Skip Navigation

Welcome to Bedford Borough Council

Home > Community Histories > Willington > Willington Manor Farmhouse

Willington Manor Farmhouse

The manor house on Gordon's map of 1736 [CRT120/113]
The manor house on Gordon's map of 1736 [CRT120/113]

The Manor Farmhouse was listed by the former Department of Environment in May 1984 as Grade II, of special interest. The department dated the building’s origin to the early to mid 16th century, supporting the idea that it was built by Sir John Gostwick, some time after acquiring the Lordship of the Manor of Willington in 1529, to replace the old manor house. In an article for The Bedfordshire Magazine in 1995(Volume 25 page 20) Frank Godber revealed that Gostwick’s monogram had recently been discovered in an ancient timber carving at the house (see below).

The house has been rebuilt, refaced and added to in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The original house was timber framed with brick infill (some timbering is still visible inside), with later work in red brick. The house has an old clay tile roof and two storeys in an L-plan. Some 19th century additions have two storeys and lie within the angle of the L, another has one storey and attics and liea to the north-east and another has one storey lying to the north-west. The substantial external chimney stack to the north-east gable and the gable itself are also possibly 16th century brickwork, except the top of the stack, which was rebuilt in the 20th century. The south-east elevation also retains some earlier brickwork with diaper patterning, but this is probably 17th century.

At the same date the garden wall was listed as Grade II. It includes some remains of the former manor house and is 17th century, with one 18th century section altered in the 19th century. The south-west section, in red brick with diaper patterning in vitrified bricks, is about 40 metres long and stands about one metre high. It includes two fireplaces (blocked with apparently earlier, possibly 16th century, brick) indicating that this was the north-east elevation of part of the earlier, pre-Gostwick, manor house. The extent of the walls certainly shows that Gostwick's manor house was two or three times the size of today's building, as one might expect with a person who trod the national stage. Folklore in Willington is that the majority of these buildings either burned or were pulled down [CRT130Willington9].

Following its erection the house remained the manor house to the Manor of Willington and thus its ownership mirrored that of the manor itself – the Gostwick family until 1731, then the Dukes of Marlborough until 1779, then the Dukes of Bedford until 1902. In November 1903 then Lords of the Manor, George and James Keeble, put the Willington Manor Estate properties in the village up for sale by auction. The sale particulars [X403/3] listed Manor Farm as Lot 11 and described the property thus:

Manor Farmhouse about 1900 [X535-1]
Manor Farmhouse about 1900 [X535/1]

An Important Residential Property


A Superior and Commodious RESIDENCE
known as the

Built in Brick and Tiled containing Entrance Hall, Spacious Drawing Room with Marble mantel, large Dining Room, Breakfast Room, Smoke Room, good Kitchen, Scullery, Beer and Coal Cellars, Dairy, Pantry, 7 Bedrooms, Attic, Bath Room with Hot and Cold Water supply &c.

Surrounding a Court Yard is a range of BRICK & TILED BUILDINGS including Nag Stable (3 Loose Boxes and Stall), Coach House and Harness Room, Brewhouse and Stock Place.

There are nicely arranged Gardens and Lawn, Kitchen Garden (walled in) with Greenhouse, Orchard &c.

It has a Southern aspect and a pleasant outlook. Willington Manor was the ancient Residence of Sir John Gostwick, Master of the Horse to King Henry VIII, and a portion of the House dates back to this time.

Together with TWO CLOSES OF PASTURE LAND on the west and South sides of the residence, one having a frontage to the Bedford Road, the whole containing

27 acres, 2 roods, 24 poles 

The land was as follows:

  • The house – 1 acre, 2 roods, 34 poles;
  • The road at the back – 27 poles;
  • The Walk – 33 poles;
  • An orchard – 1 acre, 12 poles;
  • Home Close (part) – 2 roods 11 poles;
  • Home Close (part in Cople) – 13 acres, 3 roods, 31 poles;
  • Part of the FrontPark in Cople – 3 roods;
  • Part of the FrontPark in Willington – 9 acres, 36 poles.

