Breakspeare Farm, Bedmond
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Breakspear Farm, Bedmond
From A Hertfordshire Valley
(1) My starting point for many queries about any historic building in West Hertfordshire is Scot Hastie's excellent book. This did not let me down. Its section on Bedmond mentioned Nicholas Breakspear who became Pope Adrian IV, the farm house where he was said to be born, and included a photograph of Breakspear Farm in about 1910, and a pilgrimage in the 1950s (before it was demolished). Unfortunately no occupiers were mentioned.
(2) Next I looked at Bryant's 1822 map of Hertfordshire, which has recently been reprinted with an index - and Breakespear is shown in Bedmond - so now I knew exactly where it was.
(3) Kelly's Directories for Hertfordshire (published about every four years) were the next place to look now that many, but only some are available online or on a CD. I started with the most recent I had and worked backwards at about 10 year intervals, looking under Abbots Langley. Initially I was lucky
1937 Hogan Denis J. farmer, Breakspear Farm
1933 - Hogan Denis, Breakespeare Farm [Private]
1929 - Hogan Denis, Breakespeare Farm [Private]
Then there was a gap
1912 - Bailey Frederick, farmer, Millhouse & Breakspeare farms
1902 - Bailey Frederick, farmer, Millhouse & Breakspeare farms
Then a longer gap to
1866 - Mead Daniel, farmer Brakespeare farm
1851 - Mead Danl. farmer, Breakspeare farm
4. This was more promising - as it looked as if Daniel might be in residence in the 1861 census - so I checked the CD and he was listed at Breakspear Farm
|Daniel Mead||Head||Married||59||Farmer of 95 acres employing 2 men and 1 boy||Chalfont, Bucks|
|Mary Ann Mead||Wife||Married||48||Farmers Wife||Luton, Beds|
|Sarah Mead||Daughter||Unmarried||22||Farmers Daughter||Abbots Langley|
|William Mead||Son||Unmarried||20||Farmers Son||Abbots Langley|
|Martha Mead||Daughter||Unmarried||18||Farmers Daughter||Abbots Langley|
|Joseph Springits? Mead||Brother||Widower||64||Carter &c||Chalfont, Bucks|
|William Breed||Nephew||Unmarried||32||Cattle Dealer||Kings Langley|
I also noted that the farm was listed next to a pub called the Green Man - and as the census enumerator's often followed similar paths round the village this could be a clue for other census years. (The book A Hertfordshire Valley also mentions the farm is close to the Green Man.)
5. I then checked the 1871 census returns and the 1881 census transcript looking for the Green Man. Unfortunately there was no farmer living next door - although there were some farm labourers nearby (but of course they were very common in the area.)
Speculation ... When Daniel Mead was there, Breakspear Farm was one of the smaller farms in the area, while in the later part of the 19th century and early 20th century, the Bailey family appear to have been significant farmers within Abbots Langley. Quite often a larger farm would annex a smaller farm and convert its farm house into a series of farm cottages for the workforce. The trade directory entries for 1902 and 1912 suggest that the link may have been with Millhouse Farm. It may be that this arrangement continued until Denis Hogan moved in during the 1920's.
What next ... I have not checked the 1841 or 1851 census returns (now available on CD) while other sources such as the Abbots Langley Tithe Map of 1839, and land tax returns, etc., etc., are only really accessible at HALS. Another source are the parish register microfilms - which could record baptisms, marriages and burials of people living at Breakspear Farm. These are available "worldwide" at LDS Family History Centres - but I note that there is no centre in Poland. Your best bet (without coming to Hertfordshire, or employing a professional researcher) might be to contact two local Newspapers which have Heritage pages (and web sites) and ask for help from people who still live in the area who may have some knowledge of the farm before your family moved in. They are the Hemel Hempstead Gazette and the Watford Observer.
About half an hour after drafting the suggestion that the farmhouse had probably been converted into farm labourers' cottages, a book, Memorials of Old Hertfordshire, arrived in the post. It contains a chapter "The Hertfordshire Pope" and the following quotation.
