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Hill Farmhouse Willington

Hill Farmhouse about 1920 [X535/1]
Hill Farmhouse about 1920 [X535/1]

Hill Farmhouse was listed by the former Department of Environment in August 1983 as Grade II, of special interest. The department dated the property to the early 19th century. It was built by the Duke of Bedford as Lord of the Manor of Willington (the dukes had been lords of the manor since 1779 and would continue to be so until 1902).

The department noted that it is similar to the design of Octagon Farm, Cople which was built about 1800 by R. Salmon for Francis, 5th Duke of Bedford. It is built of brick with a pebbledash render and has hipped slate roofs. The main block is in an octagonal plan of two storeys, with a two storeyed wing projecting to the north-west. A single storeyed outhouse addition lies to the north-west.

The farm was large and in 1893 the Duke of Bedford decided to sell off ninety acres of grassland [SF73/4]. However, most of it did not sell so he offered most of it again as part of around a hundred acres in 1895 [SF73/6]. Again it did not sell and was offered for sale again  in 1896 [SF73/7]. Finally in 1897 he offered 233 acres for sale, including those hundred acres which, again, had not sold [SF73/9].

In September 1902 then Lords of the Manor, George and James Keeble, put a large amount of the agricultural land of the Willington Manor estate up for sale by auction. Hill Farm formed Lot 21 and the sale particulars [X65/66] described it as follows:

known as

Bounded on the East by property of R. mercer, esq., now in the occupation of  Mr, Thomas Greig, comprising a Brick and slated HOUSE, containing Dining, Drawing and Breakfast rooms, 6 Bedrooms, Kitchen, 2 Cellars, Pantry, Brewhouse, &c.

The BUILDINGS are boarden and slated on Brick foundations and include – 2 stall Nag Stable and Coach House, Cart Horse Stable, Loose Box, Barn, Large Cow House with Scotch Feeding Stalls and Piggeries, Cart Shed with Granary over, Root House, 3 Yards with Shelters, Fowl House, Cart Shed, &c.

Together with a Thriving and well kept

SPORTING WOOD 20 acres in extent

Having a capital Growth of YOUNG TIMBER TREES
Eight Arable of Pasture Fields

The whole containing 139 acres, 0 roods, 8 poles.

The fields were as follows (all in Willington unless stated otherwise):

  • The farmhouse and garden – 1 rood, 21 poles;
  • Premises – 1 rood, 22 poles
  • Orchard – 2 roods, 38 poles;
  • Paddock – 1 acres, 2 roods, 35 poles;
  • Lucerne Piece – pasture – 11 acres, 2 roods, 17 poles;
  • Three Corner Piece – arable – 3 acres, 2 roods, 22 poles;
  • Corner Gate Entrance – arable – 15 poles;
  • Oak Tree Field – arable – 19 acres, 33 poles;
  • Upper Grove – pasture – 14 acres, 3 roods, 9 poles;
  • Conduit Grove – wood – 19 acres, 3 roods, 29 poles;
  • Grove Field – arable – 5 acres, 2 roods, 10 poles;
  • The Grove – pasture – 36 acres, 20 poles;
  • Eleven Acres – arable – 11 acres, 1 pole;
  • Wood Field – pasture – 7 acres, 2 rods, 27 poles;
  • Wood Field in Mogerhanger – pasture – 1 acre, 25 poles;
  • Roadway – pasture – 3 acres, 3 roods, 4 poles

The reserve price was £3,000 and the bidding reached £2,850. The lot was annotated “not sold”. It was later sold by private treaty to the Shuttleworth family of Old Warden.

In 1917 Britain was under threat of starvation. An unrestricted U-Boat campaign by Germany was sinking massive tonnages of merchant shipping and it was feared that lack of food might knock Britain out of the First World War. The situation was as grim as the U-Boat threat in World War Two. Indeed, the Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known as the Battle of Passchendaele was launched that year partly with a view to driving up the Belgian coast and depriving the Germans of U-Boat bases such as Zeebrugge and Ostend. In the event the advance did not get more than a few miles from its starting point. Another effect of the U-Boat campaign was for the War Agricultural Executive Committees of county councils to be ordered to find old pasture and meadow which could be broken up by ploughing to plant arable crops. The farmers instructed so to do by the councils invariably objected, after all land was left as pasture for good reason and the farmers feared a loss of money by breaking up good pasture to grow sub-standard crops. Hill Farm was one of those selected for breaking up pasture, fifty eight acres in this case, and its tenant, William Thomas Brooks, objected [WW1/AC/OP2/26]. Interestingly one of the letters refers to the tenant’s inability to plough the land on a certain date due to its being within the Danger Zone for practice firing of artillery. Fortunately, The Admiralty introduced the convoy system, losses of shipping were greatly reduced and the county did not starve.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every piece of land and building in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Willington, like most of the county, was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting Hill Farm [DV1/H36/78] found it still owned by the Shuttleworth family and still occupied by William Thomas Brooks.

The farm occupied 245 acres and the rent had been set at £184 per annum in 1910, increased to £200 per annum in 1919. The valuer remarked: “water from Reservoir for House, Buildings and Cottages. Read kept up by Rural District Council. Sheerhatch Wood great drawback. Bottom fields want draining. [Field number] O. S. 115 ruined by Conduit Covert”. Another hand has written: “very Good House and Buildings. Position bad – End of a private road. Woods and game a nuisance. Two very good fields north-west. Very fair land on south about equals Moxhill”.

The farmhouse comprised three reception rooms, a kitchen and scullery, two cellars and six bedrooms, no bathroom. A later hand has noted that two bedrooms were converted into a bathroom and a w. c. The homestead of weather-boarded and slated buildings comprised a two stall nag stable, a cart horse stable for ten, a chaff house, a bull pen, a four bay hovel, a tool shed, a three bay hovel, a barn, a cow house for thirteen, a mixing house and barn combined, five piggeries, two loose boxes, a three bay hovel, a hen house, a trap house and a four bay cart shed with a granary over.

Directories for the county were published every few years by a number of sources. the most notable are Kelly's Directory. Below is a short list of occupiers of Hill, or Lane, Farm as revealed by directories. Entries are not the beginning and end dates of tenure but the first and last time the name is noted in a directory:

  • 1847 to 1890: Thomas Brown (in 1864 the farm is called Goggs Hall and in 1890 Conduit Farm);
  • 1898: Gregg and Brown (as Conduit Farm);
  • 1903: Thomas Greig (as Conduit Farm);
  • 1906 to 1910: John Thomas Mortimer;
  • 1914 to 1931: William Thomas Brooks;
  • 1936 to 1940: A. J. Larman and Son.