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College Farm Oakley

College Farmhouse seen from the churchyard March 2011
College Farmhouse seen from the churchyard March 2011

College Farm stands near the church and was probably previously owned by Queen's College, Cambridge, hence the name. A letter of 1983 [CRT130Oakley17] suggests its history: “The college acquired the estate by a bequest from Doctor John Stokes in 1568; it then consisted of four separate holdings called Gales, Thrushes, Myches and Church End House, all in Oakley, and Stockinges in Clapham. The college has medieval title deeds to these properties, although it is not easy to interpret them all. There are also a number of descriptions and notes on the property, which was leased at first to various connections of the Stokes, and finally about 1792 I think, to the Dukes of Bedford".  

“There are a number of descriptions of the houses which form part of the college holding … In about 1570 there were three main houses, inhabited by Mr. Hodgekyns (three bays, floored), Thomas Cook (a hall, three chambers and a kitchen apparently detached) and Thomas Stookes (a hall, two chambers, a kitchen). In a terrier of before 1600 these have become: a homestall at Church End sixty feet long, tiled, another cottage adjoining [perhaps Saint Mary's Cottage?], Old Stookes; another homestall at West End fifty feet long, made all of stome, lofted throughout, Pettitt; another homestall three rooms, lofted over, each fourteen feet in length, Glover. By 1770 when instructions for a detailed survey were recorded, there were a dwelling house or farm house, Mr. Stokes, in good repair, having been raised at top and tiled instead of thatch by the occupant, two cottages formerly one, at West End and at Church End a public house called the Five Bells. By 1820 when the Duke of Bedford was lessee the only houses in the lease were a farm house, formerly Stokes and a cottage, all other houses having been already acquired by the Duke".

This letter suggests that College Farm was the one occupied by the Stokes family about 1570 and about 1600 as well as in 1770. Today's farm building appears nowhere near that old and was, perhaps, built by the Duke of Bedford in the 19th century to replace the earlier building. Queen’s College owned the farm until 1877 when they sold it to the Duke for £6,000 [Z659/66]. This included 64 acres, 2 roods, 6 poles in Oakley and 51 acres, 20 poles in Clapham. The Clapham land, together with a newly built farmhouse was sold by the Duke to James Howard of Clapham Park the following year for £2,917/6/6 [Z659/70].

In 1917 the country was in danger of starvation because of an unrestricted campaign by German U-Boats which was destroying large quantities of merchant shipping. Indeed, the threat was every bit as great as the better known threat from U-Boats during the Second World War. In response War Agricultural Executive Committees in each county were urged to break up ancient grassland for sowing with arable crops. This usually caused farmers to protest because any crop raised was likely to be on marginal land and so unlikely to be economic, as well as the fact that grassland for grazing was being taken away from livestock. One such complaining farmer was Charles Ibbott, tenant of College Farm as well as of Tythe Farm in Stevington [WW1/AC/OP1/1 and 2]. In the end imposition of a convoy system greatly reduced the losses to U-Boats and it was this, rather than breaking up ancient grassland, which saved the country from starvation.

The Oakley Estate was sold at auction on 31st October 1918. The sale catalogue [AD1147/18] lists College Farmas Lot 3 and describes it thus.

The Valuable Dairy Holding
embracing an area of about
106 acres 2 roods 1 pole
(105.506 Acres)

Situated near the Parish Church, about one mile from Oakley Station, and three and a half miles from Bedford.

The Modern Homestead
brick built and slated comprises

THE HOUSE containing on the GROUND FLOOR: - Entrance Hall, Drawing and Dining Rooms, School Room, Pantry, Larder, Kitchen, Scullery, Dairy and Cellar. FIRST FLOOR: - Five Bedrooms, Bath Room and W. C. OUTBUILDINGS: - Timber and Iron Shed and two Earth Closets.

The Buildings

Comprise: - Cow Houses, with tying for 47 Cows, Milk Cooling House, Barn, partly converted into Stable for six Cart Horses, Chaff and Gear House (stone and tiled), Barn, Engine House and Pump House, Granary, Harness Room, Two Loose Boxes, Piggeries, Trap House, Poultry House, Six Bay Cart and Implement Shed, Lean-to Old Barn, Open Shed, converted into Five Loose Boxes and Poultry House, Timber and Iron Seven-bay Shed, Detached Timber and Iron Garage.

Held, with other lands, by Mr. Charles Ibbott with the exception of [Ordnance Survey Map] Numbers 157 and 166, which are let to Mr. Edward Newell, with other lands, on Yearly Michaelmas tenancies.

The land comprised 44.978 acres of pasture in Oakley and 18.719 acres of pasture in Bromham, 41.158 acres of arable in Oakley and the house, gardens and homestead took up 1.651 acres.

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. Oakley, like most of the county, was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting College Farm [DV1/H8/24] found it owned and occupied by Walter Molesworth Peacock, he had presumably purchased it in 1918. At that time the farm comprised 190 acres but, the valuer noted, “Land being sold off”. He also noted: “I know it by heart”. He described the house as containing three reception rooms, a kitchen, scullery and larder, a dairy and a cellar with five bedrooms upstairs, a bathroom, a boxroom and a W. C. Outside lay a privy, an ashpit and oil store and coal barns. Water came from a force pump in the scullery and was a mixture of well and rain water.

He described the farm buildings as follows:

  • Back yard: a dove house and a seven bay open hovel;
  • Alongside the river: a two bay open hovel and yard; a two bay wagon hovel; pig boxes and a yard;
  • Left rickyard: a five bay implement hovel;
  • Right of the entrance from the road: three chicken houses and various chicken runs behind the house, the buildings being of mixed construction;
  •  Homestead: four calf pens; three loose boxes (converted open hovels); two loose boxes (used  for hay); a mixing barn and hay and straw store; a six horse stable and harness room; an open hovel with space at the back; cow places for twenty, seven and two beasts; a cooling room; a loose box and another four bay open hovel;
  • Island site: a harness room; two nag stables; a mixing room and three pig boxes;
  • In the road opposite the house: a double trap house; a double implement store; a combined carpenter’s shop and garage; a meal store; a nag stable and another trap house;
  • Round buildings [presumably meaning around the other buildings listed]: a six bay wagon hovel; a pig box; a grinding barn; an engine house and a force pump room.

In accordance with the valuer’s statement that land was being sold off, Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has a conveyance of 1926 in which Walter Peacock sold eight acres to the trustees of the Lovell Almshouses for £1,075 [X880/3/2A]. In 1934 he conveyed a further two and a half acres to the trustees for £377 [X880/3/3/2].

Directories for Bedfordshire, which were not published annually but every few years, give the names of the tenants of College Farm from 1898 until 1940 and the following names are taken from these directories. The dates are the dates the name first and last appears not the dates of residence:

  • Charles Ibbott: 1898-1914;
  • Walter Molesworth Peacock: 1920-1928;
  • Herbert W. Saunders: 1931-1940.

College Farm is not listed in a directory before 1898, however, a Church Farm is listed from 1871 to 1894 and it seems a reasonable guess that the two are the same, the name changing between 1894 and 1898. Names from earlier directories for Church Farm are as follows:

  • George Hine: 1871-1877;
  • John Saunders: 1885;
  • John Clark Sanders: 1890-1894.