the 1850s he must have been a very young man when the latter Cater died, which throws the whole story into great doubt. However, it is, of course, possible that the skeleton did belong to a murder victim (though, perhaps, one less august than one of the Cater family) or, of course, may have pre-dated the house altogether, Roman and Anglo-Saxon burials being common in the area.

The old Bury was pulled down in the mid 1850s and the current house built nearby. Today [2013] history is repeating itself. The Bury has been encroached on by modern housing in the past three years and is, sadly, scheduled for demolition.

Kempston Bury March 2012
Kempston Bury March 2012

In 1884 Talbot Barnard sold The Bury to Walter Hatfeild Harter. Directories for Bedfordshire were not published every year but every few years from the mid 19th century until 1940. They seem to show that, whereas the Harters lived at the property the Barnards simply rented it out as the Longs had done with the old house. In 1847 John Yorke was living at the old Bury and in 1862 and 1864 John White was in occupation of the new building. Walter George Hatfeild Harter JP first appears in residence in 1885 and continues until 1936. The last directory for the county, 1940, lives the occupier as Colonel James Hatfeild Harter DSO

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 the Bury [DV1/R25/35] found it duly owned and occupied by Walter George Hatfeild Harter JP. The ground floor accommodation comprised a hall (“fair”), a study (“rather small”), a servants’ hall (“fair, tiled floor”), a kitchen (“good”), a scullery (“good”), a W. C., a larder and pantry, a maid’s bedrooms (“small”), a dining room (“good”), a hall and a morning room (“good”). Four medium sized bedrooms (“three good rooms”) lay on the first floor along with two maids’ bedrooms (“one good, one small”), a W. C., a bathroom and a dressing room.

A wood shed, a knife store and a general store, all brick and tile built, stood outside. The stabling comprised a loose box, a room used as a bedroom, a harness room, two stalls and a loose box (“little used”), as well as an old coachhouse used as a garage for two cars and as storage. The garden extended to 1.702 acres. A later hand has added a small corrugated iron shed and a potting shed. Comparing the Bury with the Manor the valuer commented: “This a much better hooking house”. There is also the comment: “Ideal country house” and “Very nice country gentleman’s house, nice walled lawn”. A more detailed set of comments reads: “Detached House. Situated nice and High. Rooms small. Originally Farm House But added to. Cess Pool Drainage. Companies Water. Oil Lamps. I think should be treated as a dwelling House and allowance made as with the Land”.

This last comment was because Harter also owned a 174 acre farm with homestead and other farm buildings known as The Bury Farm. The homestead, to the rear of the house, comprised: the following:

At the south entrance: brick and tiled pigsties and loose box; a wood and tiled three bay open hovel;

Around the North Yard: a brick and tiled stable for three, loose box and harness room all with a loft over; a brick, wood and tiled grinding house; a large brick and tiled barn with an asphalt floor; three wood and corrugated iron three bay hovels with open sides; a weather-boarded and slated cart shed and a weather-boarded and corrugated iron open hovel.

In December 1962 the former Ministry of Public Buildings and Works listed the garden walls, piers, gates and railings at The Bury as Grade II, of special interest. They date from the 18th century and so were here when The Place was standing.

Bury Cottages were built as a single lodge, serving Kempston Bury. The building was listed by English Heritage in May 1984 as Grade II, of special interest. It dates from the mid 19th century, Kempston Bury itself was built around 1856.

The lodge is built of red brick, with dressings in contrasting yellow brick. It comprises a single storey with attics and has a tiled roof – alternating bands of plan and decorative tiles.

Bury Cottages March 2012
Bury Cottages March 2012