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Church House Tilsworth

Tilsworth Church House March 2008
Tilsworth Church House March 2008

The current Church House bears the date 1905 on the exterior but the site goes back a little further than that. In 1854 the site was conveyed to the Vicar and Churchwardens to be used as the site of a Church School [P130/29/1]. It was used as an infants' school into the 1880s, after which it was closed, children going to Stanbridge for school. In May 1924 Thomas Green from Leighton Buzzard, Vicar of Tilsworth for forty years or more, had written to the vicar, W.St.John Lindars, his successor, concerning this conveyance of 1854, which is not quite what it seems [P130/29/1]: "There is no special deed of conveyance by which Mr.Page-Turner gave the building of the Church House to the Vicar and Churchwardens of Tilsworth. It was not necessary. Mr.Page-Turner pulled down an old building (a school room) and replaced it, but it was erected on the Vicar and Churchwardens' property…The Church House was built on the land of the Vicar and Churchwardens, and is therefore theirs absolutely. If M.Page-Turner wished the Church House to be the property of the Parish, as distinct from the Church, he would scarcely have erected it on land belonging to someone else".

In 1886 the trustees applied to the Local Government Board to invest £70 to defray the cost of enlarging the old school for use as a Sunday School "and for entertainments". The proposal was that subsequently the parish would maintain the building - "The proceeds of one or two of the village concerts would be sufficient for the purpose" [P130/35/2]. The proposal was rejected by the Board because the trust deed stipulated that the building be sued for the education of the children of the poor.

In October 1924 H.G.Page-Turner wrote to the Vicar, Rev.St.John Lindars about the property: "My Father has been approached, through me, by some of the Parishioners of Tilsworth, in regard to the control and maintenance of this Building [Church House], and I have seen him in the matter. The site was given, and I believe the Building was erected, by the late Sir Edward Page-Turner, for the purpose of an Infant School. Some years ago [presumably 1905 the date on the exterior of the building], my Father undertook some enlargement of and improvements to the Building. From what I am given to understand, the Parishioners have been instrumental in raising some funds for the restoration of and maintenance of the Building, and it seems that they are somewhat aggrieved at not having the opportunity of suggesting in what manner the money should be expended on necessary repairs etc. I believe that the control and management of the Church House is vested in you, as Vicar of the Parish, and the Churchwardens. Without wishing to interfere in any way in the matter, my Father hopes that you will be able to find some way of coming to an amicable arrangement, mutually satisfactory to yourself, the Churchwardens and the Parishioners, in regard to control and maintenance of the Property and the uses to which it is to be put; and I am to say that he would have written to you personally had it not been for the serious illness which incapacitates him" [P130/35/1].

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 ordered that every piece of land and building in the country be assessed to determine the rates to be paid on it. Tilsworth was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting the Church House [DV1/C104/6] noted that it stood in 0.048 acres and was "used for church purposes, dancing, public meetings", it simply comprised a "hall and small room".

In 1950 it was noted in an application to have the use of the building change from educational to church use [P130/35/3] that "A schoolmistress lived there, but prior to 1890 she married and since that date nobody has lived there. In 1890 the building was used as a Sunday School and concerts held there for the Church. In 1905 the present building, which is a Hall and not a school, was opened by the Archdeacon of Bedford, the old building having been pulled down. Miss J.Timms, now living, was present, and can remember Mr.Frederick Augustus Page-Turner making a speech in which he stated that the building was to be owned by the Vicar and Churchwardens and to be used for Church purposes". The account went on: "Since the Church House was erected it has in practice been used as a Village Hall; dances, Whist Drives, Meetings etc., sponsored by the Church, village societies and clubs, the British Legion, political parties etc., are, and have been held there. It is an economic fact that if this practice is not continued the building cannot be kept open". The statement finished: "Rents have always been charged when the building has been used by any organisation other than a Church organisation. It is difficult to say who has settled the rents as between the Vicar and Churchwardens and the Parochial Church Council, and doubtful whether the rents have been economic rents. The Parochial Church Council has acted as banker and endeavoured to keep the money separate in the books although there has only been until this year one banking account. It cannot be said without much research that the Parochial Church Council money and the Church House money have never become mixed although it is unlikely that any mixing which there may have been has occurred to any appreciable extent. The interested parties (the Vicar and Churchwardens and the Parochial Church Council) are dissatisfied with the present extremely vague position in which neither can substantiate their rights because they feel that they are in a weak position with regard to (a) putting the building in order (b) dealing with the rating authorities in connection with the coming reassessment (c) dealing with the local authorities in connection with the more glaring defects, both structural and sanitary of the building".

The opinion received, in 1951, was that when the building and site ceased to be a school the land reverted under the School Sites Act to the vicar and churchwardens but they were in breach of trust in not using the building and site for educational purposes, therefore they would have to approach the Ministry of Education for a suggestion on how to resolve the matter. Eventually the Charity Commissioners, in 1952, proposed that the Diocesan Board of Finance by custodian trustees and the Parochial Church Council managing trustees of the building and a scheme was duly agreed.

Tilsworth Infants School in the 1870s
Tilsworth Infants' School in the 1870s [P130/28/5/11]