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The Red House - Fenny Stratford
Red House

At Fenny Stratford, a familiar sight along Watling Street is the lofty prominence of the Red House, which, with the present three-storey building dating from 1817, would from 1797 serve for many years as a doctor's house and surgery.

Today the premises are in the private ownership of the Gregory family, and it is due to their care and attention that the house has received an ongoing restoration.

The height of the building is emphasised by the lowered course of the road, and this reminds one of the days before the advent of the Ml motorway, when Watling Street continued to be a major artery of the nation's transport system.

In fact, it was due to Thomas Telford that, during the 19th century, local improvements to the road were made, including the demolition in 1828 of two old cottages at the corner of St Martin's churchyard, with half of the land being used to widen the road. It was by his advice that the level of the road was later lowered, which accounts for the Red House now standing at a raised elevation.

A Scotsman, Telford had initially been a stonemason but, having moved to London in 1782, by 1787 he began his career as a builder of bridges, canals and roads, eventually becoming known as 'the Colossus of Roads'.

With the introduction of the stagecoach, the need for adequate major roads had become paramount. The usual method of road repair in the 17th century had been just to fill the potholes and ruts with stones or gravel, using hand rammers to firmly compact the material.

But clearly this was no longer adequate, since by 1705 the 14 mile length of Watling Street between Hockliffe and Stony Stratford was in such a bad condition that ruts three feet deep were commonplace, and "the ordinary Provision made by the Laws and Statutes of this Realm now in force are not sufficient for the effectual repairing and amending the Road... neither are the Inhabitants of the several parishes and townships, through which the road leads, of ability to amend the same."

A partial solution to the national problem would be introduced the following year by the Parliamentary creation of the first Turnpike Trust, by which tolls were charged for the traffic using the roads. This revenue was then expended on road repairs, although the roads that were infrequently used could only generate small amounts of money.

Then in 1739, due to the considerable amount of traffic, an Act of Parliament "for amending the Highway between Hockliffe and Stony Stratford" was passed, "by reason of many heavy Carriages passing through the same, is become so very ruinous and bad that horsemen, coaches, waggons and other carriages, cannot pass, especially in the winter season without danger".

Eighty-five trustees were duly nominated, and they were empowered to appoint surveyors and "Collectors of the Tolls of the Turnpikes", which would be erected along the roads. As for the tolls, these included "For every coach, Berlin, landau, chariot, or calash drawn by six horses, 1/6d; if by four horses 1/-; if by two horses 6d." Free passage was granted for the conveyance of the material for the road repairs, and also "on the days whereon there should be an election of a Knight of the Shire, or of a Burgess or Burgess to serve in Parliament for the Counties of Bedford or Buckingham".

Free passage was also granted for other purposes, including the conveyance of "dung, mould, soil, or compost", to be used as manure on gardens and lands.

The penalty for transferring a toll gate ticket was 10s, both for giver and receiver, and with half of the fine being given to the 'informer', the other half went towards road repair.

The tolls would take effect from March 25 1740, for a period of 21 years, and around 1766 the keeper for the toll gate at Fenny Stratford was Joseph Ray. The condition of the road greatly improved, not least when the trustees appointed Thomas Telford as their adviser.

Even until recent times the Red House was often the home of medical practitioners, and, following the sale of the premises in 1976 by Dr Francis Carter, this association is continued today with the naming of the Red House surgery, in Queensway.

Lynch Conway Gent.

Daniel Atkins, in his will of September 13 1793, stated that after his death his property - consisting of a cottage in Fenny Stratford known as the White Hart, (formerly the Rose and Crown), which was formerly two tenements, and another cottage known as the Cock, (first mentioned in 1753), as well as four acres of close adjoining the Cock - should, pending their sale, be held in trust by Thomas Brett and Robert Atkins.

Daniel died soon afterwards and, in accordance with the terms of his will, the property was auctioned at the Swan in December 1800. The purchaser, who had already been the tenant, was Lynch Conway, a surgeon, with the description in the particulars of sale reading that it is "pleasantly situated by the site of the turnpike road from London to Chester".

For some 30 years, the building had been used as a pub, "for which purpose its situation is particularly desirable or for any other business which requires room. It is within a very short distance of the Grand Junction Canal many miles of which is now in full trade and the greatest part of the remainder is expected to be finished in the course of the next summer."

As for Dr Gent, he was an officer of a Friendly Society registered in the town in 1795, which met either at the Kings Head or the church and, as the surgeon and apothecary, he received a payment from each member for his service. As suggested by the name, the Navigation Inn, now renamed the Bridge, had been built to cater for the needs of the canal diggers, and it would be here that Dr Gent set up an association for the prosecution of robbers, following the theft of his horse.

