Woodleys Farm, Woburn Sands
The names “Woodleys” and “Wood Leys” seem to have been interchangeable throughout the history of the farm. I have used which ever was used in the original documents.
BA indicates documents at Buckinghamshire Archives, Aylesbury. BARS documents are at Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service at Bedford.
There is a collection of Title Deeds relating to the Hoare family estates in Wavendon and Aspley Guise at Buckinghamshire Archives (the John Marsh Collection) which mention a site in Wavendon called Wood Leys. This was most probably the area where the farmhouse was later built, to manage it. In date order, these are:
D 168/13/1 from 15th October 1687
Feoffment [A transfer of land or property] between (1) Richard Cload of Woburn Abbey, Beds., gent. and (2) Bartholomew Evans of Bedford House, the Strand, London, yeoman and Thomas Sickling of Maulden, Beds., gent.; In consideration of £8 for c.20 acres on Wood Leys in Wavendon. (Details given, occupied by Richard Cload)
D 168/13/2 from 16th June 1692
A Lease for a year between (1) Bartholomew Evans of Bedford House, The Strand, London, yeoman and (2) Robert Farr, citizen & merchant taylor of London of c.20 acres on Wood Leys in Wavendon.
D 168/52/1 from 26th April 1699
Feoffment between (1) William Kilpin of Wavendon, yeoman and wife Elizabeth, (2) John Harvey of Wavendon, yeoman, (3) Ralph Coleman of Fenny Stratford, lace buyer; Richard Goodman the younger of Simpson, yeoman; for a Mortgage, 28th October 1689, between (1) and William Francklin, gent., of which the above property formed part, the reversion of the mortgage of the property is to be conveyed to John Gregory and James Allbright.
(1) to (2) to be held in trust by (3)
Of: 3 acres in Small meade, 2 acres in Duplex, ½ acre in West longs, ½ acre in Through longs, ½ acre in Hilly meade, ½ acre in East longs, ½ acre in Great hooks, ½ acre in Preist hooks, ½ acre in Gosse hooks, 1 acre in Wheat Hill, 2 acres in Great Deeth, 2½ acres in Slade Meade, 3r. adjoining Hilly meade to the south, ½ acre in Little Deeth in East Field, ½ acre in Braskett leys, 2r.in Woodleys, 4r. in Wood breach, 6r. on Bragnam hill, 4r. in Longland Close and 4r. and ½ acre in Starrs Nest, all in Wavendon for consideration of £135.
D 168/52/2 also of 26th April 1699
An Assignment of mortgage term in trust to attend the inheritance between (1) William Francklin of Woburn Lodge, Woburn, Beds., gent., (2) William Kilpin of Wavendon, yeoman, (3) John Harvey of Wavendon, yeoman, (4) John Gregory of Wavendon, yeoman and James Allbright of Woburn, oatmeal maker
(1) at request of (2) and (3) to (4) to hold in trust for (3):
3 acres in Small meade, 2 acres in Duplex, ½ acre in West longs, ½ acre in Through longs, ½ acre in Hilly meade, ½ acre in East longs, ½ acre in Great hooks, ½ acre in Preist hooks, ½ acre in Gosse hooks, 1 acre in Wheat Hill, 2 acres in Great Deeth, 2½ acres in Slade Meade, 3r. adjoining Hilly meade to the south, ½ acre in Little Deeth in East Field, ½ acre in Braskett leys, 2r.in Woodleys, 4r. in Wood breach, 6r. on Bragnam hill, 4r. in Longland Close and 4r. and ½ acre in Starrs Nest, all in Wavendon
D 168/35/11-12 from 29-30th May 1800
Lease and Release between (1) Ann Pancoust of Broughton, widow, Mary Pancoust of Broughton, widow, Edmund Goodwin of Norfolk Street, Middlesex, and his wife Mary Goodwin (nee Pancoust), Owen Evans and his wife Elizabeth (nee Pancoust), Richard Mason and Robert Charnley and (2) Henry Hugh Hoare of Wavendon, and Charles Hoare of Fleet Street, London, of a Wood called Heywood (c.31 acres, plan included) and land on Wood Leys (4a.3r.1p.), in Wavendon in consideration of £850.
I can find no use of the name Woodleys before 1861. Originally the farm land was split between the parishes of Wavendon and Bow Brickhill, but the southern “Hogstye End”-part of Wavendon later went on to form the new parish of Woburn Sands, also taking part of Aspley Guise. Therefore references to the farm can be found under several parish names.
The Denison family had been in Wavendon since at least 1735. One of them, William, was the Rector of Cublington, a small village to the west of Leighton Buzzard, and in 1808 he married Caroline Aveling, daughter of the vicar of Aspley Guise. It was he who bought the High Street area and farmland to the west from Thomas Hart, the farmer of the original farmstead based at The Swan, in 1820. His son, William Henry Denison, inherited these lands in 1834.
The railway line bisected the original farm, as they had at least one field north of the line. When the line was built in 1846, land was taken from four local landowners to permit the route to pass through Woburn Sands, one of those being William Henry Denison, who lost about 5¾ acres of his land and this was from Woodleys Farm which he then owned. He lived nearby in the Georgian mansion called Fenton House, in Woburn Sands, until 1868 when he gave it to became the vicarage when St. Michael’s Church was built. He then moved to Hardwick Cottage, which once stood on Mowbray Green. (The Denison’s and Fenton House have their own page on the Woburn Sands Collection website.)
