Sunday, 10 November 2013

(87) Alington of Little Barford Manor House and Letchworth Hall

Alington of Little Barford
Rev. William Alington (1761-1849), a younger son of the Alingtons of Swinhope (see next post), married Sarah, daughter of John Williamson of Baldock (Herts) in 1788.  Williamson was a malt dealer and later banker who built a substantial portfolio of property in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including Letchworth Hall, Little Barford Manor House and an estate at Marston Moretaine (Beds).  He died in 1830, and left his estate to his grandson, the Rev. John Alington (1795-1863), a young clergyman who had perhaps not yet evinced the marked eccentricities which distinguished his later years.  John Alington made his main home at Letchworth Hall, which he enlarged in about 1845, but he seems also to have built a new manor house at Little Barford between 1830 and 1840.  These properties descended in turn to his surviving sons, William (1826-74) and Julius (1836-1905).  William, who died unmarried, sold the Marston Moretaine estate in 1873 and at the end of his life Julius sold Letchworth to the First Garden City Pioneer Company.  Little Barford passed in turn to his sons, Charles Edmund Argentine Alington (1872-1931) and Walter Hildebrand Alington (1874-1960), and then to the latter's nephew, Nigel Argentine Alington (b. 1947), who retains the estate but lives in the Dower House.

Little Barford Manor House, Bedfordshire

Detail from the Little Barford inclosure map, 1845, showing the moated site north of the church, the Georgian house to its south, and the new Manor House by the main road.  Image: Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service.

The inclosure map for Little Barford, made in 1845, shows a moated site north of the church, and it seems a reasonable deduction that this was the site of the medieval manor house. It was succeeded by a house south-west of the church which was probably built in the 18th century.  

Little Barford Manor House: the 18th century house, from an early 19th century engraving.

This was an extremely plain, seven bay, two storey house, with the middle bay a little wider than the others and stepped forward. The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record notes that by 1968 it was uninhabited and dilapidated, and it was demolished in 1978; a new house called The Dower House has since been built on the site. 

Little Barford Manor House c.1910.  Image: Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service.

The third manor house was built by the Alington family in the mid 19th century on a site between the church and the main road, and was probably almost new when it was marked on the tithe map of 1840.  Despite a few fashionable touches, such as the crenellated bay window and the 'Tudor' chimneys, it is architecturally undistinguished; it is attributed to John Usher of Bedford.  The Victoria County History firmly dismissed it in 1908 as 'comparatively modern and of no architectural interest'.  There is a very full description of the house from 1927 which is distinctly disparaging ( bad disadvantages but rooms mostly small and lot of passage... Grounds very small and kitchen garden some distance away. Poor locality) and conveys an air of incipient dilapidation.  The house is now in poor condition and since it is apparently unlisted, must be regarded as at risk of demolition.

Little Barford Manor House in 2010.  Image: Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service

Descent: sold 1799 to John Williamson of Baldock; to grandson, Rev. John Alington (1795-1863); to son, William Alington (1826-74); to brother, Julius Alington (1836-1905); to son, Charles Edmund Argentine Alington (1872-1931); to brother, Walter Hildebrand Alington (1874-1960); to son, Edmund Hugh Hildenbrand Alington (1911-78); to nephew, Nigel Argentine Alington (1947-2018).

Letchworth Hall, Hertfordshire

William Ratcliffe, Letchworth Hall Hotel from south-east, n.d. [c.1910?]

The former manor house of Letchworth has been used as a golf club and hotel since the estate was purchased by the founders of Letchworth Garden City in 1903.  As a result many changes have been made to the building which mask its historical development. Nonetheless, the overall form of the T-plan house remains, and detailed analysis by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments has established the main phases of development; the house was also recorded about 1840 by J.C. Buckler in a drawing which captures its appearance before the main 19th century alterations.  

