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Chapel Farmhouse Meppershall

Chapel Farmhouse March 2015
Chapel Farmhouse March 2015

Chapel Farmhouse was listed by English Heritage as Grade II 'of special interest' in 1985. The listing describes the house as being on the site of a former monastic Grange which belonged to Chicksands Priory. The current house was built in the late eighteenth century and has an inscribed brick dated 1786, but it is suggested that the building may have even earlier origins and it also possesses alterations and extensions from the mid-19th century. A red brick property with vitrified headers (bricks of a darker colour) and slate roofs. A part of the building is two storeys with attics, and there is another two storey block and some single storey outbuildings.

The farm formed part of the Manor of Saint Thomas' Chapel. The first reference to Chapel Farm in the archives appears in a 1624 Settlement which mentions the farm only to exclude it from the property the document refers to. However, it does place it in the ownership of Henry Earl of Kent and his wife Lady Elizabeth [L22/11-12]. An assurance from 1635 suggests that 'Chappele Farme' was rented by Charles Longueville from Henry Earl of Kent [F4]. However, it would appear that by 1700, ownership of the farm had fallen into doubt. A note entitled 'The Case of Chappell Farme', describes the descent of the property through the Earls of Kent from 1542. The document ends with the question 'whether may not Anthony now Earle of Kent by a Formedon [a writ for recovering property] recover Chappell Farme' [L11/31]. It is not clear from our records whether or not he did so. The group of buildings which comprise the homestead can clearly be seen on maps of Chapel Farm dating from 1710 [X1/71] and 1858 [X1/70].

The Meppershall Parish records reveal that between 1892 and 1893, a coprolite works was established on Chapel Farm, which was at the time occupied by Mr Frederick Smith [P29/8/1]. At this time, coprolites, essentially fossilised dinosaur dung, were valued as an ingredient for fertiliser. The change this usage made in land value is evident in the change in rates paid from the period when the works was operational (£200 for 2.5 acres) to after the suspension of works in 1893 (£10 for 2.5 acres).

During the First World War the farm was inspected by the War Agricultural Committee. Their reports from 1917 describe the 75 acres of fields as being 'in a foul and uncultivated condition', going on to explain that 'in our opinion, Mr Brown the occupier of the farm is totally unable to cultivate this land, and it is therefore proposed that the County War Executive Committee enter of the land' [WW1/AC/RE2/1]. Further records from this period show that the farm formed part of the estate of Christ's Church Hospital, London. However, they then offered the farm at auction in August 1917, when it was sold to Mr Joseph Roberts of Eynesbury. Perhaps most interestingly in the story of this farm's role in the war was its use of a gang of German prisoners as labourers. In June 1919 it was reported that 'Complaints have been made by civil police and villagers of conduct of this gang'. The prisoners were withdrawn in September 1919 [WW1/AC/OP2/110].

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 who visited Chapel Farm found it owned and occupied by T. Simpkins who had bought the land in about 1921 for £20 an acre. His observations of the farm included the 'ground was very wet for vegetables. Greatly bothered with aeroplanes from Henlow nearby. Buildings too many for present farm. Farm frequently damaged by aeroplanes'. This suggestion was obviously in dispute however, as another hand has prefixed the original notes with the single word 'Nonsense' [DV1/H39/10]. The valuer found that the farm was half its earlier size of 400 acres (182 acres with 16 acres purchased separately at a later date), likely the reason that the existing buildings were too many and too big for the farm in its present state. The notebook describes the farmhouse as consisting of brick and slate, with some of the rooms 'in bad repair'. The rooms comprised two parlours, a kitchen, scullery and dairy and six bedrooms, its water was provided by a spring. The valuer noted that the house was 'very old'. The homestead included numerous outhouses, divided into blocks. The south block contained a henhouse and stabling for eight horses, an implement shed and open cart shed. The west block contained a bullock shed and large thatched barn. A double open shed and a thatched hovel stood in the yard. The north block contained eight cowsheds, a mining place (possibly the site of the coprolite works), pigsties and an open brick shed. A second yard by the house contained four 'well built' pigsties.