There are very few identifiable addresses used on the 1851 census in Woburn Sands, but one of the few that were used was that of “The Leys Farm”. I have not established if this is definitely Woodleys Farm, but it is very likely. Only one person was listed as living there:
George Falder, 44, Farm Bailiff of 500 acres with 29 labourers, born in Ampthill.
The farm was producing very good livestock and produce. Denison won First Prize for “Gander and Two Geese” at the Royal Bucks Agricultural Association show in 1854. He employed a shepherd on his farm called George Payne, who managed to rear 269 lambs from 201 ewes in 1858, winning him the £1 2nd Prize in the Shepherd’s Class that year and his dairymaid’s butter also won 3rd Prize (of 5s.) in 1860.
A plan was produced in 1859 of all Mr. Denison’s estates in the parishes of Woburn, Aspley Guise and Bow Brickhill by J. Woodward, land surveyor, of Woburn. It survives at Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service (BARS: HN1/36).
The first references to the farm by the name we recognise is in the 1861 census. “Woodlays Farm” is listed with the occupants:
George Lines, 42, a Farm Bailiff, born in Northants,
Kezia Lines, wife, 52, a Bailiff’s Wife, also born in Northants,
Sarah Francesca Lines, daughter, 10, a scholar, also born in Northants.
Denison tried to sell his house and the farm in May 1862, at an auction at the Bedford Arms Hotel, Woburn, with adverts running in the Bucks Herald. (BARS: SF76/1) (BA: D-GA/Sc/5/4 with plan)
“…THE CAPITAL FAMILY RESIDENCE or MANSION, known as “FENTON HOUSE”, Situate within Ten Minutes walk of the Woburn Sands Station, on the London and North-Western Railway about 50 Miles from London.
Containing Large Entrance HALL, Dining and Drawing-rooms, Breakfast-room, and study, kitchen, housekeeper’s-room, servants’ hall, &c on the ground floor; 5 best bed-rooms, 2 servants’-rooms, bath and dressing rooms &c.; capital ale and wine cellars, &c., &c., coachhouse, stabling, saddle room and other out-buildings; pleasure ground and kitchen garden, stable yard, &c., containing 1a 3r 36p, more or less.
Also, the very superior FARM PREMISES, called “WOOD LEYS FARM,” recently built in the most substantial manner and replete with every requisite for conducting an extensive Business, with bailiff’s residence and garden, Labourer’s cottage, &c. Together with Sixty Acres of Capital SWARD and one hundred and eighty Acres of very superior and highly productive ARABLE LAND.
FENTON HOUSE and GROUNDS will be sold in one Lot, and it is proposed to take two other small Lots from the main Estate…”
The use of “recently built” could indicate it having been built within the last 20 years or so. I cannot find any report that that auction was successful, and certainly Denison was still in ownership of the farm in August 1862, as auctioneers T. & G. Greene ran another advert in the Bucks Herald to sell off 143 acres of wheat, barley, beans and oats, as well as 56 acres of straw on the premises of Wood Leys Farm.
A far more extensive sale by Denison of livestock and equipment took place in May 1863, advertised in the Beds Times. (BARS: SF76/6)
“…Live and Dead Farming Stock, 16 Heifers, 173 Sheep and Lambs, 2 Tups 13 Cart Horses and Colts, Excellent Assortment of Farm Implements, 60 Acres of Capital Grass Keeping till Michaelmas, 1863, TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION, BY T. & G. GREENE, On FRIDA Y, the 29th day of MAY, 1863, at 11 o’clock in the Forenoon, On the Premises of “Wood Ley’s Farm,” in Wavendon, near Woburn Sands, by direction of W. H. Denison, Esq., Comprising 2 two-years-old in-calf Yorkshire heifers, 3 barren ditto, 3 one-and-a-half-year-old ditto, 4 yearling ditto, and 4 weaned calves, 35 very fresh half-bred double couples, 34 single ditto, 1 long-wool 2-shear tup, and a shearling horn tup, 7 active cart horses and mares, 2 draught mares with filly foals at foot, promising 2-years old cart filly, and yearling ditto. THE FARM IMPLEMENTS consist of excellent wagon on iron arms, with shifting framework for carrying pigs, lambs, &c.; 5 iron-armed dung carts, water cart, Croskill’s clod crusher, Coleman’s cultivator, 2 iron ploughs (by Howard), 2 bouting ditto, subsoil ditto, 9-tined iron scuffler, 4 iron horse hoes with shifting tines, iron horse drag, 8-rowed lever corn drill with turnip box, &c.; shaft roll, set of 3 iron harrows, 12 iron pig troughs, 3 boarded cattle cribs, 14 sheep cribs, 8 ditto troughs, 2 Gardner’s turnip cutters, 50 corn sacks, 6 wool sheets, barley chopper, corn sieves, &c., harness for 8 horses, plough and harrow chains, 16 irontooth drag rakes, weed hooks, and other smaller implements. And also about 60 Acres of capital Grass Keeping till Michaelmas, 1863, in three inclosures, to be grazed, for which credit will be given on the usual terms…”
Two months later Denison directed another sale of growing crops of corn, wheat, barley, beans, peas and winter tares spread over 129 acres (BARS: SF76/2). Why / how had Denison sold off so much equipment yet kept the farm going? Mr. Lines was still running the farm day-to-day, as he is given as the contact on site in the advert from the Croydon’s Weekly Standard on July 25th. This is the last mention I can find of Landlord Denison and Tenant Lines being involved with the farm. In May 1864, a George Lines, farm bailiff of Wavendon, went broke (Northants Mercury) with a dividend meeting under the Insolvency Act held at the County Court in Newport Pagnell where creditors were called to prove their debts. Regretfully, this seems to have been a recurring story in the history of farming at Woodleys. The report says Lines had previously been a pig dealer in Marston St. Lawrence in Northampton.
