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«Buckinghamshire Windmill Farmhouse, Archaeological Society Wingrave HISTORIC BUILDING REPORT / March 2012 SURVEY AND REPORT: Andrew Muir Report ...»

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Windmill Farmhouse, Archaeological






Andrew Muir

Report number










Windmill Farmhouse (now known as Windmill Hill Farm) is situated on the southern edge of the village of Wingrave, near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. It is one of about 13 surviving buildings in the village dating from before 1700, which are grouped in three distinct clusters

- the area around the Church and Green, Nup End to the north west of the Church, and Mill Lane to the south east of the Church (Fig 1).

The building was surveyed by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (RCHM) in 1911 [1] when it was described as "... the building is of F shaped plan, and probably of late 16th century date, much altered, and with modern additions... ". It was subsequently listed in 1951 [2] with the description "... C17, altered. Timber frame with whitewashed brick infill, ground floor of 3 bays to left rebuilt in whitewashed brick... ".

This brief history looks at the farmhouse from two inter-related perspectives: the physical structure of the building, and the people who owned and lived in it. No records have yet been found of the owners and occupiers in the 17 th century, so the early history is necessarily an examination of the structure of the building, making reference to authors such as Brunskill.

There are, however, documents in the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies and other archives which make it possible to identify ththe thowners thand some of the occupants from about 1700 onwards, so that the emphasis in the 18, 19 and 20 centuries is more on the social history.

A list of owners is shown in Annex 1, which ranges from the Rothschilds to Buckinghamshire County Council. The occupants were predominately farm labourers until the house ceased to operate as a farm in the 1970s, and (perhaps unusually for this size and status of building) no owners lived in the house between 1800 and 1970.

Windmill Hill Farm - Ground Floor Plan Windmill Hill Farm — Firs~t Floor The 17th Century house The construction of the house suggests that it was probably built in the early 17 th century, and this has been confirmed by a dendrochronological survey which indicates an original construction date of 1616 (Annex 2). The house was built in two stages, the first one (shaded blue in Fig 4) being a "textbook" three bay, two storey lobby entrance farmhouse as described by Cunnington [3] and Brunskill [4] (Fig 5 ).

A fourth bay(shaded green in Fig 4) was added to the house at some time in the 17 th century, with the roof line at right angles to the original one, and at the same time the entrance lobby was extended outwards. The date and reason for adding the fourth bay are not known, but Cunnington [5] comments that "from the late sixteenth to the early eighteenth century we sometimes find two farmhouses built close together, even attached, apparently sharing the farm buildings and land... these houses often appear to be deliberately planned to avoid one house overlooking another... the two units may have been built together, or differ in date, perhaps only by one generation, say forty to fifty years". The additions certainly add "status" to the original farmhouse and it can be conjectured that they reflect an increase in status and fortunes of the 17 th century owners.

No documents have yet been found which identify the owners and occupants of the house during the 17th century.

Fig 5 Lobby entrance farmhouse (Brunskill) The structure of the house The structure of the house is an oak box frame (Fig 9), probably originally with a lath and plaster infill, which was replaced in later centuries by the existing brick infill; this structure is typical of farmhouses built in eastern England [6]. It is also probable that the brick chimney was constructed at the same time as the timber frame, but there is no evidence to confirm or counter this assumption.

Figs 6 and 7 show the west elevation; of particular note are the curved windbraces, which are generally associated with 16 th century houses - 17th century houses tend to be associated with straight windbraces. Possibly the curved windbraces had been reused from an earlier house or maybe construction techniques in rural Buckinghamshire did not follow contemporary practices!

Fig 8 shows the two centre bays of the north elevation - note the closer spacing of the intermediate posts of the principal bay (room 4, Fig 4) and the lack of visible intermediate posts at ground floor level, due probably to the original timbers having rotted.

