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Recollections of Kempston Hoo

Kempston Hoo in 1931 [Z50/67/3]
Kempston Hoo in 1931 [Z50/67/3]

Vice Admiral Sir Geoffrey Barnard KCB, DSO and bar (1902-1974), who had distinguished service in World War Two, serving under Admiral Cunningham, who retired to Ampthill, grew up at the Hoo. Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has a photocopied set of memoirs written by him in old age [BD1430]. Part of the memoir concerns The Hoo and its grounds, part of which survive as an open space on the main road west of the junction with Eugster Avenue but most of which is now beneath 1930s and later housing..

“I had of course grown up with the background of this garden all my early life, but it was not until about 1908 when I was 5½ to 6 that I was old enough to catch minnows in the brook, and start hunting rabbits and catching moles, that it really became one of the main obsessions of my life, and was never far out of my thoughts whenever I was away from it. My mother tells me that in all my early letters from Cheam and Osborne (regularly once a week) my most urgent enquiries were all about my precious Kempston. So the purpose of this description to write down what I remember of it”.

“The property as a whole covered about 10 acres, and was situated about 2 miles out from Barnard’s bank at Bedford on the main road from Bedford leading through the village of Kempston, to a fork road opposite our back drive, the right fork leading part Kempston Church to Bromham Bridge and thence to Stagsden, the left fork leading to “Gibraltar Corner”, Wootton and Cranfield, with a dead end fork leading to Bourne End Farm. The short distance from the Bank enabled my father to go in and out by bicycle which had the added advantage that if he saw some old worthy on the way home, he could get off his bicycle and push it while talking to them”.

“The houses at Kempston were as follows:”

“1. Main House of Kempston Hoo. This was an early Victorian house, of no particular architectural merit, which at one time had belonged to Talbot Barnard. My father, who had lived at first in Bedford, bought it before I was born. On the ground floor it had a porch, hall and 3 big rooms, dining room (leading to conservatory and billiard room), drawing room with piano and Victorian knick-knacks, a big smoking room/library and a smaller room which became a school room. In the back regions there was an enormous Edwardian kitchen, with endless cupboards, scullery, pantry, butler’s room, silver room and wine cellars under, with a servants’ hall (where I am sure the upper hierarchy were adequately waited on by up to 4 lesser fry)”.

“On the First floor there were 3 main suites of double room and dressing room, day nursery and night nursery all heated by coal fires, but for a long time only 1 bathroom, a great innovation. All the other rooms followed the practice of those days of having hip baths, or tin tubs in their rooms, which entailed much labour in bringing up hot water”.

“On the top floor there were 2 attic rooms over the Nurseries, which later became the boys’ rooms and a considerable range of staff rooms, for the many retainers, all of whom, except Mr. James, the butler, lived in”.

“There was a lovely lead roof with secret passages and the most hair-raising parapets which Malcolm and I increasingly explored after we got to the age of 6. Fortunately our Mothers didn’t always know what we were doing”.

2. James’house. James as the butler when my father first came to Kempston and who went on with my mother to Duncote later, had 2 most endearing traits in our boyhood days. He was very keen on helping small boys to shoot rabbits, sparrows and poaching cats, and from Mother’s point of view he was a superb gardener, a pillar of the Garden Club and on one occasion won the Daily Mail prize for Sweet Peas in cottagers’ gardens, with sweet peas far better than Mother’s. His secret was to dig out a double spit and fill the trench with dead bodies of poaching cats, crows, hawks and vermin on the top and hand stop each superb sweet pea until it was about 8 feet high”.