When the farm was mentioned in the press again four years later, it was because another farmer was leaving. The Bucks Herald advertised a livestock auction by Mr. G. Greene in May 1867, of 235 sheep and lambs, eight home-bred steers, one barron cow, a short horn bull, 30 fat hogs, eight in-pig sows, a brawn, 57 acres of grass keeping, poultry and “farm implements &c”, all being sold “by direction of Mr. A. Smith who is leaving…” the Wood Leys Farm, at Wavendon (BA: D 41/48). Another census occurs a few years later which gives us the name of the next family living there in 1871:
Thomas Gadsden, 28, Farmer of 25 acres employing 5 men & 2 boys, born in Gt. Gaddesden, Herts.,
Mary A. C. Gadsden, 19, his wife, born in Wavendon,
Mary A. Goodman, 18, a general servant, born nearby in Water Eaton,
John Green, 18, a farm servant and agricultural labourer, born in Edlesborough
Thomas Gadsden ran the Manor Farm at Wavendon, and operated Woodley’s Farm on behalf of “the trustees of Mrs. Ridgway of Leighton Buzzard”. This was noted when those owners returned 10% of the rental value to him in 1879 in consideration of the bad seasons experienced recently up to January 1879. (Bedfordshire Mercury) and this happened again in July (Buckingham Express) The same year, Henry Seymour, an infant son of a Douglas Gadsden, died at the Woodleys Farm Cottage in June. (Bucks Herald)
Another large auction of grass and crops happened in June 1880 (Leighton Buzzard Observer) when 70 acres of grass was available for grazing, six acres of clover to be mown now and again in September next. No proprietor was given.
A new series of Ordnance Survey maps were produced at a scale 25” to a mile. Locally, the data had been surveyed in 1880, but wasn’t published until 1885.
It seems Gadsden was successful enough to sub-let Woodleys as the Buckingham Express reported a fire had broken out in a stack of straw at the farm in March 1881. James Reading jnr., an employee of Mr Gadsden, discovered the flames and fetched his father and his employer. They went to the farm which it reported had recently been taken on by a Mr. Lowe, but was still the property of Mrs. Ridgway’s Trustees, Leighton Buzzard. Police Superintendent Hall of Fenny Stratford examined the scene and found the fire had been set deliberately all around the stack and may have been an attempt to burn down the “handsome farm building”. Every effort would be made to discover the perpetrator.
The Lowe family were captured a month later by the next census:
Joseph Lowe, 48, Farmer of 250 acres employing 3 labourers, born in Malpas, Cheshire,
His wife, Barbara Lowe, 34, Farmer’s wife, born Bradley, Stafford,
Son Arthur W. Lowe, 9 Scholar, also born Bradley, Stafford,
Daughter Annie T. Lowe, 4, born Stafford, Stafford,
Daughter Fanny F. Lowe, 1, born Pentridge, Stafford,
Son Ernest J. Lowe, 2m, born in Wavendon,
Fanny Garner, 15, Servant, born in Wavendon.
Wood Leys Farm also accounted for two uninhabited houses, probably those referred to later as Woodleys Cottages.
In April 1882, Mr J. Lowe was appointed as a Guardian of the parish of Wavendon, helping to oversee the collection of the Poor Law tax from landowners, and in September, there was an auction of 15 acres of Magnum Bonum potatoes in lots to suit purchasers, by direction of Mr. Lowe. (Leighton Buzzard Observer)
Yet by February 1883, he was in debt for non-payment of his own Highway and Poor Rates to the total of £8 15s 7d., very unfortunate for someone who had been a Parish Guardian! He denied he had ever been asked for the Highway Rates and objected to the way the Poor Rates had been asked for by Mr. Henry King, assistant Overseer. He said he was now prepared to pay them. An order was made for him to do so, but this added 6s 6d in costs which he said he would appeal! In May, they baptised their son, Cecil Robert Lowe, at St. Michael’s.
By April 1885, he was in increasing financial difficulties, to a point where he could not pay his annual Tithe Rent charge. Some of his (nearly new) agricultural implements, two in-calf heifers and seven tons of potatoes had to be sold by auction to cover the debt. (Leighton Buzzard Observer) He must have survived the crisis and stayed on, as the next (annual?) sale of the use of grass lands took place the same month, as advertised in the Leighton Buzzard Observer. It interestingly gives the various field names and sizes:
“WOOD LEYS FARM, WOBURN SANDS. FORWARD GRASS KEEPING. Messrs. CUMBERLAND AND HOPKINS Are instructed by Mr. Joseph Lowe, with the consent of the Landlord, TO SELL BY AUCTION, At the Homestead, ON FRIDAY, the 1st MAY, 1885, At Two o’Clock about 120 Acres of Sound and Abundant GRASS KEEPING.
Lot 1. – Higg’s Meadows, 12 acres.
– Great Higg’s Meadow, 25
– Long Slade, 17
– House Field, 15
– Broad Oak, 21
– Bow Brickhill Field, 30
– A quantity of Willow Poles.