Thomas Hanchet of Bedford owned the manor in 1474 and was probably responsible for building the late medieval timber-framed house of which the cross-wing survives, as is evidenced by a crown-post roof with four-way struts.  Another surviving late medieval part of the building is what was originally a detached structure - probably a kitchen - to the south of the south wing, although modern alterations have removed almost all its medieval features. It was timber-framed, partly plastered and partly weatherboarded, and gabled to the east, and has on its south side what was described as 'a small disused porch' in 1912 but is now a stair turret. Until about 1905 a wing 'of massive timber-framing' with a jetty projecting around two feet also stood to the north of the hall.

Letchworth Hall perhaps c.1920, showing the low medieval hall range (centre), the 17th century north-west wing and its 19th century pair (left) and the south-west range of 1911-12 (right).

In 1597 Sir Rowland Lytton of Knebworth acquired the manor as a secondary seat and added a two-storey parlour wing to the north-west; this was originally almost completely detached from the existing house, and was perhaps intended as the first phase of a more comprehensive rebuilding.  The new block had two ground-floor rooms: the larger was a parlour with a stone fireplace and oak overmantel divided into two compartments, with scalloped surrounds flanked by demi-figures.  In the room above, perhaps a great chamber, was a more ornate stone fireplace flanked by female herms which support a moulded and enriched entablature and a large plaster overmantel depicting the judgement of Paris.  This would seem to be contemporary with the building of the range, and to be the origin of a rather precocious fashion for such chimneypieces in north Hertfordshire.  The attic storey of the range formerly also had an important room above the chamber, now lost; this had a wide gable facing south which seems to have been supported by a bay window in the rooms below. This feature was later removed, and replaced by a smaller bay window as part of 19th century changes to the range.  The block was served by a newel staircase in a polygonal and timber-framed turret to the east, which must surely have been intended as a temporary measure.

In the mid 17th century a floor was inserted into the medieval hall, which was also provided with a fireplace for the first time, and given a shallow bay window of four lights on its east side.  At the same time a screens passage was formed at the south end of the hall, a two-storey porch in rusticated brickwork was added to provide access to it, and the partly detached service buildings to the south were remodelled into a more coherent service block. Lastly, and perhaps at the same time, a short north-east range was built that contained a kitchen by 1908; this was heightened to match the north-west wing in the 18th century and extended further as a single-storey block before 1800.

Letchworth Hall: north front c.1920, showing the tower and adjacent wing added by John Alington in 1845.

About 1845 the Rev. John Alington built a large new block north of and parallel to the north-west wing, refacing the latter and eliminating the original bay windows; he also made the two ground-floor rooms into one, put in a corridor on the first floor which masks the great chamber fireplace, and moved the principal entrance to the north side of the house.  About fifteen years later, he added a prominent crenellated entrance tower to the designs of Abraham Butterfield of Hitchin.  The 20th century has seen further major changes, with a new south-west wing built in 1911-12 by C. Murray Hennell and the north-east wing rebuilt in 1935-36 by Barry Parker.

Descent: sold to Thomas Hanchet (fl. 1474); to son, William Hanchet (d. 1515); to son, Andrew Hanchet (d. 1516); to brother, John Hanchet (b. 1514), who sold 1547 to Thomas Snagge; to son, Robert Snagge (fl. 1574); to brother, William Snagge (d. before 1596); to son, William Snagge (fl. 1596), who sold 1597 to Sir Rowland Lytton of Knebworth (d. 1615); to son, William Lytton (d. 1660); to son, Sir Rowland Lytton (d. 1674); to son, William Lytton (d. 1705); to great-nephew, Lytton Strode (later Lytton) (d. 1710); to cousin, William Robinson (later Robinson-Lytton) (d. 1732); to son, John Robinson-Lytton (d. 1762); to nephew, Richard Warburton (later Lytton) (d. 1810); to daughter, Elizabeth Barbara Warburton-Lytton, wife of William Earle Bulwer, who sold c.1812 to John Williamson of Baldock (d. 1830); to grandson, Rev. John Alington (1795-1863); to son, William Alington (1826-74); to brother, Julius Alington (1836-1905), who sold 1903 to First Garden City Pioneer Company, which turned the house into an hotel.