Manor Farmhouse from the side about 1900 [X535/1]
Manor Farmhouse from the side about 1900 [X535/1]

In October 1911 Millar, Son & Co were instructed to offer the ‘Willington Manor’ for sale by auction either as a whole or in 17 lots. Lot 1 was described as ‘The Exceptionally Desirable Freehold Old Fashioned Manor House known as Willington Manor’ and included six and three quarter acres of land [AD3351]. Isaac Godber purchased Lot 1 and certain other lots of land and orchard and moved his family to the manor house from their house called Scarsdale, on the Sandy Road. Scarsdale had been built by Isaac in 1908 [X317/1] and it must have been something of a shock for his wife, Bess, to move to the ‘Old Fashioned’ manor. In letters to her mother sent not long after the family moved Bess says ‘'I hardly know where to start in this great place'. [Z153/63/9] and describes the garden ‘I find we have several acacia trees down the long walk but they are very old & a lot of dead wood in them, they are just coming out what there is of them alive also another old tree on the lawn has a shiny round leaf & is just in bloom almost like may. Evidently the Pursers were very fond of flowering shrubs. The old red poppies & iris are out now - also delphiniums, pinks, etc honeysuckle & little old fashioned roses.’ [Z153/63/8]. However Bess didn’t change the domestic arrangements for another 40 years. In a letter to her sisters in March 1952 she says ‘Our kitchen has made such a difference with washing up etc especially after I have been cooking, where I had to take everything out into the scullery to wash up & also fetch water – now I only have to turn round to the sink – after nearly 40 years of the old way!’ [Z153/63/49].

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. Willington, like most of the county, was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting Manor Farmhouse [DV1/H36/54] found that the farm comprised seventy acres in Willington and Cople and the valuer commented: “House good and cannot be classed as a mere farm house. Buildings very good but for 400 acres and only about a quarter used”.

The farmhouse comprised three reception rooms, a kitchen, a scullery, a dairy, a pantry and an office. Upstairs lay seven bedrooms, a bathroom and an attic. A cellar lay outside as did two garages and a bicycle shed. The homestead comprised: nag stables used as a wood barn and two loose boxes; a packing shed; a mixing house; five piggeries; two hen houses; a pot store; a three bay implement shed; five hovels each of four bays; a barn with a loft over; another four bay hovel; two loose boxes; a cow house for sixteen beasts; another mixing house; a chaff house; a barn; a cow house used as stores; a straw barn; a stable used as a store; two more sets of two loose boxes; another chaff house; a nine horse stable and one standing; a harness room; a loose box; a four bay cart shed and an implement bay. North of the homestead lay a ten bay sheep hovel used as stores. The homestead was of brick and slate construction throughout.

In 1948 some of the farm buildings erected by the Duke of Bedford in 1850 were converted into bungalows [RDBP3/1034]. In 1984 the house was sold by the Godber family. A programme of restoration and modernization was carried out by the new owners from 1985-1990 [Z449/1/15, PCWillington18/20-21] including connecting the dining room with the old kitchen in 1986 [PCWillington18/23].

In 1995 Willington Manor was put up for sale and the particulars [Z449/1/15] described the layout as follows. On the ground floor lay: an inner lobby measuring 11 feet 9 inches by 10 feet 2 inches; to the south-east the drawing room measuring 16 feet 3 inches by 16 feet); in the south-east and south-west the sitting room measuring 17 feet by 14 feet 5 inches; to the south-west the dining room measuring 17 feet 8 inches by 17 feet 10 inches; an inner lobby; an apple store; the boiler room; the kitchen measuring 16 feet 6 inches by 17 feet and a further kitchen annexe measuring 11 feet 11 inches by 7 feet 5 inches). On the first floor lay six bedrooms (two with en-suite bathrooms) and a separate bathroom. The carving in Bedroom 6 was described as: "believed to depict Sir John Gostwick and his wife or family, with delicate lettering "JG" in Tudor Scroll, and elegant carving incorporating Dolphins and Tudor Roses". Outside lay a brewhouse, a double garage, a trap house, lawned gardens, a raised pond with a dolphin fountain, a summerhouse, a small fish pond, a gardener's w. c. and the listed brick walls which lay around rear gardens, an orchard of apple, pear and plum trees, a small nuttery, a kitchen garden, a paved breakfast terrace and stable buildings.

Manor Farmhouse about 1950 [X535/1]
Manor Farmhouse about 1950 [X535/1]

The registers of electors make it possible to compile this list of occupants, and show that in the middle of the 19th century the farm was known as Willington Park Farm: 

  • 1843-1878: John Purser (Willington Park Farm)
  • 1866-1885: Henry Purser (Willington Park Farm)
  • 1887-1901: William Robinson (Manor Farm)
  • 1902-1904: William Wallis Robinson (Manor Farm)
  • 1906-1912: William Douglas Knox 
  • 1913-1957: Isaac Godber