The Keep, which will be sold up to September 29th, 1885, is very forward; the fences are good; there is a plentiful supply of water and a shepherd will be found to look after the stock.”
A meeting was held in the Woburn Sands Institute in November 1885 in support of the Liberation Society, a broad alliance of various non-conformist church and chapel denominations who sought the disestablishment and disendowment of the Church of England. They were given a very rough and rowdy reception in Woburn Sands, with continual interruptions and firecrackers set off in the hall. Mr. Lowe was called forward at one point to discuss his altercation about paying his Tithe Rent:
“Reference was made to the origin of tithes, alterations in and methods of enforcing them, when the case of Mr. Joseph Lowe, of Wood Leys, was referred to, who had been distrained upon by the Rector of Wavendon. Mr. Lowe was present; he was forced to the platform, made a speech, was subject of all sorts of jokes in the room, his repartee being quite sufficient. As to his address, it was a mixture of several things promiscuously said amid a tumult.” (North Bucks Times)
At the end of the evening police had to be called to escort the speakers away to safety!
On November 28th 1885, Joseph & Barbara Lowe baptised their 11-month-old daughter, Lily Barbara Lowe, at St. Michael’s. Lowe was still the tenant of the farm when there was another sale of 110 acres of grass keeping occurred in November the same year and gave a slightly different list of field names. Big Meadow, 25 acres; Higgs Meadow, 12; Long Slade, 17; Bow Brickhill Field, 30 and Station Field 25. (Leighton Buzzard Observer)
On March 4th 1886, the Lowe’s had a son, but that spring he was in financial trouble again. He was summoned for non-payment of the Poor rate and the Highway rates, not only for Wavendon, but also Bow Brickhill, the problem with having a farm which straddled two parishes! His total debts were £14 14s 11¾ d. A Court Order for immediate payment, plus costs, was made. (Bucks Advertiser – March 1886)
Grazing rights for 166 acres were again sold in April 1886 at the Swan Hotel, with the field names listed in the North Bucks Times advert in which Lowe’s name is mentioned. The prices obtained were reported afterwards:
Lot 1: Higgs Meadow, 12 acres, Alfred Smith at 45s an acre,
2: Station Field 26 acres, Mr. Rodwell, 15s an acre,
3: Home Field, 15 acres, George King, 42s 6d an acre,
4: Big Meadow, 25 acres, Mr. Scrivener, 25s an acre,
5: Long Slade, 17 acres, Mr. Scrivener, 30s an acre,
6: Broad Oak, 21 acres, Mr. Hopkins, 12s 6d an acre,
7: Stars Nest, 20 acres, Mr. F. King 10s an acre,
8: Bow Brickhill Field, 30 acres, Mr. T. Brantom at 10s an acre.
If you compare these field names to those used in the 1699 deeds, you will find a few similarities, nearly two hundred years apart.
The Leighton Buzzard Observer also advertised the sale of three cart horses, agricultural implements and genuine household furniture of the farm at the same time, so it looks as if Lowe was selling up. In August 1886, he appears at Stanbridge Ford, near Leighton Buzzard, trying to start a new career by applying to get a licence on a house near the station to be a public house. The Court Bench pointed out that all his testimonials came from people in Woburn Sands, not Stanbridge, and refused his application. (Leighton Buzzard Observer) He then seems to have left the area and gone to farm in Rugby.
His name appears once more with a mention of Wood Leys Farm, but only during a Court case where he was described as “lately of…” in May 1887. The North Bucks Times gives a detailed report on his crimes. He had given the landlord of The Plume of Feathers public house in Leighton Buzzard a cheque that appeared to be made out to him (Lowe) by a man called P. Jones in safe keeping for a loan 5s. When he did not return to repay the money and collect the cheque, the landlord took it to the Bank where he found that the cheque was in fact one issued on Lowe’s own account and this had been closed in 1883! Lowe had forged it. Superintendent Sheppard made Lowe write a letter to his wife, then took the letter to a handwriting expert, who identified Lowe as the writer of the cheque. Lowe had committed the same fraud to Thomas Benjamin Whillet, an innkeeper in Gamlingay. He was committed for trial at Bedford summer Assizes. Although he had already paid a deposit of £100 into Court, they required another two sureties of £50 each and another £100 from himself, which he could not find, so he was conveyed to Bedford Gaol. They recorded him as 6-foot tall, grey-haired with an imperfect education. He was convicted in July and sentenced to 18 months hard labour. The Judge mentioned he had committed other frauds but repaid the monies under a great deal of pressure and had also been involved in a “gambling affair”.
Back at Woodleys Farm, the next census occurred in 1891, but the entry for the farm itself reads “Occupier Absent”. Nearby, in the two Wood Leys farm cottages, lived the Capp family:
Thomas Capp, 36, agricultural labourer, born at Potsgrove,
Mary Ann Capp, 35, wife, Potsgrove,
Martha Elizabeth Capp, 14, daughter, Potsgrove,
James Thomas Capp, 11, son, scholar, Potsgrove,
Joseph Capp, 8, son, scholar, Potsgrove,
William Capp, 6, son, scholar, Potsgrove,
Eliza Ann Capp, 1, daughter, Wavendon.