The Alingtons of Little Barford and Letchworth

Rev. William Alington (1761-1849)
Alington, Rev. William (1761-1849).  Second son of Rev. Henry Alington of Swinhope (see the next post) and his wife Frances, daughter of Robert Baron of Letchworth (Herts), baptised 10 December 1761.  Educated at Hertford and Peterhouse, Cambridge (admitted 1779; BA 1783; MA 1809).  Ordained deacon, 1784 and priest, 1785, in the diocese of Lincoln. Curate of Benington (Herts), 1784-85; rector of Swinhope (Lincs), 1785-1837; rector (and patron) of Twywell (Northants), 1799-1849; rector of Little Barford, 1809-22.  He married, 2 July 1788, Sarah (d. 1808), daughter of John Williamson (d. c.1830) of Baldock (Herts), banker, and had issue:
(1) Frances Alington (1789-1866), baptised 26 July 1789; married, 1841, Richard Pickering Gunnell (c.1807-72), but had no issue; died 5 February 1866; will proved 5 April 1866 (estate under £12,000);
(2) William Alington (b. 1791), baptised 1 April 1791; probably died young;
(3) Eliza Alington (b. 1793), baptised 16 August 1793;
(4) Rev. John Alington (1795-1863) (q.v.).
He lived at Graveley (Herts) and was probably responsible for building the new manor house at Little Barford.
He died 13 December 1849.

Rev. John Alington in his
leopard-skin gown
Alington, Rev. John (1795-1863) of Little Barford Manor House and Letchworth Hall.  Only surviving son of Rev. William Alington (1761-1849) and his wife Sarah, daughter of John Williamson of Baldock (Herts), born 4 May 1795.  Educated at Balliol College, Oxford (admitted, 1813; BA 1817; MA 1822).  JP for Bedfordshire.  Ordained deacon, 1819 and priest, 1821 in the diocese of Lincoln; stipendiary curate of Little Barford, 1819-22; rector of Little Barford, 1822-63; he was a famous eccentric whose erratic behaviour and bizarre preaching led to his suspension from holy orders, although apparently not from his removal from his benefice at Little Barford.  After he was prevented from holding services in Letchworth church he began holding them in Letchworth Hall, where his antics between a broken-down piano and two musical boxes (which he played in turn for voluntaries) and in his pulpit (hollowed from a tree trunk) and the minstrels' gallery ; his riding a four-wheeled hobby-horse in wild fury in the middle of the "congregation" and the drinking and dancing which followed the "sermon" - usually a paean in praise of free love - delivered in a leopard-skin fur gown; his open-handed hospitality and friendship with groups of eager gipsies and loafers of the neighbourhood, became legendary. He is also said to have remodelled a pond in the garden in the form of the world's oceans, and to have given geographical lectures while punting himself around it, and his obituary in the Hertford Mercury hints at further eccentricities in his 'strange manner of farming his beautiful estate at Letchworth' which are now lost to us.  He married 1st, 3 October 1822, Eliza Frances (d. 1838), second daughter of Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas Plumer of Cannons Park (Middx), Master of the Rolls, and 2nd, 27 March 1841, Elizabeth Tufnell (1820-88), and had issue:
(1.1) Eliza Alington (1823-36), born 19 July 1823; died unmarried, 3 December 1836;
(1.2) John Alington (1824-45), born 29 September 1824; educated at Merton College, Oxford (matriculated 1844); died without issue, 21 December 1845;
(1.3) William Alington (1826-74), born 6 April 1826; educated at Merton College, Oxford (matriculated, 1844; BA, 1848); succeeded his father in the Bedfordshire estates, 1863 and his younger brother Henry in the Letchworth estates, 1864, but sold 1,598 acres at Marston Moretaine (Beds) in 1873 and died without issue, 31 May 1874; will proved 23 June 1874 (estate under £80,000);
(1.4) Frances Alington (1827-68), born 20 December 1827; married, 5 August 1845, Rev. George Yalden (d. 1874); died 31 August 1868;
(1.5) Mary Alington (1829-68), born 18 September 1829; died unmarried, 25 August 1868; will proved 14 November 1868 (estate under £8,000);
(1.6) Henry Alington (1831-64) of Little Barford, born 23 July 1831; educated at Merton College, Oxford (matriculated 1849); succeeded his father in the Letchworth estate, 1863, but died unmarried of measles and smallpox, 29 March 1864; his will was proved 20 October 1864 (estate under £9,000);
(1.7) Rev. Charles Alington (1833-73), born 22 April 1833; educated at Merton College, Oxford (matriculated, 1852; BA 1856); ordained deacon, 1857; died unmarried, 1 January 1873; will proved 28 February 1873 (estate under £25,000);
(1.8) Emily Alington (1835-65), born 12 February 1835; married,13 January 1863, Rev. Nathaniel Royds, rector of Little Barford, and had issue; died 5 October 1865;
(1.9) Julius Alington (1836-1905) (q.v.).
He inherited Little Barford Manor House and Letchworth Hall from his maternal grandfather in 1830.  He seems to have lived at Little Barford, where he built a new manor house in the 1830s, but later moved to Letchworth Hall which he remodelled in about 1845. His clerical duties at Little Barford were presumably undertaken by a stipendiary curate.
He died 11 December 1863; his will was proved 4 February 1864 (estate under £20,000). His first wife died 21 June 1838; his widow died 18 June 1888 and her will was proved 7 July 1888 (estate £2,889).

