Meppershall Manor - east front September 2014
The Manor House is located on Church Road, Meppershall, and was listed by English Heritage as Grade II: 'of special interest' in 1966. The listing describes the building as early seventeenth century, with much of the upper part having been rebuilt after a fire in 1959. Timber framed with colourwashed plaster infill, clay roofs and parts of ground floor rebuilt in red brick. There is a single storied addition to the north.
In grounds is the site of a Norman motte and bailey castle known as 'The Hills'. As described in the Victoria County History these 'form the central hold of a very interesting work of the 'mound and court' type. Its exterior ward is outlined by a great ditch 32 feet wide, with a rampart round three sides on the inner scarp, 8 feet high above the ditch bottom. The inner ward, again surrounded by its ditch, is smaller, but several feet above the level of the outer, which is itself 2 or 3 feet above the general field level around it. The rampart of the inner ward is strongest at the ends, where it is 11 feet above the ditch bottom. Higher again is the isolated circular mound, 15 to 16 feet above the floor of the encompassing ditch, which is 35 feet wide towards the ward and about 50 towards the west. Its summit is slightly rounded and measures 26 feet by 30 across its diameters. There is a trace of a rampart on the outermost edge of its circular ditch, and also outside the north-east angle of the outer ward. There are some moat lines to the east of the hold, but these seem to have been connected with the manor house, as they turn to enclose it. The bank and sometimes the ditch of the outermost entrenchment lines are strongly marked, and form a rough square about the thold, enclosing, if the road to the west completes the outline, not less than 30 acres. The question again arises as to whether this enciente is contemporary with the main work. There seems little reason to doubt it, as the whole site is bare except for two or three houses at the extreme north-west corner, and most of the village lies away from it. With the exception of Bedford Castle this is the only work of its kind in the county which has any direct connection with history. The editor of the Gesta Stephani has the following note with reference to it.
"In the original edition of the Monasticon (1655) there is a charter granted by Stephen 'apud Maperteshalam in obsidione.' The chronicles mention no such event as a siege of Meppershall; but there exists at the present day, close to the church of this small Bedfordshire village, a high mound with a double line of outer ramparts, answering in the clearest way to the type of the hastily-built stockaded 'castles' of this reign. Stephen, it thus appears, had to capture this outpost perhaps during the siege of Bedford in 1138"' [Victoria County History volume 1, pp.295-296]
The HER explains that by 1972 only the west arm and segments of the north and south arms were still visible.
By 1925, the property had been split into three separate dwellings; north, central and south. We know this from the observations recorded in valuation books created that year as a result of the rating and valuation act. 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 visitor to the properties which made up the Manor House found that all three were owned by R. Long and comprised of brick and tile [DV2/C160/23-25]. The North property was occupied by J. S. O'Hannan, and the valuer noted that it had been a farm house before the First World War. The dwelling consisted of a parlour, scullery, two upstairs rooms and an outside barn and earth closet. Water was obtained from the village pump. The valuer noted that the property's condition was 'dreadful'. The central property was occupied by R. Ashton. This dwelling comprised a kitchen and living room with two upstairs rooms, an earth closet outside, and again was considered by the valuer to be 'dreadful'. The south property was occupied by T Ashton and consisted of the same interior layout as the central property. While here there was also an outside barn, there is no mention of any toilet facilities – even an earth closet! Water was obtained from the pump and although this property appears to be the only one of the three to have enjoyed some renovation, the valuer notes that the dwelling is 'done up, but bad'.
It was reported in 1944 that the building had been purchased by a Mr and Mrs Haigh, just as it was condemned for demolition. They restored the manor, converting it into a single 'fine modern house'. Some of the restoration works are documented in photographs taken by the council's photographic unit in the 1930s [Z50/79/12-33]. In 1955, the house was offered for sale by Mrs Haigh. The sale inventory [Z938/6/33/3] described the property as a 'unique and enchanting example of 16th century domestic architecture', 'carefully renovated and retain[ing] many delightful features'. The rooms are described in detail in the sales particulars:
"ENTRANCE PORCH to light oak panelled HALL with a large radiator and spacious CLOAKS cupboard beneath stairs. CLOAKROOM/BATHROOM No.1 equipped with panelled bath (H&C) basin (H&C) low flush W.C. and heated towel rail. LOUNGE 17'6" x16' plus charming bay. Original open Tudor fireplace. Wine cupboard leading off. Built-in cupboards and range of built-in bookshelves. 2 large radiators. Original secondary stairway. MORNING ROOM 18'3" x12'6" with brick fireplace and radiator. Casement door to terrace. DINING ROOM 18' x 12'6" with open fireplace and large radiator. PANTRY 12' x 8' equipped with stainless steel sink unit and 'Ideal' Neo-Classic boiler for domestic hot water. Range of built-in cupboards. KITCHEN 12'6" x 8'6". Large model "AGA" cooker and boiler for central heating. Deep sink (H&) with double draining boards and cupboards under.
POWER POINTS THROUGHOUT
LANDING PASSAGE with charming bay and radiator. BEDROOM 1. 12' x 12'6" with interesting curved ceiling. Wash basin (H&C). Deep built-in cupboard. Original grate and radiator. BEDROOM 2. 15'6" x 13'6" with original open fireplace and radiator. Built-in cupboard. BEDROOM 3. 14' x 9'3" with built-in dressing table, drawers and cupboards. Wash basin (H&C) and radiator. BEDROOM 4. 14'6" x 9' pedestal basin (H&C) low flush W.C. and heated towel rail. Attic BOXROOM convertible to 5th Bedroom.
OUTSIDE. Trades Entrance. Brick GARAGE for 2 cars. The gardens are simple and delightfully laid to large lawns with rose garden and well stocked flower beds. There is a productive orchard and rough paddock extending in all to about 6.5 ACRES."
It appears, however, that the sale was not successful, as Mr Haigh was still owner and resident at the property when it was seriously damaged by fire in the morning of March 14th 1959. The Bedfordshire Times reported that by the time Mr Haigh discovered the fire, 'the main entrance hall was a mass of flames which were rapidly spreading up the main staircase'. Fire crews from Shefford, Biggleswade and Ampthill attended, and were able to control the blaze after ninety minutes. However, as the article reports, 'not before most of the centre of the house had been gutted' [Beds Times, 20/03/1959, p.8]. The Bedfordshire Magazine later credited the 'competent fire-fighting' and 'gallant help by neighbours' with the property's survival [Beds Mag vii, p.45]. Despite this setback so soon after the manor's restoration, Mr Haigh began to rebuild his recently restored property, 'with courage and imagination' [Beds Mag vii, p.46] and the Manor House still stands today.