By August 1891, the “Messrs. Scrivener” were running the farm, as they bought wheat and straw from the Manor Farm at Wavendon. The successful bidder for use of two fields at auction in 1886 had been a Mr. Scrivener and the same name was used in the next sale of May 1893, when the farmer was leaving again. Beds Times:
“WOOD LEYS FARM. WOBURN SANDS. Adjoining the Railway Station. 152 ACRES of MOWING GRASS & KEEPING, up to the 29th day of September next, and 20½ ACRES of First-cut CLOVER (To go off), on the above Farm, for Sale by Auction, by MESSRS. CUMBERLAND & HOPKINS, On Wednesday, May 31st, 1893, at Four o’clock in the Afternoon, by order of Mr. Scrivener, who is quitting. Two Months’ credit will be given on the usual terms. The Company are requested to meet the Auctioneers at the Farmhouse at the time stated. The Fields are all well fenced and supplied with water, and a Shepherd will be found to look after Stock.”
The October 1894 St. Michael’s Baptismal Registers has an Eva Kate Pickering, (born June 9th) daughter of a William & Kate Pickering of Woodleys Farm, Woburn Sands. William was listed as a Farmer. Would finding a mouse on a haystack really be interesting enough to make the papers? Perhaps it was a slow news week! The Leighton Buzzard Observer July 1896:
“Strange Discovery. One of the men in the employ of Mr. Wm. Pickering of Wavendon found a white mouse alive on the top of a hay stack while thatching it one day last week. It is a most unusual place in which to find one of these little animals, and Mr. Pickering has it alive in a cage, and it is doing well.”
It seems they were not the only occupiers of the farm as a widow called Mrs. Summers, aged just 28, was seeking a position as a “Housekeeper or useful companion” in the Beds Times in November 1897, asking for correspondence to be sent to Woodleys Farm and a month later another advert in the same paper from a J.S.P. (Pickering?) at Wood Leys Farm, Woburn Sands, was looking for 700 acres of “good rough shooting” on the branch line between Bletchley and Cambridge near a station.
The second series of 25” Ordnance Survey maps were surveyed in 1898 and published in 1900. Not much had changed at the farm since the first, but Woodleys Cottages were now clearly marked as being just south west of the main farm and a second brick works had been established near the Station.
A William Pickering was a member of Wavendon Parish Council at the end of the 19th century, he was certainly still at the farm in February 1900, when one of his employees, James Clarke, 17, was squashed between the cart he was leading and a gatepost. He was taken to his home on Aspley Hill where several of his ribs were found to be broken by Dr. Brander. Initially he was not expected to survive, but had rallied a little. (Beds Times) In July the same year, another disaster befell the Pickering’s, when someone left a gate open near Fletton’s Brick Yard and over 200 of his sheep got onto the railway line. A morning goods-train ploughed into them and killed 14. It was surprising that more were not killed. (Croydon’s Weekly Standard)
The Pickering’s did not stay much longer. There is no Woodleys or Wood Leys Farm listed on the 1901 census, but there is a Leys Farm listed with:
William Smith, 40, Farm Foreman, born Stanground, Huntingdonshire,
Whybree Smith, wife, 37, Farcet, Huntingdonshire,
Alice M. Smith, daughter, 17, Farcet, Huntingdonshire,
George H. Smith, son, 15, Brickyard Labourer, Farcet, Huntingdonshire,
John E. Smith, son, 12, Farcet, Huntingdonshire,
Martha E. Smith, daughter, 9, Farcet, Huntingdonshire,
Arthur W. Smith, son, 6, Farcet, Huntingdonshire.
There is a Baptism at St. Michael’s in March 1902 of Arthur George Bowler, son of Amos & Ann Elizabeth, of “Wood Leys”. Was this the Farm? Amos is listed as a Labourer and lived in Mount Pleasant, Aspley Guise, at the time of the 1901 census. The Smiths / Bowlers too did not stay long, as in March 1904, the farm was being advertised by Messrs. T. R. Eve of Bedford as vacant with immediate possession available of the 400 acres, house and homestead. (Bucks Herald) Alas, no one was interested as it was still available in June when a Beds Times advert also specified that the rent was 12/- an acre. (Auction catalogue at BARS: Z740/4/3 & 4)
The Smiths had stayed local and their son continued to work at the brickworks. In 1908, a brickkiln collapsed, trapping a man inside in the scorching hot earth. George Smith tunnelled in and rescued Charles Griffin, but Griffin later died of his injuries. Smith was awarded the Royal Humane Society’s Stanhope Gold Medal and later the Albert Medal for his bravery. [See separate page on Woburn Sands Collection.]
When a new tenant for the farm was found, he didn’t want the existing livestock and machinery. The owners had now become Messrs. Eastwood & Co., who owned the local brickworks, near Woburn Sands Station. Perhaps they had bought it thinking they could extend their digging of clay in that direction? A list of machinery was given in the auction advert in the Beds Times, September 1904. (BA: Z740/4/4):
“Short Notice of Sale. WOODLEY FARM. Adjoining Woburn Sands Station on the Bletchley and Cambridge Branch. MESSRS. J. R. EVE & SON Having Let the above Farm, are instructed by the owners, Messrs. Eastwood & Co., to Sell by Auction, The Whole of the LIVE and DEAD FARMING STOCK, on Monday, October 10th, 1904, at 1 o’clock, consisting of 10 HORSES, Half-bred ALDERNEY COW & CALF, PIGS. IMPLEMENTS and MACHINES, including Hornsby self-binder, elevator and horse gear; 4 carts. 4 ploughs, mower by Bamford, harrows, dressing machine, hay press. &c., &c Catalogues of Messrs. J. R. Eve & Son, 2, St. Paul’s Square. Bedford Hitchin and Luton, or the Station Hotel. Woburn Sands.”
