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Warden Manor Farm

Warden Manor Farm March 2008
Warden Manor Farm March 2008

Monastic roots

The church and cloisters at the heart of each Cistercian monastery conformed to a standard layout and Wardon Abbey (founded 1135) was no exception. However, the location of supporting infrastructure depended on the local topography. At the mother house of Rievaulx (N. Yorks), the abbey’s guest accommodation north-west of the church has been hidden beneath private gardens, whereas the guest house at Wardon Abbey, in the north-west of the precinct, is now the site of Warden Manor Farm [OS Grid ref: TL 1194 4398].

Allocation of land after the dissolution (1537)

Rather than waiting until the future of the abbey buildings and adjoining home farm had been decided, the Court of Augmentations promptly leased the 5½-acre plot containing the abbey’s guest house and fishponds, together with some nearby pasture, to brothers Edward and Robert Gostwick for 26s 8d per annum [BHRS, 63, 80 (106)]. This decision impacted on its fate for the next 249 years.

In common with the abbey church and claustral buildings, the guest house was probably demolished in the 1550s. By November 1558 Robert Gostwick was living in a newly built home on the footings of the monks’ infirmary cloister [Beds Notes and Queries, vol. 2, pt. 18 (June 1888), 187-88] and although the evidence is only circumstantial, it is likely that the Gostwick brothers were jointly responsible for constructing a red brick dwelling on the site of the guest house in ‘Warden Street’.

Occupants of the manor house

Edward Gostwick died in 1558 followed by Robert Gostwick in 1561. Two years later, the site of the guest house etc was leased to John Wynche, a minor gentleman who owned about 100 acres in Cardington as well as property in Northill and Everton (Beds) [Cal. Pat. R., Elizabeth I, vol. 6, p. 518]. His second son Humphrey Wynche inherited the lease and made his home there with wife Cicely. Their first daughter Elizabeth Winche ‘of the Street’ was baptised in 1581 followed by Ann Winch ‘of the Street’ in April 1582 [Beds Parish Registers, vol. 10].

The family seems to have vacated the house in favour of Sigismund Barnardiston who married Mary Wynche, gentlewoman, on 12 June 1582 [Beds Parish Registers, vol. 13]. Sigismund Barnardiston went on to marry Frances Wynch [sic] on 1 December 1597. There is no record of a baptism, but the burial at Warden on 3 April 1600 of Christopher Barnardiston ‘of the Street’ suggests that the only child from this second marriage died in infancy. Sigismund Barnardiston ‘of Warden Street, gentleman,’ is recorded on 6 October 1599, but later moved to Northill [SX176 & P10/25/4].

It became usual practice for commissioners to be appointed to manage land on behalf of the Crown. Leases regularly passed through their hands especially after the accession of James I (1603). On 10 April 1610 the ‘Tenement in Warden Street, sometime in the occupation of Humfrey Wynche, knight’ was granted to Crown agents, John Eldred and William Whitmore. They in turn assigned the lease to William Fyshe of Stanford (Southill) in 1611. He kept it until 1618 when it was handed over to William Smythe of Warden Street who probably took up residence [W2247]. Having been in the family for 38 years, William Smith of Warden Street, gentleman, assigned the lease for the manor house etc to Sir William Palmer of Clerkenwell on 12 May 1656 and likewise 30s-worth of other properties in Warden Street that had been his for almost 30 years. On the following day Sir William Palmer granted an annuity of £13 6s 8d to William Smith ‘from tenement in Warden Street sometime in the occupation of Sir Humfrey Winch, knight, lately William Smith etc.’ [W2250 & W2251].

It likely that Sir William and Lady Palmer spent a considerable amount of time at the manor house in their later years and Sir William was buried at Old Warden on 7 March 1683. Their eldest surviving son and heir William (1635-1720), who was in line to inherit Old Warden, first married Elizabeth Clerke, a 25-year widow described by William’s uncle as ‘a very perverse unagreable wife. I will say noe more of her, they have noe child.’ His choice of Mary Skrimsher as his second bride was more fruitful and the couple had two daughters and one son, Charles Palmer (1692-1764) [S.H.A. Hervey, Ladbroke and its owners (Bury St Edmunds, 1914), pp. 174-79]. The family appears to have made their home at Ladbroke (Warwicks) rather than Bedfordshire.

To his younger son Thomas, Sir William Palmer had bequeathed ‘several messuages and lands in Cardington alias Carrington’ [Ladbroke, p. 154]. Perhaps in the absence of suitable accommodation in Cardington or maybe to keep his elderly mother company in the Old Warden manor house, Thomas Palmer ‘Dr. in Phisic’ (?-1689) is found at Warden Street in 1685. He died on 25 December 1689 and was buried at the parish church on Boxing Day [P105/25/2-3]. Interred at Old Warden on 28 November 1690, his mother Lady Palmer was almost certainly the last family member to live in the manor house.

In anticipation of Charles’ upcoming 18th birthday, a perambulation of the Palmer lands at Old Warden took place in May 1710 [W2262]. Although his father, William of Ladbroke, died and was buried in Warwickshire in 1720, his monument describes him as lord of the manor of Old Warden [Ladbroke, p. 177]. There was an option for Charles Palmer to pay his two sisters £400 to release their interests in their father’s properties in Ladbroke, but nothing to confirm whether a similar arrangement applied in Bedfordshire [Ladbroke, p. 181].

