Kingsbury Manor Farmhouse

By Jill Singer

The house

The house is listed and appears in the listing as follows:

Kingsbury Manor Farmhouse, St Michaels Street (West side)
Listed Grade II
Building of circa 1700, much restored. Irregular shaped. Left hand section of 2 storeys and attic, 2 windows, has sash windows with glazing bars in near-flush, moulded frames. Taller, right hand section of 2 storeys and attic, 2 windows. The windows of similar type, except that ground and 1st floor right hand ones are of 3 lights. High pitched, tiled roof has 2 hipped gables to front, and 2 square dormers. Steps to renewed door with moulded architrave and bracketed cornice hood. 2-storey, 1 windowed extension at left.

The house also appears in Pevsner, which reads:

Kingsbury Manor House, a pleasant 18th century house with a door taken from Elizabethan Gorhambury.

From the front the house appears to have 18th century origins. It has symmetric, multi -paned sash windows, brick and rendered facades and a central porch with a 'Gothik' overlight. Mike Dunn comments though that this apparent symmetry is the result of an attempt to architecturally 'smooth over' a complex of buildings with different origins. Inside there is evidence of a series of buildings, alterations, extensions and demolitions that date back to the early 15th century.

One of the things that struck us when we first saw it is the difference the house presents from the front and from the back. From the back it could almost be a different building.

Photo of back 3

Mike Dunn identified 6 main building phases.

First phase
The first phase can be seen most completely from the back. This is the '2-storey, 1 windowed extension at left' mentioned in the listing which is in fact the original house and which, can be seen here to continue into the fabric of the later additions.

Photo of med hall 4

The timbers in this part of the house were dendro-dated in 2002 and one sample, taken from the tie beam of the gable end truss, contained bark which enabled an exact felling date of the winter of 1418-1419 to be obtained. Construction was therefore considered to be 1419.

This building is a medieval hall of two bays, the larger one containing a hall with an open truss, so it is one space open from ground floor to roof. The smaller bay, now attached to the rest of the house, is 2 storey and is probably the remains of the 'solar' or private rooms of the head of the household. It is likely that there was also a service bay attached to the west, again of 2 storeys with 2 storage rooms on the ground floor and a room above but that is no longer existing. The closed truss, which would have separated the service bay from the hall, is now the gable end of the building. On the north and south walls next to this gable end can be seen the remains of the cross passage doorways, on the north wall the chamfer along the bottom edge of the horizontal rail is clear, making the doorway lintel,

photo of cross passage door

whereas on the south doorway the evidence is partially covered with a later skin of brick.

All the visible timbers of the central open truss show signs of smoke blackening, which indicates the presence of an open fire beneath.

The hall has a crown post roof, as has Kingsbury Barn in the farm yard. On the inner face of the crown post is a Roman numeral III, a carpenter's mark which relates to the numbering of the third brace from the original end gable, which was demolished with the service wing.

The crown post roof truss above the tie beam of the central frame truss is attached to the central open truss of the original hall and is attached to it by way of a crown purlin. An interesting element to this purlin is the scarf joint used to join two pieces of timber together to the length required. The joint is of a splayed and tabled scarf joint,

Plate 22 splayed and tabled scarf joint

a type commonly associated with earlier timber framing. By the time the hall was constructed in 1419 this type of joint was rapidly being replaced by the halved and bridled type joint, two early versions of which survive in other areas of the hall.

Plate 23 edge-halved and bridled scarf joint

It is interesting to see both types of joint used in the same building, a clear indication of the transition of one type of joint to the other - or maybe an example, as you can see in manuscripts by more than one scribe, of one elderly worker doing what he knows best and a young one using new fangled methods.

The extent of the original house is indicated by the part survival of the crown post roof in the loft space above the staircase in the hallway. The outer surfaces of the post and brace are heavily weathered, indicating that they formed the timber framed east gable of the original medieval building.

This building would originally have been lit by a series of large mullioned windows at the upper end, but no trace of these is visible.

Drawing by Mike Dunn of possible appearance of the hall 8

There is a question relating to the 1419 date. Adrian Gibson was quite disappointed with it because it did not support his theory of the Abbey upgrading their farm buildings to encourage tenancy after their reduction in man power following the Black Death. The house is the farm house which relates to Kingsbury Barn, which has been dendro-dated to 1374, so the existing hall is most likely to be a rebuilding of an earlier house, probably on the same site.

Phase two

In the second half of the 16th century a timber floor was inserted in the open hall, making it into a two storey structure. This still exists almost intact. Both the chamfers and the joints suggest a late 16th century date. The bridging beam is presently supported by a modern post at the west end but the remains of a tenon suggest it was originally joined to a vertical post in the same position.

The fact that the bridging beam stopped in this position is because there is evidence of a large chimney stack in what was originally the cross passage of the hall. The chimney stack has long gone but there are a series of peg holes in the central truss beam that indicate a wattle and daub chimney.