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Fig 9: Box frame structure of a typical 17 th century house (Brunskill) Fig 12 truss and clasped purlin roof Fig 13 Junction of third and fourth bays Fig 15 Plastering around chimney Fig 14 Carpenters' mark The roof structure The roof is a clasped purlin structure (Fig 16) constructed from oak which is also typical of 16 th and 17th century Buckinghamshire farmhouses. Figs 10 and 11 show detail of the structure, and Figs 13 shows the junction between the original structure and the added fourth bay. The extension of the purlin beyond the collar suggests that this was the end point of the original roof (Fig 12), and hence the fourth bay was a later addition.

Most of the rafters in the roof have carpenters' marks (Fig 14) but the numbering of the marks is in random, not sequential, order. Possibily the roof was rebuilt at some time in the life of the house. There are also signs of plastering in the roof space, including the area around th e chimney (Fig 15). This suggests that the roof space has been occupied at various times in the life of the house, or alternatively that the original house had a smoke bay, not chimney.

The roof is tiled, but clay tiles did not exist before 18 th century [7], so it was probably initially thatched.

I Truss and Clasped Purlin Roof

Fig 16 Truss and clasped purlin roof Fig 19 Living room The Farmhouse Rooms The principal room of the farmhouse was the living room (Fig 19 and numbered G3 in Fig 4), which is typical of a lobby entrance house (Fig 20), with the original winding stair beside the fireplace being replaced in the 18 th century by a bread oven (Fig 17) - in the case of Windmill Farmhouse the bread oven is accessed from the other side of the chimney in room G4. The living room is built to a very high standard for a village house, and of particular note is the quality of the beams and the chamfer stops (Fig 18).

The other rooms (G1, G2, and G4 on the ground floor and 1 to 5 on the first floor) have been altered at various times in the history of the house, but many of the original timbers are visible.

Most of these timbers are rough hewn but chamfered but, again, they are of a high standard for a rural farmhouse. There is evidence throughout the house of timbers being added or modified over its life - for example mortices in some posts suggesting possible small extensions, and what appears to be a former gate post propping up a beam in the entrance hall.

All of the rooms of the original house were surveyed and measured in October 2009 by a combined team of Wingrave people and members of the Bucks Archaeological Society Historic Buildings Group (Fig 21).

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Fig 21 Measurement of room 1, first floor Fig 22: 18th century extension Fig 24: Bread oven Windmill Farm in the 18 th and Early 19 th Centuries At some time in the 18 th century the house underwent a major alteration: a single storey extension to the southern side with a cellar underneath was added, a bread oven was installed and the chimney was enlarged (Figs 22 to 25). The timing of, and reason, for this alteration can best be established through examination of primary and secondary sources of documentation, and in particular, the enc losure map, wills, published books and other unpublished correspondence.

Of particular importance is the enclosure map of 1798 [9] (Fig 26) which shows the "footprint" of the house. The footprint includes the southern extension, confirming that it was built before 1798 - i.e. in the 18th century. The enclosure map also indicates that Windmill Farm was at that time owned by Francis Cox of Eythrop and was farmed by Robert Cox.

Why was this extension built and why was such a massive chimney (Fig 25) added to t he house? A possible answer lies in the analysis of wills of Wingrave residents of the 18 th and early 19 th centuries which is set out in Annex 3.

This analysis indicates that Windmill Farm was owned and farmed by the Mortimer family in the first half of the 18th century until the death of Francis Mortimer in 1751. Francis had only one child, a daughter, who appears to have moved away from the village but his widow, Anne, probably continued to live in the house up to the time of her death in 1778. After Anne's death ownership of the house and farm passed to the Cox family, but it is unlikely that any of the Cox family actually lived in or occupied the house.

After Francis Mortimer's death in 1751 Windmill Farmhouse would have been under occupied and underused, and it is probable that Robert Griffin and his young family moved into the house in about

1765. Robert was the fourth son of the Stewkley village baker and moved to Wingrave to start up a new baking business; he appears to have been an ambitious and successful man, and his descendants continued to be the village bakers for another two hundred years until the 1950s. There is no definitive evidence of Robert Griffin's occupancy of Windmill Farmhouse, but the combination of the name ("Windmill Farmhouse" is recorded on the 1798 enclosure map), the 18 th century structural alterations and the absentee owners provide strong circumstantial evidence that the house was occupied by Robert Griffin and used as the village bakery.