The marriage settlement for Charles Palmer and Mary Newdigate dated 5 October 1733 referenced the manor of Warden, the [capital] messuage formerly occupied by [Sir] William Palmer or assign, and two other farms, one occupied by Richard Taylor and the other by John Hancock [Ladbroke, pp. 207, 219]. Blank spaces on the estate map (1750) annotated ‘The Lands of Charles Palmer Esquire’ correspond with the site of the manor house, 5-acre Long Close, and woodland in the west of the parish of Old Warden [Z1125/1].

After the death of Charles in 1764, his elder son and heir William Palmer (1735-1772) decided to sell up. Joseph Taylor had replaced tenant Richard Taylor as tenant by 22 April 1768. An undated document calculated the rental income to be £14,140 7s 9d and the property advertised as follows:

The Manor of Old Warden with Court Leet, Court Baron, Chief rents, Royalties and Privileges thereto belonging. Also the Capital messuage, a farmhouse and several inclosed grounds of arable, meadow and pasture containing 180 acres now in the occupation of Joseph Taylor, together with two large woods of 310 acres adjoining, the whole being a freehold estate, pays no tithes and lying within 5 miles of Bedford and 6 miles of Biggleswade [Ladbroke, pp. 160-61].

Tenant Joseph Taylor having died in March 1770, William Palmer Esq. was called upon 3 months later to pay £2 0s 6d for poor relief based on the value of his ‘Farm & Woods’ [PE194]. Land tax was charged at £29 3s 10d, the most demanded of any of the twenty-six named payees in the parish [PE195], and £3 3s 0d in window tax (thirty windows) for the Warden Street manor house points towards a sizeable dwelling [PE196].

When William Palmer died unmarried in 1772 aged 37 years, his brother Charles Palmer (1738-1806) inherited the Old Warden property. Protracted negotiations to offload the site continued, but by 18 March 1773 a purchase price of £11,250 had been agreed with a further £150 allowed for ‘the proportionable part of the next year’s fall of underwood and poles’, so that Charles would receive £11,400 from the buyer, brewer Samuel Whitbread of Cardington (1720-96), who would ‘enter upon the estate’ on 10 October 1773 [Ladbroke, pp. 160-61 & W2235-2236].

The new Warden Manor Farm

Although the old manor house was still standing in 1770, it may have been in a ruinous state and Samuel Whitbread probably oversaw its demolition shortly after purchasing the property in 1773. Materials were recycled in the new Warden Manor Farm complex and a crude inscription in one of the bricks dates the present house to 1776. A second brick bears two instances of a roughly incised double V, referencing Mary, Virgin of Virgins, Queen of Heaven. The Virgin was revered by the Cistercians so although the handiwork may be attributable to 18th-century craftsmen, the possibility that it harks back to the mid-16th century cannot be ignored.

On 7 July 1786 Samuel Whitbread completed on the purchase of ‘a messuage in Warden Street, Old Warden, known by the name of the Abbey, and closes adjoining, in the occupation of Samuel Sutton’, together with Park Grange and all of the messuages held by the seller, John Wasse junior, on the former Farm of Demesne Lands [Cambs Archives, R53/22/62; W2350-W2351 & W2346-W2347]. With that, more than 1,335 acres of former monastic lands were returned to single ownership almost 250 years after the Wardon Abbey surrendered to Henry VIII [W2235-2236 & W2288].

For further information, click here: WARDEN MANOR FARM

The above text was written by Margaret Roberts, Volunteer Historian, Warden Abbey Vineyard (February 2024).

Warden Manor Farm was listed by the former Department of Environment in 1972 as Grade II, of special interest. It has two storeys and attics with a single storey wing to the rear. It was once suggested that the chimney stacks came from the Tudor manor house, which was built on the site of the monks’ infirmary cloister at Wardon Abbey, although it has since become clear that Manor Farm was built 10 years before most of the Tudor house was demolished.

In 1927 the farms of Old Warden were valued under the Rating Valuation Act 1925; every piece of land and building in the country was assessed to determine the rates to be paid on it. The valuer visiting Manor Farm [DV1/H50/48] found it was owned by S.H. Whitbread and occupied by A. Cooper; it was rented for £223 and comprised 160 acres. The valuer commented: "Fair house and Buildings in fair repair. West of farm heavy waterlogged clay. Troubled by game and gets 20% rebate for damage by game. Water from well. Tenant pays a lot yearly in Caton's for repairs. Some v. good land - some poor. Woods a nuisance and gardens same. Fattens Herefords. Some grass bad. Homestead badly placed end of farm.”

The house comprised two living rooms, a kitchen, scullery, dairy, pantry, coal place and earth closet with five bedrooms and a sixth, smaller one. The valuer commented: "In fair repair but old fashioned". The homestead comprised a brick and tile range of three pigsties, a cow shed for nine beasts with a loft over, three large barns, a two bay open shed, a granary, stabling for six beasts, a trap house and an eight bay cart shed.

Directories reveal the following tenants of the farm:

  • 1876: Joshua Daniels;
  • 1885: Samuel Peacock;
  • 1931: Arthur Cooper;
  • 1940: David and Frank Bryant