The result of flooring over the open hall was to create a series of upper floor chambers and improved heating. The floor of the open hall became a ground floor parlour. There is evidence that the service wing still stood at this time as there is the remainder of a doorway to it at first floor level from the west end of the hall, now the outside wall of the house.

By the end of the 16th century medieval halls which were open to the rafters and heated by a central fire were replaced by storied accommodation heated by a central chimney supporting several fireplaces. Where the medieval hall was large enough to support horizontal division a secondary floor was often inserted and a fireplace added to the central passage. This was the case at Kingsbury Manor.

There is recently documented evidence shows a severe reduction in the mean temperature in northern Europe between the 16th and 18th century that may have helped to bring in storied accommodation and increased heating.

Phase 3
J T Smith puts the previous phase and this one together. He dates this to the late 16th century or early 17th century and Mike Dunn dates it to the first half of the 17th century, maybe in connection with the leasing of the manor by Thomas Wendy to James Dell in 1635. The medieval hall was altered again by being built on to. A 2 storey wing was added to the south, built on to the east end of the hall. The new timber framed extension comprised one square room on each floor heated by a large brick exterior chimney.

Photo of square addition 9

The extension was decorated externally with pargetting. The outside wall containing the chimney is now an internal wall because of later extension and its pargetting still remains evident inside a first floor cupboard.
Plate 30 pargetting 10

This shows geometric bands of floral patterns. A very similar pattered decoration survives nearby at 13 Fishpool Street, Denis and Margaret Owen's house.

From this period there is a surviving re-used 17th century panelled door to a first floor closet in this extension, and a now triangular leaded window where the 17th century roof joins the 15th century building - containing a pane signed 'Henry'.

Plate 29 11

This is the suggested basic form of Kingsbury Manor around 1630.

Plate 12 12

J T Smith comments that it is clear that the solar bay of the hall house was not demolished when this new block was added, the solar bay at the back can be seen to be intact, so the new block was not part of a cross-wing that would have been normal. This raises the question of why the new work was added in this unusual fashion. He suggests the cause nay have been social. The entrance at this time would have been the passage door at the far end of the hall which makes the siting of the new block even stranger. He wonders whether any structure stood behind the new block, of which there is now no evidence although he found what he thought looked like the base of a late 17th century corner fireplace visible in the cellar.

Phase 4

Towards the end of the 17th century when the house was still  leased by the Dell family Mike Dunn suggests a completely separate structure was built just east of the original building. He suggests this new building dates between 1680 and 1700. It is a two bay, two storey farmhouse with a kitchen and parlour on the ground floor, chambers on the first floor and a useable attic space. Both bays were heated by large exterior chimneys with plain square shafts with deep corbelled out-caps, typical of the late 17th century. In the ground floor kitchen bay to the north an original door survives which led to the alleyway between the two buildings.

Front view 13

Plate 14
Plate 15
In the north wall of the same room is a large window with a series of vertical mullions. The mullions have been altered to work with later windows but they are almost certainly contemporary with the original structure.

This is the suggested form of Kingsbury Manor in about 1680-1690

Plate 16

At present the door, here visible, which goes from the alleyway into the north room, which is likely to be the kitchen, opens directly into the room. However Teasel Fredenberg, who lived in the house in the 50's and into the 60's, remembers the door opening into a narrow corridor which ran north to south along the west wall of the room.

Phase 5

At some time in the 18th century the two houses at Kingsbury Manor were joined together and what had been the narrow alleyway between them was built over to provide a central hall with a small room to the back,  a staircase and a narrow hall leading from that to a central front door. It is suggested the two houses were joined together in about 1720. The heights of the buildings are disparate and this was partially masked by the construction of a parapet wall with a six over six paned sash window above the central front door. Internally the floor levels are very different. There are six steps up from the ground floor of the earlier part of the building to the central hall and nine stairs up from the first floor room to the first floor rooms in the later building. The site does, however, slope down from east to west.

Drawing from Oldfield   18

This is a drawing from Oldfield dating from the 1790s showing the houses joined and Venetian windows adorning the taller late 17th century part. There is no attic window shown in the west gable of the roof.

J T Smith does not mention the possibility of a separate structure next door but sees the new building as an extension to the standing house. He does comment though that the house now has a narrow entrance hall, which is more reminiscent of a town house rather than of the more spacious planning associated with Manor houses, even rather small ones.

The narrowness of the hall leading from the front door to the central hall is surprising. Mike Dunn's suggestion of two adjoining houses might explain this, but not why the two houses would have been built so close together. It is also interesting that there is a cellar under the house - but only under what would have been, if Mike Dunn is right, the space between the two houses.