Fig 26 Extract from 1798 Enclosure Map Fig 27 Extracts from a map drawn by the parish clerk in 1862 [12] The farm in the 19 th century - after the enclosure Following the enclosure in 1798, the Cox family retained ownership of the farm for several decades in the early 19 th century; Ken and Margaret Morley note [10] that Windmill Farm was owned in the 1830s by William Cox (presumably the son of Francis), who actually lived near Thame and for a time allowed the nonconformist pastor for Wingrave (the Rev Aston) to live here, before the Manse was built. The Charity Commissioners also referred to William Cox's occupation in 1833 [11].

At some time in the middle of the 19 th century, ownership of the farm was transferred to Alfred Roads, who was one of Wingrave's larger farmers. He then sold the farmhouse and about 150 acres of land to Lionel de Rothschild, probably in the late 1870s.

During the whole of this period - and indeed right up to 1971 - the fields owned by Francis Cox at the time of the enclosure remained associated with the farmhouse. Fig 27 is an extract from a map drawn up by the parish clerk of Alfred Roads' estate in 1862 [12] and Fig 28 is an extract from the sale of the farm by Alfred Roads to Lionel de Rothschild [13].

Fig 28 Extract from the sale documents of Alfred Roads to Lionel de Rothschild [18] Ownership by the Rothschilds Lionel de Rothschild died in 1879 and ownership of Windmill Farm passed to his son Leopold, who continued to own the farm up to 1917 when he died. The farm was then sold out of the Rothschild family as part of the disposal of Leopold's estate in 1918.

Leopold de Rothschild lived at Ascott House and was a major landowner across the Vale of Aylesbury. During his lifetime he made a number of contributions to Wingrave's health and facilities such as new allotments and new building plots [14], and it is very likely that he was responsible for three major improvements to Windmill Farmhouse at the end of the 19th or early 20th century.

The first improvement was to add extensions to the eastern and western ends of the house, shown in Fig 31. This work was carried out to a high standard and included the construction of a new chimney and fireplaces at the eastern end (Fig 32), which must have greatly improved the comfort of this part of the house.

The second improvement was to add a new extension (Fig 30) on the southwestern corner to complement the 18 th century extension. This incorporates a cellar which is built on top of an earlier flagstone yard.

Thirdly, the barn on the north side of the yard (fig 33) was rebuilt. The construction is, again, of a high standard and uses threaded iron rods in the roof structure - a technique not developed until the mid to late 1800s.

Fig 33: the barn on the north side of the yard The 19th Century occupants One unusual feature of Windmill Farmhouse in the 18 th, 19th and 20th centuries was its occupation by farm labourers, and not the farmer.

From 1841 to 1911 it is possible to identify the occupants through the census returns, and these are detailed in Annex 4. They show that the house was divided into two dwellings, probably with the easternmost two bays forming one dwelling and the westernmost bays the other. One of the dwellings was occupied continuously by successive generations of the Jeffs family (variously described as farm labourer and agricultural labourer), and the other by different families in each census year.

Evidence of plaster, former windows and a staircase suggests that the roof spaces of both halves of the house have been used as habitation, adding a third floor. The 1871 census shows that in addition to two families (Jeffs and Kempster) there were two elderly ladies living in the house - Elizabeth Monger (widow, aged 76) and Ann Hare (unmarried, aged 84). Were they banished to the attics? There is also a suggestion that occupation of the eastern roof space led to structural problems towards the end of the 19 th century, as it has been reinforced by a number of unusual timbers (Fig 38). These are probably the sails of the adjacent windmill which was demolished in the 1880s, suggesting that local initiative was taken to solve a structural problem!

A number of photographs of the farm have been found, including one (Fig 34), taken in about 1913, of Joseph Hedges who is recorded in the 1901 census as being a milker aged 57 years.

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