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Adelaide Square Bedford

The Mystery of the Mourning Dress

A Short History of 62 Adelaide Square, Bedford, by Ruth Gill
I was recently asked to look at archives of the Bedfordshire Federation of Women's Institutes which owns the Grade II listed building in Adelaide Square.  The archives were stored in the attic there, against a cupboard in which I discovered some Victorian clothing in immaculate condition. All the clothes were black; a boned long sleeved jacket, along with some "widow's weeds" (the lace head dress which hangs down to the waist), together with a cape, a velvet shoulder cape and a long jacket.  The skirt which would have completed the outfit was not there, but there was a well used black lace-trimmed silk lined parasol kept with them. The clothes are similar to those worn by the lady seated on the left of the illustration [right].

 I consulted Caroline Bacon, the Curator of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, who authenticated and dated them c.1890.  She was very impressed with the quality of the fabrics, which were silk and silk velvet, and the workmanship and thought that the clothes were probably worn as half-mourning due to the decorative beading on some of the items.

I set about researching the history of the house and the families who had lived there in order to find out who might have owned them.  The records of the property and the land it stands on date back far beyond the 1890s and include links to some of the most prominent citizens in the County.

Adelaide Square stands on land formerly known as Hill Close. In the 18 th century this belonged to the Hawes family.  The area was renamed Adelaide Square after Queen Adelaide, the popular wife of William IV (reigned 1830-1837). 

In 1728 Hill Close, together with a farmhouse called Porch House Farm (on the corner of All Hallows and Midland Road on the site now occupied by H. Samuels, jewellers), and other closes amounting to some 30 acres together with several other parcels of land within the parish of St. Paul's, St. Cuthbert's and St. Peter's, formed part of a marriage settlement between Judith Wilks and Thomas Hawes .  The Hawes were well known and respected in the town, having established a charity in the 17 th century to provide for the poor and infirm of Bedford.

The property then passed to their daughter, Mary Hawes , who married the Rev. William Smith . Smith was Vicar of St. Paul's Bedford and Prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral 1749-1782.  He was also Rector of Barton-in-the Clay 1757-1782. In 1796 Mary sold 1 acre 3 roods of Hill Close to the Trustees of the Bedford Charity although a road or cartway of 22 feet leading from Bromham Road was reserved.

Their daughter Frances Smith (born 1762) married, Leonard Hampson (b. 1759) on 13th July 1786 at Cardington. Leonard was the eldest son of William and Ann Hampson of Luton, where William was a lawyer and banker of considerable importance.  From 1759 he owned the George and Red Lion Inns.  His own house was in George Street next to the George Inn itself.  He was a trustee of the Luton Road Trust in 1774, and also steward of the Manor of Luton from 1774-1795.  When William died in 1799, Leonard took over both the Bank and the Solicitor's firm and joined into a partnership with John Griffiths covering both businesses.  On Griffith's death, Edward Chilwell Williams became Leonard's partner in the solicitor's business.  Charles Austin, a solicitor of Hertford and nephew of Griffiths, became Hampson's partner at the bank.

Leonard also followed in his father's footsteps by becoming Under Sheriff in 1794, and by 1811 was one of the largest landowners in Luton.  On the death of Mary Smith in 1809, the Hill Close estate in Bedford passed to his wife Frances but Leonard effectively took control of it. He died in March 1824 and is buried at St. Mary's, Luton. 

In 1824 the last surviving trustee of the Estate, Edward Hampson , sold the remainder of Hill Close, together with other land, to Francis Green of Bedford, a coal and timber merchant and banker. Francis was an Alderman and later Mayor in 1823 and when he died in 1840 he left all his property to his nephews, Thomas Abbott Gree n of Pavenham and Thomas John Green , a merchant, of Bedford St. Mary's.

As Bedford developed and required more housing this part of Bedford became known as "New Town".  Land in this area appears to have been sold off to speculative builders including Thomas and John Cobb and their father, another John Cobb, all of Olney.  Shortly after buying the land for £129 4s. 9d. in 1839, probably in 1841/2, Thomas Cobb built Nos. 60 and 62 Adelaide Square.  For the next thirty years the properties were rented out, but it is difficult to ascertain the names of all the tenants.  In August 1845 the tenant of No. 62 was Robert Waller .  In 1847 a Mr. Cook was in residence. From 1851 to 1854 Phineas Williams was the tenant but by 1861 Sarah Pooley is in occupation.

 In 1877 Thomas Cobb sold both 60 and 62 Adelaide Square to Alfred Long Field for £670.  Alfred Field extended No. 62 in 1878 by adding the bathroom and lavatory. The 1881 census lists Alfred Long Field as a widower, aged 47, born in Winslow, Bucks, living with his children: Alfred, 16, Frederick, 15, Charles, 11, Sarah, 9, Harry, 7 and Thomas aged 5, all born in Buckingham and all listed as scholars.  They had one live-in servant – Agnes Woods, unmarried, aged 21, born at Stagsden, Beds.  By 1901 Alfred Long Field had remarried and is shown as aged 66 with his wife, Kate aged 56.  Still living at home is his eldest son, Alfred Ernest, MA. BSc., aged 36, an Assistant Master at the Grammar School together with his half-sister Kathleen, aged 15 years, the only child from the second marriage

The electoral register of 1910 shows Alfred Ernest Long Field as the occupier. He remains at the address until 1949 when the property was sold to Charles Wells Limited for £1650, who leased it to employees. In 1972 the Women's Institute bought the house. 

So we go back to the original question – to whom did the clothes found in the attic belong? It is possible they belonged to Kate Field , the second wife of Alfred who would have been 46 in 1891.  Certainly she was the right age to be wearing this type of clothing; were they her mourning clothes for a parent or close family member?  Have they been in the cupboard all this time?  Or is it possible they never belonged to 62 Adelaide Square and they came to be there for quite another reason?