Duke of Bedford Cottages, Thorney

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Duke of Bedford Cottages, Thorney' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Duke of Bedford Cottages, Thorney' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Duke of Bedford Cottages, Thorney' page

What makes a Duke of Bedford Cottage special?

The Cottages in Thorney

Many people notice Thorney because of the Duke of Bedford cottages, particularly on the Wisbech Road, which are good to look at and also reflect the heyday of the village at the centre of a great agricultural estate.

The Thorney Society works to preserve and explain the heritage of Thorney, and the cottages are central to this.  This has been supported by a Conservation Area Partnership scheme in the past, which offered financial support to repair certain buildings.

Distinctive features of the cottages, like the unusual diamond and square-paned Cast iron windows have been supported as they have been reinstated in the 1980s and 1990s.  Renovating original slate roofs, chimneys and outbuildings has also been grant-aided under some schemes, but none are operating at present (2009).

A little bit of history

“I know of no more satisfactory form of philanthropy possible for the owner of a great estate than the provision of good cottages … good and comfortable cottages in which the decencies and dignity of human life may be maintained.”  Herbrand, 11th Duke of Bedford, 1897

The Thorney Estate became part of the Earl of Bedford’s lands in 1549, and the family were later granted the title of Duke of Bedford.  After work on the drainage of the Fen in the 17th and 18th centuries, the land was used for pasture and later for growing crops.  The profitability of the land enabled investment in the village: the cottages, schools, shops and abbey church.

The Victorian cottages many of us choose to live in were built to house estate workers in the second half of the 19th century as part of a plan to make an ideal agricultural village, built from 1850.  They were not built as almshouses, where people were housed for charitable reasons, but were part of the working town.

The architect employed to design the buildings was Samuel Sanders Teulon (1812 – 1873), whose architectural firm was based in London but was employed all over England.  The cottages were well-maintained in the 19th century, but rents were low enough to cause the estates a considerable financial loss.  They were sold with the rest of the Thorney estate from 1910 onwards.

In other locations

Similar houses were built for the Bedford estates at other locations, including Wansford (west of Peterborough), Ampthill and Milbrook (Bedfordshire), but most “model villages” of this time continued to be built for urban, industrial workers like Saltaire in Yorkshire and Bourneville in Birmingham.

Living in the cottages

In Thorney, there were 212 cottages let with gardens.  Most of these gardens were of a size to allow the householder to grow a significant amount of their own food, generally vegetables and fruit.  “The vegetables grown on one’s allotment, and the pig … are more succulent and sustaining than the cheaper products of the market.” “Cottage gardening without a pig is never wholly satisfactory, and the pig consequently receives every encouragement on the Bedford estates.” (Herbrand, 11th Duke of Bedford, 1897)

Thorney Heritage Museum

We can show you displays about the design of the cottages, and a model of one in the early 20th century, complete with the outhouse ready for washday.  We also display comments from the first tenants about how they found life in the new houses, and maps showing how the village developed.

Please come to Museum, and bring visitors to the village.  It is open 2pm to 5pm on Sundays from Easter to the end of September, and admission is free.

Alan Teulon wrote a book about “Victorian Thorney” which is available from the Museum.

We would like to know more: if you live in a Duke of Bedford house, and have stories to tell of your family and the house’s history, please contact us at the Museum.

Contact: ThorneyHeritageMuseum The Tankyard, Station Road, Thorney, Peterborough, PE6 0SE http://www.thorney-museum.org.uk/


This page was added on 16/12/2009.

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