Possibly at this time the medieval hall underwent a further alteration, and it may be one that led to its long term preservation. Part of the inserted 16th century floor that divided the previously open hall into two stories was removed. This left one chamber on the upper level and part of the hall restored to its full height. At the ground floor level the walls were encased in brick. The presence of a number of iron hooks high up in the re-opened hall, and wooden pulleys strongly suggest that the medieval hall had been converted into a storage room for meat and game. The brick walls provided insulation and the room functioned as an early form of 'refrigerator'. In its present form the room remains a rare 18th century survival.

The events leading to the alterations in the 18th century remain unclear, but they may be connected to changes in tenancy. In 1716 William Grimston leased the farm to Richard Smith, and they may also have been linked to the manor settling on Richard Smith Jnr on his marriage to Anna Thrale 3 years later.

Phase 6

This is the house by 1808 when this sketch was done. Here there is a window in the attic of the earlier section.

1808 sketch 19

Kingsbury Manor underwent yet another phase of work at the beginning of the 19th century during the Regency period. Added to
the central stone steps and the porch may have been the porch overlight which has Gothick details and elegant wrought iron railings. By 1808 the 18th century Venetian windows of the taller late 17th century wing were changed to typical Regency sashes. They have a large central window and narrow side windows with delicate glazing bars. Internally the first floor window sits between two very shallow full height shelved cupboards which, it has been suggested, may have been constructed to contain the best china, making this first floor room into a parlour for receiving polite guests.

Indeed on the inside of the building a complete programme of redecorating seems to have been undertaken. All manner of architectural elements including ceiling cornices, window and door surrounds and fireplaces were given the classical treatment popular during this period.

The present single storey kitchen extension may have been added at the same time as the tithe map of 1840 shows the plan of the building much as it is today.

Picture with wires 20

This early 20th century photograph shows an interesting feature. At present, along the fascia board below the guttering at the front of the house is a series of what look like large cup hooks. This has always been a puzzle. However, close examination of this picture shows that the lines going vertically up the front of the house are wires, up which individual plants are climbing. Presumably these hooks are holding the top of these wires.

The roof
As you would expect given the ad hoc development of the house, the roof is complicated. It is more complicated than it looks from the ground because there are some bits that are not visible.

Figure 1 from Richard's report 21

The main roofs are pitched and hipped. There are a number of ancillary roofs and four brick chimney stacks.

Phase 7
I have added phase 7. This is us. In the history of the house people have come, made alterations, and the house has moved on to another phase. In some ways we kept up this tradition when we bought the house in 2001. The alteration we made was to extend the one story kitchen extension, but apart from that the changes we made were, in fact, to undo some of the previous work.

Sometime probably in the mid 20th century the house was covered in a concrete render, except for the parts that were already underbuilt in brick. This was presumably intended to protect the timber framing, but it had the opposite effect as it prevented the moisture taken in by the timbers from being released to the outside. When the render was taken off it was clear that there were various repairs needed to the timber framework, but the most serious problem was that the massive oak supporting the south east corner of the house had rotted away at the top and at the bottom.

Kevin's picture 22

When the concrete was removed from the medieval hall the wattle and daub on the south wall had disappeared

Kevin's picture 23

but that on the north wall was surprisingly intact

Kevin's picture 24

Between Time, the conservation builders, dug the earth from the ground behind of the hall, and re-wattled and daubed the front and repaired the small missing sections at the north.

Once the timber repairs were done the house was rendered in lime putty, and then the lime putty and wattle and daub was lime washed. The timbers were also limewashed as there is evidence that in the 15th century this was common practice. The ochre colour was chosen because there is evidence on the brickwork that the house had been limewashed in ochre at some time in the past.

Other than general updating of services, bathrooms and the kitchen our main work to the house internally was to remove the layers of wallpaper so that the walls could breathe.


A couple of last things. When the shed, now the annexe, fell down and had to be rebuilt, an 18th century fill was found, with wooden timbers beneath suggesting some sort of jetty. It seems that the mill pond was larger and subsequently partially filled in. The filling included a block of carrera marble carved into some sort of bath.

When the kitchen extension was built the ground beneath was a Roman rubbish pit. Work behind Kingsbury Barn has shown a Roman Villa.

We uncovered Kingsbury Manor literally by removing its concrete overcoat, but there is still much more to be uncovered.

One last question. Under the floorboards in one of the bedrooms we found a small tin of eye ointment marked Poison BP 1914 Inside is a folded piece of paper headed Kingsbury Manor in pencil and then:

'This was put in here by Harriet Angus on August 1st 1939. I am known as having the lovliest eyes in St Albans.'

Does anyone know who Harriet Angus was?

This page was added by Jill Singer on 02/04/2009.
Comments about this page

Harriett Angus was my mother in law. She lived in Middlesbrough but served as a domestic in the Kingsbury Manor for a short while until September 1939. Her mother wanted her home when war was announced. That note was written when she was 15 yrs old 11 days before her 16th birthday. Her time at St Albans and serving with the ATS she always said was the happiest times of her life. Sadly Harriett passed away April 2011 aged 86 yrs.

By Yvonne Beech
On 27/07/2011

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