In fact, horse stealing had once been prevalent in the town, and at the site of since demolished cottages in the middle of Aylesbury Street the complete skeleton of a horse was unearthed. It was assumed that, having stolen the horse, the thieves, considering its sale too much of a risk, slaughtered the animal and buried the carcass under the floor of their living room.

In 1817 the present Red House was built by Charles Warren who, at the age of 19, was also the architect, and it was also at this period that Dr Gent had the three adjoining tenements, (formerly the Cock Inn), demolished, with the site converted into gardens.

As for other matters, by a covenant he instructed that no wife of his should be entitled to dower from the property, although in October 1817 William Wilson of Adderbury, trustee of the marriage settlement of Lynch Conway Gent to Mary Gardener, was, as trustee, assigned £500 due to Mary on a note of land from John Bellow of Adderbury.

Thomas Camps

Lynch Conway Gent died on January 31 1847, being buried at St Martin's Church. The previous year, his will of September 25 had devised his property to his trustees, George Maydon of Winslow, maltster and butcher, and John Sleath Gent of Stony Stratford, a surgeon.

Charles Ridgway, a draper of Leighton Buzzard, then purchased the property as agent for Thomas Camps, surgeon, of Fenny Stratford, for £650 with the interest to include a 'messuage and garden' and close, (part of which had been sold to the railway).

Thomas Camps had previously worked at Great Berkhampstead and during his medical career would contribute to many learned publications. He made his will in April 1855 and, after his death in September 1856, a trust for the sale of his property was set up in October 1856.

At auction, 'Lot 4' was purchased for £500 by Thomas Lucas, and on September 29 1859 a conveyance was made of 'a messuage in the High Street in Fenny Stratford late in the occupation of Thomas Camps and now of William Lucy; and also the paddock ground'.

Doctor Frederick Deyns

Born at North Walsham, he lived and practised at the Red House, where his second son Charles John Deyns, was born. He then took over the Red House practice from his father around 1890.

Doctor Lieutenant Colonel Charles John Deyns

A staunch Freemason, he joined the St Martin's Lodge in 1905 and, being a councillor for 25 years, would be the chairman of the council in 1909, 1910 and 1911.

He also became captain of the town cricket club and, apart from his general practice, would also be a medical officer with the Bucks Volunteer Rifle Corps.

Indeed, although officially too old during World War I, he felt it his duty to be with his men, and not only took part in the Gallipoli campaign, but also served in Alexandria. For his military service he would be awarded the prestigious Territorial Decoration.

Known also as Lieutenant Colonel Deyns, among his appointments was that as head of the school board, and as a Justice of the Peace. He was also chairman of the Fenny Stratford Gas Company until it was taken over by the British Gas Light Co.

Having moved to The Gables, in Bletchley Road, he retired from medical practice in 1927 and subsequently lived at his home in Tattenhoe Lane until his death, after failing health, aged 87, in January 1950.

Doctor Edgar Nicholson

After training at Middlesex Hospital, in 1896 Dr Edgar Nicholson MRCS LRCP, a Yorkshireman from Whitby, came to work in the High Street practice of Dr Charles Deyns, by whom he was subsequently offered a partnership.

A frank and outspoken man, Dr Nicholson was greatly respected in Bletchley and when Dr Deyns later moved to The Gables, in Bletchley Road, he maintained the practice at the Red House until his retirement in 1929. He died in Northampton, on January 7 1945 at the age of 80.

With the estate amounting to £47,595 12s 5d, he left an annuity of £25 and the use of the house and furniture to his housekeeper, Margaret Robinson. He also left an annuity to his sister Louise, with the rest of his estate to be disposed of equally in trust to Geoffrey Hudson and Christopher Fulton.

Ernest Marchant

A veteran of World War I, in 1924 Ernest Marchant acquired 'the relics' of a solicitor's practice, and for a while set up in one room of the Red House. He cycled every day from his home in Woburn Sands and had to use the lavatories at the nearby railway station!

One of the four children of James and Lucy Marchant, he was born in north London on May 12 1887. Educated at Christ's Hospital, Ernest was admitted to the Court Rolls in July 1913 and then gained employment in London.

Enlisting at the outbreak of World War I, he married Elsie Cotching, "a rare, golden-haired beauty", and served with the 18th Royal Fusiliers - the Public Schools Fusiliers - becoming an instructor in musketry.