The new owner may have been a Mr. Kestell, originally from Cornwall, who had been running a farm in Buckland in Berkshire (as was) that he certainly left by May 1905, so he might have been the buyer at the auction above. He was first named in a newspaper report as being at Woburn Sands in a June 1906 Luton Reporter:
“An accident of a somewhat unusual character happened at Woburn Sands station on Friday evening last, when a valuable dog, belonging to Mr. Kestell, of the Leys Farm, was run over by a luggage train and decapitated. The accident occurred at the level crowing, and was quite unavoidable, no blame attaching to anyone.”
In July 1907, Mr Kestell allowed a field on his farm to be used for the Wesleyan Band of Hope tea and festival as the Kestell family were Methodists. He was noted the same year in the Beds Times as having all his “large scale farm” harvest gathered in by 20th September and all his corn thatched. In November he held a sale of trees which belonged to Eastwoods brickyard on the farm. More than 60 Ash and Elm and one Oak were sold. (Beds Times)
Woburn Sands had split away from the parish of Wavendon in 1907 and had its own Council. Their February 1908 minutes show there were 21 applications for an idea of allotments and two fields were chosen for the purpose: Gravel Pit Close in Station Road (the present Recreation Ground) and the first field on Deethe Hill, part of Woodleys Farm. In July, the Band of Hope visited again for their summer festival, with races and games of all descriptions until dusk. (Beds Times)
Mrs Kestell advertised for “Useful Help, one accustomed to work, assist in cooking, needlework etc, abstainer…” in a June 1910 Northampton Mercury. References would be required. This year the farm again hosted the children of the Wesleyan Sunday School, in several fields. Swings were tied from trees, boys played cricket and there were races for prizes. (Beds Times)
Another census occurred in 1911. At Woodleys Farm that night were:
Thomas Kestell, 74, Farmer, born at St. Breock, Cornwall,
Emma Kestell, 68, wife, Withill, Cornwall,
Charles Arthur Kestell, son, 45, “Farmer’s Son Working on Farm”, Withill, Cornwall
Joseph Henry Kestell, son, 44, “Farmer’s Son Working on Farm”, Withill, Cornwall
Nicholas Webber Kestell, son, 31, “Farmer’s Son Working on Farm”, St. Kew, Cornwall
Dorothy Wheeler, Domestic Help , 26, Domestic Help, Lambeth, Surrey
The Kestell family was obviously quite large. Thomas and Emma actually had 14 children in all, but five died in infancy. Their fifth son, Edger Ernest, was married Miss G. H. Negus of “Lime Villas”, Bletchley Road, (Bow Brickhill Road) Woburn Sands in October 1911. She had been a teacher at Aspley Heath Council (Infants) School for six years, but, of course, would have to leave that job now. After a reception at the Bride’s parents’ house, they left for their new home at Kingswood Farm, Heath and Reach. (Bedford Record) Another daughter married into the local Inwood family.
The Wesleyan Sunday School annual treat took place at the farm in July 1913, with swings and racing for prizes, but sadly rain brought the day to an early close. Mrs. Kestell was advertising for help again the same month. She wanted Useful Help again, a needlewoman and plain cooking, over 26, who would be treated as one of the family in a comfortable home. Three years later, during January 1916, in the depth of the First World War, she needed a reliable person to assist looking after an elderly gentleman and light house duties and needlework, aged from 40 to 50. References required. (All from Beds Times)
The elderly gentleman was no doubt Mr. Thomas Kestell, but he died just a few months later, aged 80. His obituary in the North Bucks Times said he had farmed in Woburn Sands for 12 years, having been in Hertfordshire before that. His will left £2329 16s 4d to his wife and the family were able to stay on at the farm, with her several sons assisting, Joseph Henry Kestell becoming the principal tenant farmer. First, there was a sale of livestock on November 24th, advertised in the North Bucks Times:
“WOODLEY FARM. WOBURN SANDS. 1½ Miles from Woburn Sands Station, L.N.W.R., SALE OF LIVE AND DEAD FARMING STOCK. 45 WELL BRED CATTLE, comprising 6 Fat Bullocks, 6 Down Calving Cows and Heifers. 14 Two-Year-Old Maiden Heifers. In-Milk Heifers. 15 Very Fresh Steers and Heifers from 12 to 18 months. Shorthorn Bull. 8 VALUABLE HORSES, being 3 Unbroken Shire Geldings and One Filly. Strong Cob. Chestnut Mare. Brown Hunter and Hackney Pony. 144 Head of POULTRY. Double Dressing Drum by Marshall, 5-knife Chuff Cutter by Innes; 2 Cornish Trolleys, Spring Cart. 7-tine Corn Hoe. 4 Portable Hen Houses, Poultry Appliances, etc. About 125 TONS of HAY in 4 Ricks, namely one of Clover, one of Clover and Mixture, and two of Meadow…”
The Kestell’s continued to farm at Woodleys into the 1920’s. The 1921 census will be released later this year. Nicholas had moved to Theydon Avenue and been unwell for a year before he died aged 46 in January 1926 (Beds Times)
A third series of Ordnance Survey mapping was surveyed in 1924 and published in 1926. The brickyard pits had crept closer to Woodleys farm and the allotments had appeared on the other side of the Bow Brickhill Road.
