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Northamptonshire Life, August 1974, by Sally Drysdale
Photography: Central Studios, Huntingdon
Manor Farm, Rushden
by kind permission of Mr. & Mrs. George Willmott

Sitting in the kitchen of Mr. and Mrs. George Willmott's 17th century farmhouse, looking out onto smoothly-mown lawns from one window and from another at the Friesian cattle congregating in the yard awaiting the afternoon's milking, I found it very difficult to realise that Rushden's busy High Street lies only a quarter of a mile away.

Mr and Mrs. George Willmott in their fine house.
Dining room - gleaming horsebrasses on the beams

Not many yards from the front door, beyond a clear, anonymous stream which potters through the garden, is the traffic-laden A6. But few of the motorists travelling to or from Bedford have time to glance up at the rural haven, and few of the traffic sounds penetrate the thick stone walls of the house.

Manor Farm, with its 259 acres, is a pastoral oasis on the southern outskirts of Rushden. Its near neighbours are shops, houses and a factory. The oasis is destined to shrink when much of the acreage is used for housing development, but the farmhouse and its immediate environs will remain.

The house is on the list of registered buildings of architectural interest, but to Mr. and Mrs. Willmott it is far more than that. Mr. Willmott was born there and has always lived there. His wife, Doreen, admired it when she passed by as a child, never dreaming that one day it would be her home. In recent years they have made inspired alterations, doing much of the work themselves, and now it is a comfortable, easily-run and beautiful house.

It is not a large house, but its rooms are splendidly proportioned.

The drawing room was two rooms until about three years ago. Mr. and Mrs. Willmott decided to knock down the dividing wall, leaving the chimney breast as the central structure. One can now walk right round the outside of the fireplace. One side of the room was formerly a passageway, and with another wall demolished, the room now has windows in both its long walls.

The room was sealed off from the rest of the house while the work of scraping plaster off oak beams progressed, otherwise the dust would have drifted everywhere.

It would be easy to over-furnish such a big room. Mrs. Willmott has avoided this, using a few well-chosen pieces which unite the two extremes of the room. The central fireplace is important, professionally built with stone from some of the old out­buildings at Manor Farm, and an old copper milk churn, lined with gunmetal, looks at home on the hearth. White-painted window shutters keep high winds at bay.

Different designs of carpet are used at either end. The chair covers are in dark green splashed with pink roses.

The room is more than 40 feet long and 20 feet wide, and is restful end pleasantly liveable-in. Mrs. Willmott is clever at needlework and handicrafts, and a beautifully crocheted coverlet which she made in a circular design is spread artistically over a chaise longue. In a corner cupboard are some of her collection of Royal Doulton figures and there are other displays of ceramic horses, hounds and foxes.

The huge bedroom lies above the sitting room.
Master Bedroom
Before we look at the other rooms downstairs, I must tell you about the master bedroom, which is magnificent. It is above the lounge, and is the same size—bigger than some people's entire homes. But although it is vast, it retains a homely, cottage-like atmosphere, partly because of the leaded lights with their old gold velvety curtains, and partly because, as downstairs, the wide chimney breast is used as a room divider.

Twin beds side by side have their heads against the chimney wall. Before the conversion work began, there was a big closet occupying a lot of space. A window was put in to replace one which had been blocked up to save on window tax.

When the chimney breast was opened up, a little Victorian fireplace was revealed, and blocked up again.

Much of the window glazing upstairs is very old, and one pane in the main bedroom bears a date: "March 6th, 1811". Perhaps a little girl in rustling gown scratched it on with her mother's diamond ring, or perhaps a former owner of Manor Farm wrote it on his wedding night.

The far end of the room—when there were two rooms this far one was accessible only through the other—is furnished with Hepplewhite pieces which Mr. and Mrs. Willmott bought from Rushden Hall when it was sold many years ago. A television set faces the beds.

"We have early nights here," said Mrs. Willmott. Understandably, as she gets up at 5.30 in the morning. She takes the five dogs—two Boxers and three Labradors—out into the fields to help fetch the Friesian herd in for milking. Most of Rushden is still sleeping when she lets out her Muscovy ducks and their young, who make straight for the little stream.

A second bedroom is at present being altered and decorated as a guest room, and spacious wardrobes have been built along one wall. There are two smaller bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs.

There are various mementoes of travels abroad around the house, and on a shelf above the staircase stands a large vase from Tunisia. "We went there a few years ago, and we've just come back from a holiday in the Windward Islands," said Mrs. Willmott.

View of the kitchen/dining room, showing the wealth of beams.
The little wooden staircase itself is one you take steadily, being open-sided and quite steep. It leads down into a lovely room which has always been known as the kitchen, though the real kitchen is behind it. It is more of a dining room and living room, and before alterations, part of the room was a pantry.
The oak panelled study in which the farm accounts are dealt with.
There are two upright timber supports at the foot of the stairs. One of these was made from an oak tree taken from the farm.

The ceiling is richly beamed, and there is a bigopen stone fireplace where huge logs crackle in the winter time. Mrs. Willmott has more of her Doulton figures and other china in alcoves at either side of the fireplace.There is always plenty of space in old farmhouses. There is a stone-flagged hall and a useful square area with a row of big wooden coat-pegs along one wall. A wide, solid wooden door leads out to the farmyard.

Also off the hall is a dear little oak-panelled study, with a desk where the farm accounts are dealt with, and a door opening out into the garden. An old glazed panel lets light in from the hall.

Mrs. Willmott does most of the gardening, and has it arranged so that it is as labour saving as possible The stream is an attractive feature of it, and the sloping lawns which she keeps immaculate. She has had foot­paths laid with slabs of various colours, with little flower-filled gardens built in at intervals. The house is L-shaped, and the part of the garden within the angle is enclosed by a stone wall, into which the old stone stating the farm boundary has been set. Another stone, in the house wall, dates the farm at 1606.

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