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Melchbourne House

Melchbourne House about 1900 [Z1130/78/1]
Melchbourne House about 1900 [Z1130/78/1]

Melchbourne House was listed by the former Ministry of Public Building and Works in July 1964 as Grade II*, in the top 5% of properties of special interest. A Jacobean mansion had been built for Lord Saint John of Bletsoe and this was completely re-modelled in 1741, though the long gallery on the second floor is probably an original feature. It is constructed of red brick with stone dressings and has slate roofs. It is built in an H-plan and has three storeys with attics in two small gables at the rear. The interior was extensively redecorated 1875. The only picture we have of the Jacobean house is a thumbnail sketch in a map of Bedfordshire by Gordon dating from 1736 [MC2/8].

Melchbourne House on a map of [MC2/8]
Melchbourne House on a map of  [MC2/8]

Volume 74 published by Bedfordshire Historical Record Society in 1995 is a collection of country house inventories compiled by James Collett-White. One of these is an inventory for Melchbourne dated 1817. It was made following the death of Saint Andrew, 13th Baron Saint John of Bletsoe. The rooms are listed as follows:

  • Second Floor: Female servants' attic looking to the church; attic in bow; right-hand attic; middle attic; left-hand attic; Butler's Bedroom; attic in bow (men's side); attics Nos 2-4; Long Gallery; Pink Bedroom; Green Bedroom; Drab Bedroom; Bow Bedroom; bedrooms Nos 5-9; passage rooms.
  • First Floor: Buff Bedroom; Canopy Bedroom; Dressing Rooms Nos 2, 4; Lady's Dressing Room; bedroom; Nursery; Yellow Bedroom; Yellow Dressing Room; Green Bow Bedroom; Green Dressing Room; store room; staircase and landing.
  • Ground Floor: His Lordship's Dressing Room; Bow Room; Dining Room; Library; Drawing Room; Brown Room; Entrance Hall; Butler's Pantry; Servants' hall; kitchen; scullery; larder; Housekeeper's Room; Still Room; China Closet; laundry; bake house; brewhouse, coach house; Gardener's House.

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 Melchbourne House [DV1/C191/14] noted that Lord Saint John lived there. The parkland extended over 29.276 acres. The house had an entrance porch and downstairs accommodation comprised: a lounge hall measuring 39 feet by 20 feet; a drawing room measuring 30 feet by 20 feet with a bay window; a library measuring 32 feet by 19 feet 6 inches; a passageway with an organ; a morning room measuring 18 feet 6 inches by 24 feet; a study measuring 22 feet by 20 feet and a dining room measuring 29 feet by 20 feet. There was a WC under the stairs and domestic accommodation comprising a servants' hall, footman's bedroom, safe, butler's pantry, a kitchen measuring 29 feet by 19 feet 9 inches ("big and old-fashioned, flag floor"), a scullery ("light but poor"), another WC, a still room, two cupboards, a dairy ("not used but very nice"), two larders, a housekeeper's room ("used by Lord Saint John as a store"), an office measuring 13 feet by 17 feet and another WC. A bathroom and a WC lay upstairs along with a locked bedroom, a single bedroom and dressing room measuring respectively 14 feet 6 inches by 12 feet 9 inches and 5 feet by 11 feet; a double bedroom over the study measuring 20 feet by 23 feet and a dressing room over the office measuring 17 feet by 13 feet 6 inches. "Back down the passage" were: a double bedroom over the dining room measuring 20 feet square; a dressing room measuring 14 feet 9 inches; a double bedroom over the hall measuring 19 feet by 20 feet; another double bedroom over the hall measuring 20 feet square; a double bedroom over the drawing room measuring 17 feet 6 inches by 20 feet; two dressing rooms measuring respectively 14 feet 6 inches by 12 feet 6 inches and 14 feet 6 inches by 13 feet and a double bedroom over the morning room measuring 19 feet 3 inches by 20 feet. On the second floor were: a small bathroom; a maid's bedroom; a WC; a maids' bathroom; two "dark" single bedrooms; a nursery; a ball room measuring 75 feet by 22 feet ("very poor, deal and pitch pine floor bad"); a sitting room and three single bedrooms. Upstairs were three lumber rooms, three servants' rooms and four men's rooms. Cellars ran under the whole house but were not used.

Outside were three storage places, an electricity plant and accumulator house in one block. In another block were: a wood place; a garage for two cars; another garage; a harness room; a bricklayer's store; three stalls ("one sued"); two boxes ("not used"); two more unused boxes; a livery room; a lumber room; an apple store room; a garage for one car; a coal house; a game larder; a bake house used as a store; a laundry and an ironing room. A third block comprised two heated glasshouses measuring 17 feet by 42 feet 6 inches and 33 feet 6 inches by 13 feet respectively; a fernery measuring 12 feet 6 inches by 16 feet and another glasshouse measuring 33 feet by 11 feet. The kitchen garden was walled – "very nice, say three acres". A gardener's cottage (occupied by a man named Reynolds) comprised a kitchen, scullery, two parlours and four bedrooms with a washhouse outside. Nearby was a potting shed, a hovel, a tool shed and a small heated glasshouse.

The valuer commented: "Grounds quite nice and quite well kept but deteriorate towards the south". Overall his comments were: "Own electricity. Water supply satisfactory and drainage satisfactory. Not a well-planned house. First floor was originally ground floor and there are three staircases. Kitchen is very old and not situated near dining room. The bathrooms are very poor. House has not been done up for years and requires a lot of money to be spent. Stabling and garages are very poor. Grounds are good and fairly well kept up. Do not consider property could be let".

In 1939 the last member of the Saint John family left the house which was used as wartime accommodation. At one time seventy American soldiers were sleeping in the Long Gallery. In 1953 the owner, Hugh Lawson-Johnston, planned a series of alterations for which plans survive [Z568/1/18].

The house was sold in 1982. The particulars [Z449/1/1] stated: "A period Mansion with its main façade dated 1741 is in part early Stuart, part Georgian with some Victorian additions. The oldest section was built in the XVIIth Century by the 4th Baron St.John who was also the 1st Earl of Bolingbroke. The family lived in Melchbourne Park for over 300 years and their coronets and crests of the Falcon are to be seen in the Hall. Many original features are still retained including quality panelled doors and shutters to windows in the principal rooms some of which are of the William and Mary period. Stuart features include the fireplace and two stone arches in the ballroom and a stone arch and brick vaulting in the cellars. the house is situated in a secluded position with fine views over the ha-ha, across the park and lakes to the wooded countryside beyond, and is constructed mainly of red brick with stone quoins, window heads and parapets with the main roofs of slate where there have been extensive renovations. At present the north east and south west wings of the first and second floors have been converted to four flats, one of which has an entrance to the garden via the north east hall". Today[2015] the house is divided into luxury flats.

Melchbourne House February 2014
Melchbourne House February 2014