The constant tradition of the neighbourhood is that the Pope was born in a house now called "Breakspeares," at Bedmond or Bedmont, a hamlet of Abbots Langley. In a letter to Monsignor Casartelle from Mr T. Armstrong, a local resident, dated June 17th, 1898, the writer states:-
The building on the outskirts of the hamlet of Bedmond, in the parish of Abbots Langley, which is called Brakespeare's, is held to be the place where Pope Adrian IV was born. It is known that he was born in the parish, and I think the tradition with regard to this particular spot may be accepted. The building is of brick, and is now divided into two or three cottage dwellings. It is not probable that any part of it is of the date of the Pope's birth, though pictures of the interior seem to be older than the outside walls, which are comparatively modern.
Mr. Armstrong had a water-colour painting made of it; he presented it to Pope Leo XIII, who ordered it to be placed in the Vatican. ...
Obviously my speculation was correct - and it would be interesting to know whether the Vatican still has the painting!
Anna responded: Thank you very much for your help regarding Breakspear Farm. You have given a wealth of information about the farm and who lived there. It's very helpful that you also mention where you found the information and photograph, now I know where to look for further references.
As an extra note about the farm, I do remember my mother telling me years ago that they found what they believed to be a priest hole. It seems they found within the chimney stack a recess which contained a table, chair and a skull, which at first they thought might have been from a baby but it turned out to be a monkey skull! A second priest hole was found in one of the bedrooms (behind some sort of small door or panel), however when they tried to explore the space they found that pipes had been placed across the opening and they weren't able to get in. Subsequently, the farm was sold on and sadly later demolished - we will never know what was in that room!!
Roger (roger.rrm @t btopenworld.com) has been able to add his own memories of the farm house shortly before it was demolished. He writes: I can't offer you any info historically apart from the fact my parents ran the Green Man pub opposite the farm in 1955-60. I was a regular visitor to the farm in 1958/59 when i was 9/10 years old and was a friend of the farmer's son who was about 12 years old at the time. The photograph on the website is exactly as I remember it - particularly the barn where we had a 'hide-out'. I too remember being shown the site of a priest hole in the main house at the time the farm was fully working with animals etc & my friend's chores were to feed the animals plus the loads of cats they had. Also I remember workmen putting up the sign about the English pope on the driveway to the farm. I think the owners visited the Green Man pub occasionally. I now live only about 10 miles from Bedmond but haven't visited there for about 20 years.
Nicki Sloan (nicki_sloan @t sloaneye.com) also writes: I am Anna's cousin and I remember my mother (who would be Denis Hogan's great niece) telling me that there was a part of the house which was actually built about 1100AD. I unfortunately can't remember which part. It was not a large part of the house but did form part of the outer walls of the house to one side is all I remember. She also mentioned the priest holes and that the house had 'ghosts' as well.
The RCHM 1910 inventory of Historical Monuments in Hertfordshire say: BREAKSPEARS, a farmhouse in the hamlet of Bedmond, about ¾ mile north of Abbots Langley Church, appears to be partly of 17th century brick and timber construction, with temporary internal partitions, but much of it has been rebuilt. Condition - fairly good.
Scott Hastie's excellent book, Abbots Langley, A Hertfordshire Village, contains a portrait of Pope Adrian IV, two pictures of the farm (one identical to the one in A Hertfordshire Valley, above) and a picture of the Holy Well, painted by N. Trent in 1906. It describes the farm and the well as follows:
Breakspear farm was demolished in the 1960's to make way for a small crescent of modern houses, built off the Bedmond Road. Today only a concrete plaque commemorates the site's significance. Behind the old farmhouse was a well. This was said to possess 'holy water' which had special curative properties, particularly for the healing of the eyes. Throughout the centuries the well became a site of regular religious pilgrimage. ...
Anna van Dijk (rajk_van_dijk @t hotmail.com) adds: I have found out the connection between the Farm and my family - my Great Aunt, Amy Gertrude Josolyne married Denis Hogan, they brought the Farm sometime early 1920's. I believe my grandfather inherited it from her as I do remember talk of 2 old aunts living at the farm prior to them moving in.
Margaret Ewer (m-ewer @t talktalk.net) of Dunstable writes: I have been researching my family history for some time and thought you might be interested in the fact that my Gt.Gt.Grandparents lived at Breakspear Farm. They were Thomas Baldwin who married Sarah Slough at Leverstock Green in 1867. They had 13 children! They are at the farm on the 1891 Census (house let as two cottages). They are on the 1881 Census as living in Bedmont which could also possibly be Breakspear Farm? (the Green Man appears just below).
Page updated January 2012