Sadly, before the close of the decade, the Kestell’s had gone broke. Joseph Henry had a Bankruptcy Receiving Order from Northampton Court listed in the London Gazette of January 1927. A February Beds Times gave full details:
“FARMER’S BANKRUPTCY. A statement of affairs issued by the Official Receiver in the case of Joseph Henry Kestell, of Woodley Farm, Woburn Sands, reveals a record of heavy losses in recent years. The liabilities are £1,321/4/6, due to 28 unsecured creditors, £133/3/9 for rent, and £9/10/0 for rates and taxes. The assets, which include £300 estimated for farming stock, are only £324/18/6. Deducting £142/13/9 for rent, rates, and taxes, this leaves estimated sum of £152/4/9 for the unsecured claims for £1,321/4/6. Of the unsecured liabilities £167 is for Bank overdraft, £968/6/5 loans from friends and relatives, £28/8/7 balance rent. £54/10/0 for work done, the remainder being for goods supplied in the way of his farming operations. The debtor gives as causes of failure “bad harvests the last four years, lack of capital, ill-health at home.” He states that a year ago he was £900 to the bad, and since then his household expenses had been £200. and his farm has lost £58/19/9, less £20 gifts from relatives and others.”
…and also the inevitable auction following:
“AUCTION SALES. In Bankruptcy. J.H. Kestell. WOODLEA FARM. WOBURN SANDS. P.C. CAMBELL is instructed by the Official Receiver to Sell by Auction on WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 23rd, 1927. at 10.30 o’clock, the LIVE & DEAD FARMING STOCK including:
7 HORSES, viz.: 4 Cart Mares. 3 cart Geldings, aged; Down-calving Shorthorn Cow, In-Calf Shorthorn Cow.
AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENTS including Drag and Seed Harrows. Iron and Wood Plough, 7-tine Cultivator, Cambridge Roll, Flat Roll, Horse Hoe, Massey Harris 15-coulter Disc Drill, Root Drill (by Vales), Seed Barrow, Bean Drill, 6ft. McCormick Binder, Agricultural Carts, Elevator, Massey-Harris Hay Loader, Side Delivery Rake, Harrison McGregor Grass Mowers, Hoy Loading gear, Root Pulper, Albion Cake Breaker, Cook’s Sack Lifter, Sack Barrow, Avery’s Weighing Machine, Dressing Machine, Cattle and Calf Cribs, Pig Troughs, Wood Corn Bins, Carpenter’s Bench, Portable Iron Bench and Table, Portable Henhouse, Ladders, Small Tools, Thill and other Harness, 8 h.p. PORTABLE STEAM ENGINE. No.14191 by Marshall, Sons Co.). Harrison McGregor Albion Combined Grist Mill, quantity of Barley, Wheat, anil Oats. 150 Head of POULTRY. No Catalogues. Auction Offices: Newport Pagnell & Olney.”
His mother, the widow of Thomas Kestell, was still alive, but died that August, aged 84. (Beds Times) Perhaps that had been the ill-health at home he had blamed? Charles Arthur Kestell died in 1932 at Lime Villa, Theydon Avenue, aged 67.
The 1928-1930 Registers of Electors give a William Frank Turney as living at Wood Leys Farm. In 1929, John Davis of Woburn Sands died, noted as having been employed on the Woodleys Farm for many years. (Beds Times)
A sale at the farm in March 1932 of four working horses, seven cattle, 104 head of poultry, two ricks of hay and agricultural implements and machinery was conducted on behalf of Mr. Henry Boon, who was W. F. Turney’s father-in-law. There was another pasture sale in June. The old field names were not used now, just a description of what roads the fields adjoined, but it added up to 231 acres, including 41 north of the railway line. There was no indication of who either the owner or tenant were. The farm was up for let again in September, comprising 330 acres (with 94 arable) a house and homestead. (All in Beds Times)
The next sale notice is of yet another farmer deciding Woodleys could not be run successfully. The Bucks Advertiser in August 1937 said Mr. J. E. Adams of Brooklands Farm, Broughton was selling his surplus Live and Dead stock, removed from Woodleys Farm, which he was giving up. 72 cattle, 242 pigs, 324 sheep and a few lots of implements were sold. This Mr. Adams was related to Henry Boon’s wife.
Bucks. Archives holds some correspondence from George Wigley & Son, auctioneers of Winslow, detailed as: “Correspondence relating to ?tenant rights at Woodleys Farm in Bow Brickhill and Wavendon. Owner?: Mr Adams; Tenant?: Mr Robinson.” (BA: D-WIG/2/9/881)
The next tenant was Frederick Ward, who had an interesting time at the farm. He had just started there by October 1938, when he was charged with an assault of Mr. Charlton, his neighbour at his previous farm in Woodford, Thrapston. The neighbour had gone into Ward’s farmyard to check the gas supply to his house, as it ran through their yard. He had just found it tampered with, when Ward appeared and pushed him over, allegedly damaging Charlton’s best Sunday hat! Some ripe language followed. For his part, Ward and his wife said no physical assault had taken place. They had seen Charlton prowling about on their property and thought he was looking to see what they had before they left for Woburn Sands the next day. Ward was found guilty and fined £1 with £4 9s costs. (Northampton Mercury)
The Ward’s are recorded on the national 1939 Register taken to produce ID cards. Frederick, 52 and his wife Margery, 50, lived at the farm with their son Leonard F., 23 who assisted on the farm (unpaid) and was a tractor driver and daughter Daphne M., 16, listed as a Dairy Maid assisting father (unpaid). There may have been another child there too, but the entry below Daphne is still officially closed.