However, in the aftermath of the Somme, seeing a friend return wounded for the second time from France, he immediately asked for a posting to the front. This granted, at the age of 29 he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 17th Middlesex, and at the ill-conceived assault on Beaumont Hamel he was one of the few who on November 13 survived the long struggle through the mud to penetrate the German lines.

A grenade put an end to his war and he was taken prisoner. After two unsuccessful attempts at escape, he remained a POW after the Armistice. With no prospect of early release, in December he and two prisoners crawled under the wire and reached Denmark in an open fishing boat, having nearly died of exposure during the voyage.

In his solicitors practice he would eventually be joined by his two sons Andrew and James, and the business developed into the successful firm of Ernest Marchant and Sons. Ernest died in 1967 at the age of 80.

Doctor William Edgar Carter

On the retirement of Dr Nicholson, in 1929 the practice was taken over by Dr William Edgar Carter, who came to Bletchley with his wife from Soham, Cambridgeshire. On November 12 1931 the Red House was conveyed to them by local property developer Hubert Faulkner for £500. Also at the Red House would live their nurse, dispenser and secretary Barbara Curtoise, who had travelled with them.

Since 1803 successive members of the Carter family had qualified with the Royal College of Surgeons, the first being Richard Carter. He became the ship's surgeon of the sloop Ranger at the battles of the Nile and Trafalgar, and eventually settled in Leeds where, after qualifying in 1843, his son, Joseph Barton Carter, practised until 1893. He died in 1897 but his son, Francis Richard Carter, would also practice in Leeds for over 30 years.

After his death in 1907 the tradition would be continued by his son, Dr William Edgar Carter, who was a GP near Cambridge for 14 years. For transport, he first owned a single-cylinder car, but because of the non-electric lighting system which was unsuitable for night driving, had to cycle miles in the Fens when attending night calls.

In 1939, Doctor Carter became the deputy coroner for North Bucks and in other capacities was the rector's warden of the parish of Simpson, of which village he was offered the vice-presidency of the cricket club in April 1950. He retired in 1952 at the age of 65.

Doctor Francis George Temperly Carter

On the retirement of Dr William Edgar Carter, his son Francis was appointed by the National Health Service authority to take over the practice at the Red House, which his parents conveyed to him in March 1952 for £4,000.

Educated at Aldenham School and Barts, Francis qualified at in 1950. His sister Wendy had married a doctor, and in November 1951 a daughter, Nicola Jane Royle, was bom to the couple at the Red House.

On March 31 1976 the Red House was conveyed by Francis to Milton Keynes Development Corporation, for £40,000.

Barbara Edith Curtoise

Barbara was born in Lincolnshire, the eldest daughter of Mr and Mrs Arthur Curtoise, of Branston. Having been granted the Lady Ampthill Scholarship, she became a VAD during World War I, and in 1919 trained as a midwife at Rotunda Hospital in Dublin.

On coming to the Red House, in 1931 she and Dr Carter opened the Red House nursing home. In fact, Nurse Curtoise would be the actual owner of the town's first private maternity clinic, at the back of the premises which soon needed a temporary building to be erected as an extra ward.

During World War II Mrs Carter, a well-known local nurse, would become greatly involved in dealing with the many cases. With the last baby to be born at the Red House maternity clinic being Michael Bell, the son of Dr Bell of Aspley Guise, the facility closed in 1956 on the retirement of Nurse Curtoise. She had been much assisted by Mrs Rose Smith, who lived opposite, at 26 High Street.

Barbara Curtoise died in 1967, "vesting assent of Red House Bungalow" by the terms of her will to Dr Francis Carter.

Doctor Cyril Baker

With the increase in the local population, the need for medical facilities increased and Dr Cyril Baker, the only son of Mr and Mrs Frank Baker of London, began his practice at the Red House. In 1957 or 1958 he married Sybil Edwards, a district nurse and midwife, of Tring, and they would shortly depart for a practice in Barnes.

The Red House today

Having lain unoccupied for years, in 1981 the Red House (excepting a small plot of the surrounding land) was purchased from Milton Keynes Development Corporation by the noted sculptor Ernest Bottomley.

From Stoke Hammond, he moved with his wife into an almost derelict house "in desperate need of restoration". Additional buildings were added to the property, including a large studio space to the rear, and a pitched elevation to the 1950s built flat-roofed extension.

Living in the premises with their two children, the current owners are a local businessman, Jon Gregory, and his wife, Emma. As the daughter of Ernest Bottomley, Emma purchased equity in the house in 1989, and has since continued the work necessary to maintain this impressive property