The site of the Old Manor of Stevington dates back to the mid-1200s when a Hospitium or guest house was erected to house pilgrims who came to visit the nearby Holy Well down beneath the Church.
Did the nuns then bring the pilgrims down to the water or did they collect it and take it up to the Hospitium. Perhaps for the very
Today there is a vast area of butterbur Petasites
The Church, Saxon in origin, was built on a limestone outcrop, and where the limestone rock hit the local clay, several springs emerge. see A and B on the 19 Century drawing. The largest of them B comes from beneath the northern chapel and has never been known to dry up. It emerges as a small stream of crystal clear water. It was thought to have healing properties especially for eyes. The photo the right shows it today, just besides the footpath beneath the church wall.
The Hospitium was looked after by nuns from nearby Harold Priory who were on the site from 1149. In 1264 there are references to them of having a garden and vineyard, probably about 2 acres initially, in all they had 10 acres of land. But we know that by the time of the Black Death in the 1340s, it was reported that the vineyard, garden and dovecote were no more; such was the havoc wrought on this small community.
Evidence then, that there has been a garden on the site 750 years ago and possibly nearer 850 years. Although a vineyard was probably not in existence for all this time the name persisted throughout the centuries being described as 6,4 and 3 acres in the 1600s, and on the 1874 sale document of the farm it is described as 3 acres.
A local antiquarian called Thomas Fisher visited the village in 1811 and had a conversation with the vicar the Rev Orlebar Marsh. This was subsequently reported with drawings in the Gentleman’s Magazine for July 1812. He described the scene:
Very near to the Church, on the south side, stands a long range of low buildings, designed for separate inhabitation; each apartment opening under a small pointed arch to the area in front, and no internal communication existing between any two of them. A gatehouse or porter’s
Thomas Fisher’s drawing seen here of ‘The Ancient Hospice’ was made between 1811 and 1835
After the Reformation in the
The Old Manor House was demolished soon after the Duke’s purchase. Some say it burnt down, but in any event, it was deemed in a ruinous state. The Duke asked the distinguished architect Henry Clutton of 9 New Burlington Street, London W to design a new farmhouse. Henry Clutton had trained under Edward Blore and was responsible for many notable country houses of the mid-nineteenth century including Hoar Cross Hall in Staffordshire, Ruthin Castle in Wales, Minley Manor, Hampshire. Several RC Churches were also designed by him as well as Westminster Cathedral. In Bedfordshire he was responsible for Sandy Lodge, 1868-72 described as a modest country house, now HQ of the RSPB. He designed the new Woburn Church for the Duke as well as various estate buildings, notably at Milton Bryan in 1876 and at Stevington and in 1875-6. Here Clutton had the chance to build a new house but was able to take into consideration the ancient architecture of the old building, possibly of fifteenth or sixteenth century or even earlier. He was renowned for his love of the vernacular and this project would have appealed to him. He built a stone house with mullion windows, with the same high gable end and tall chimneys. It is remarkably like the house he built at Sandy just a few years earlier though significantly smaller; see photo to right. Henry Clutton designed the farmhouse and supervised the building of it. The builder was Mr Foster of Kempston.