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Woodhall Farmhouse Meppershall

Woodhall Farmhouse 1958 [RR14/7]
Woodhall Farmhouse 1958 [RR14/7]

The Victoria County History of Bedfordshire tells us that Woodhall Farm is located at the site of the manor formerly belonging to Warden Abbey. The existing farmhouse was listed by English Heritage as Grade II: 'of special interest'on the 2nd January 1985. The listing describes the property as sixteenth century, with nineteenth century reworkings. It is a two-story, T-plan, timber-framed building with colourwashed roughcast render. The building may well be one of those depicted in early eighteenth century maps of Woodhall Farm [L33/286].

The earliest reference to a farm at Woodhall (or 'Woodhaule'), is in a lease from Henry Earl of Kent to George Noble, gentleman, of Woodhaule, drawn up in 1625 [L11/11] The abovementioned 1625 lease was for 'Woodhaule alias Woodhaule farm or grange', described as a 'timber residence' for 21 years at a rent of £10 [L11/11], and was included again in a lease of other lands to George Noble by Henry Earl of Kent in1628 [L11/13]. In 1659, a draft lease shows that 'Woodhall Grange', occupied by Charles Noble, was leased for 6 years by Amabella, Countess of Kent to Israell Reynolds, Gentleman of Overstondon, along with numerous other land, for a rent which included 'half young pigeons of the dove house' [L11/14]. This document is especially interesting, as where the name Israell Reynolds appears, Charles Noble has been crossed out. In 1676, Woodhall Grange was leased from the Countess Dowager of Kent to William Fowler, Gentleman of Meppershall, for 6 years. He was required to 'preserve a good stock and flight of pigeons within the dovehouse' and 'to leave Dovehouse in good repair well-stocked with pigeons' [L11/16]. In 1699, the property was leased for 9 years by Henry Lord Ruthyn to George Fowler of Meppershall, Gentleman, and the rent included '2 good fat geese'. It was at this time recorded as being in the occupation of John Barnard, gentleman, and then William Fowler [L11/17]. In 1758, William Fowler, yeoman of Meppershall, becomes the leaseholder from The Honorable Philip Yorke Esquire, alias Lord Viscount Royston and his wife Jemima, Marchioness Grey. In this lease, the grange is now described as 'Woodhall Farm and homestall', and incurred a rent of £84 [L11/18]. The property was leased at this value again in 1769 and to William Palmer, yeoman of Meppershall and George Honeybourne, yeoman of Campton, respectively [L11/19 and L11/20].

We are able to get a insight into the condition of the property in the early twentieth century thanks to the Rating and Valuation Act 1925. This act specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. The valuer visiting Woodhall Farm recorded in his field notebook [DV1/H39/4-5] found that its 117 acres were owned and occupied by Brown and Sons who had bought the farm in around 1913. The valuer noted that the 'land mostly wants draining, Owner recently repaired house'. Brown and Sons reportedly 'spent £200 on repairs etc', with the result that the valuer described the property as a 'nice house'. These repairs may be the source of the twentieth century bow window to south-west gable end described in the property's listing entry. The farmhouse had two parlours, a kitchen, wash-house, dairy, and cellar, with four 'good' bedrooms, and one attic. There was a water closet and a bath, and several of the rooms enjoyed new fireplaces. The homestead was split into east and west blocks. The east block contained a granary, hen houses, stabling for five horses, cowsheds for twenty and pigsties. The west block held a barn, pigsties, cartsheds and an implement house. These buildings were mostly wood and tile, except the barn which was wood and thatch.

When the farm went up for sale in 1957, the farm house was included. The sales particular describe it as a 'most attractive' period house, 'built of brick and tile part rendered' [Z938/6/46/4]. The ground floor consisted of an entrance and staircase hall 'with beautifully carved wooden ballustrade' and a cloakroom with sink and toilet. There were three reception rooms (sitting room, dining room and living room), two of which held notable fireplaces (possibly those installed by Brown and Sons in the early 1900s). The kitchen had been 'completely modernised', including an aga and sink. Downstairs also included a 'servants suite of Bedroom and Bathroom'.Upstairs, is described as 'Principle suite of BEDROOM with cupboard and Adams fireplace; another Bathroom. Passage with two large storage cupboards'. In addition to a garage connected to the house, a number of external buildings were present, taking the form of a hollow square. In the North West wing stood a cowhouse for fourteen, a granary, a dairy, a foodstore, three calf boxes and a tractor shed. In the North east, a garage, fodder store, three hunter boxes and two boxes. In the South West, two food stores, piggeries and seven pens. In the South east, a covered yard, previously a large barn (quite possibly the wood and thatch barn described in the 1926 valuation), as well as a new store of brick and asbestos and a lean to implement shed. The land area was listed as 'about' 125 acres. A sales catalogue from the following year however [RR14/7], reveals that the total acreage is 117.945, suggesting little change in boundaries from Brown and Son's ownership in the 1920s. This document provides a  more detailed description of the property, revealing that the farmhouse retains four bedrooms upstairs, describing it as 'a gentleman's residence of character and quality, giving ample accommodation for the normal family, admirably planned for easy working, and with accommodation for domestic help'. The seller is named as Harold Francis Bowley.