In October 1940, the Shell Mex Co. of London sued Ward for the balance of his account owing. Ward had offered to pay 3s a month, but the Judge increased this to 4s. Then in February 1941 he was sued by Stafford, Rogers and Merry, auctioneers of Leighton Buzzard for £27 4s 5d in professional charges. He had offered to repay the debt but only by 5s a month, which the firm thought “utterly absurd” and demanded £5 a month. The Judge agreed. (Both Beds Times)
As well as problems with debts, Ward had a sense of humour too. Deep into the Second World War, in January 1942, he told his local friends he would get his daughter to “bring Winston to Woburn Sands” if they donated £5 to the “Aid to Russia” week. He friends duly donated, and Daphne calmly appeared and led their Devon bull through the village! Ward handed over its licence from the Ministry of Agriculture, which clearly showed the bull’s name was Winston – they had been duped! No one really minded as it was raising money for a worthy cause that the real Mrs. Churchill was collecting for. (Beds Times)
Frederick Ward died suddenly, aged 56, in February 1943, having been at Woodleys just five years. He was buried at St. Michael’s.
The late Mr. Arthur Buxton, one-time Wavendon resident, left notes of some of his local memories:
“Before joining the Army (National Service) I left school in late 1946 and after 6 months with Beds County Council in the Treasurers Department, I worked until August 1947 at a local farm on Bow Brickhill Road called Woodleys. This was some 250 acres and I had to milk by hand, each day twice, with one other daughter of the farm, the mixed dairy herd of some 20 cows. Also of course, other work with sheep, and harvesting and tractor work.”
From the Woburn Reporter of December 16th 1947:
“Farmer and Former Cricketer. The death occurred last week in a nursing home at Hawkhurst, Kent, of Mr. William Charles Pickering, who will be remembered as a farmer, first at Woodleys Farm, Woburn Sands, then at White Horse Farm, Hockliffe, which he left for Gaddesden. He retired from farming a few years ago and settled in Kent. As a young man Mr. Pickering was a well-known cricketer, being for some years captain of the village team. When his father left, he took over the old coaching-house known as the “White Horse” and there were lively times there with catering for weekend parties first of cyclists and then of motorists. Both Mr. and Mrs. Pickering were members of old local trade and farming families.”
The Buckingham Advertiser listed the farm as for let again in October 1951. Scant details were given, just the excellent connections to rail and road network.
The Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1950 and published in 1952 shows the brickworks now “Disused”. The cottages are still marked on the map, I don’t know when they were finally demolished.
The Ward family continued at the farm. The Northampton Mercury notified of another grand sale in 1951:
“WOODLEYS FARM. WOBURN SANDS, BUCKS (Approx. 4 miles from Bletchley Main Line Junction – Midland Region, fast trains Euston 55 minutes, Woburn 2 miles, Woburn Sands 1 miles, Watling Street 2½ miles) Messrs. W. S. Johnson & Co. F.R.I.C.S., F.A.I., having received instructions from the Exors. of the late Mr. F. Ward will sell by Auction on MONDAY, 15th OCTOBER, 1951 at 11.30 a.m. The Whole of The Live & Dead Farming Stock, comprising:
105 LINCOLN RED SHORTHORN CROSS CATTLE viz., 33 Lincoln Red Shorthorn Cross Cows; 71 Lincoln Red Shorthorn Cross Cattle up to 2½ years old. PEDIGREE 5-year-old LINCOLN RED BULL.
53 SUFFOLK HAMPSHIRE CROSS SHEEP viz., 32 Suffolk Hampshire Cross Ewes, 20 Suffolk Hampshire Cross Ewe and Wether Lambs; 2-year-old Suffolk Ram. 2 Large Black Gilts. 13 K.C. Ducks. 33 R.I.R. Poultry and an excellent collection of Farm Machinery & Implements including: International Tractor; Caterpillar R2 Tractor; Garrett 4ft. 6ins. Threshing Drum; International Corn Drill; Bamford Tractor Mower; Premium Elevator; R.T. Trolleys; 3 Ransome Ploughs; 3-unit Alfa Laval Milking Machine; 1½ h.p. Lister Petrol Engine, etc., etc. Catalogues obtainable from the Auctioneers’ Offices: – Bletchley (Tel. 53/54) and Wolverton (Tel. 3294).”
In 1953, there was a renewed proposal to open a brickworks near Woodleys Farm, prompting resolutions by both Aspley Guise and Woburn Sands Parish Councils opposing it. (BARS: PCAspleyGuise18/16)
The Wards don’t seem to have left Woodleys after the sale in 1951, as the last record I have is from the 1964 Telephone book. Under ‘Farmers’, it gives “Ward, L., Woodleys Farm. Tel. 2242.” Leonard, I presume, following in his father’s trade.
W. H. Denison
Trustees of Mrs. Ridgway
Eastwoods & Co.
1851 George Falder (Leys Farm)
1861-1863 George Lines
????-1867 A. Smith
1871 Thomas Gadsden
1881-1886 Joseph Lowe
1891-1893 Mr Scrivener
1894-1900 William Pickering
1901 William Smith
1902 Amos Bowler
1906-1916 Thomas Kestell
1916-1927 Joseph Kestell
1928-1930 William Turney
1932 H. Boon
???-1937 J. Adams
1938-1943 Frederick Ward
1943-1964 Leonard Ward
Page last updated March 2021.