Julius Alington (1836-1905)
Alington, Julius (1836-1905) of Little Barford Manor House and Letchworth Hall.  Youngest child of Rev. John Alington (1795-1863) and his wife Eliza Frances, daughter of Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas Plumer of Cannons Park (Middx), born 6 December 1836. JP for Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire; High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, 1883.  He married, 5 January 1871. Catherine Mary (c.1851-1926), daughter of Edmund Wright of Halston Hall (Salop) and had issue:
(1) Charles Edmund Argentine Alington (1872-1931), of Little Barford Manor House; born 26 May 1872; educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge; succeeded his father as lord of the manor of Little Barford, Stotfold (Beds) and Twywell (Northants); JP for Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire; High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, 1915; died unmarried, 13 December 1931; will proved 15 March and 8 July 1932 (estate £270,690);
(2) Walter Hildebrand Alington (1874-1960) (q.v.);
(3) Rev. Julius Hugh Alington (1875-1966), born 3 May 1875; educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge (BA 1913); rector of Little Barford, 1919-37; public preacher in diocese of St. Albans, 1937-?; died 15 May 1966; will proved 6 July 1966 (estate £28,172);
(4) Hilda Catherine Alington (1877-1966), of The Old Manor House, Whittington (Salop); born 29 May 1877; died unmarried, 8 June 1966; will proved 18 August 1966 (estate £19,990);
(5) Emily Alington (1878-1912), born 28 December 1878; married, 29 July 1909, Rev. Hon. Maurice Berkeley Peel MC (1873-1917, killed in action), youngest son of Arthur Wellesley Peel, 1st Viscount Peel, and had issue one son and one daughter; died 24 March 1912;
(6) Capt. George Henry Alington (1887-1917), born 23 April 1887; Captain in Royal Sussex Regiment; killed in action, 23 February 1917; will proved 20 November 1920 (estate £12,737).
He inherited Little Barford Manor House and Letchworth Hall from his elder brother in 1874.  After his death Little Barford passed to his two elder sons in turn and Letchworth Hall was sold.
He died 16 November 1905; his will was proved 29 January 1906 (estate £75,752).  His widow died 5 March 1926; her will was proved 17 April and 5 July 1926 (estate £34,689).

Alington, Walter Hildebrand (1874-1960) of Little Barford Manor House. Second son of Julius Alington (1836-1905) and his wife Catherine Mary, daughter of Edmund Wright of Halston Hall (Salop), born 24 January and baptised 1 March 1874.  Educated privately and "in the colonies".  He married, 23 August 1910, Ina Virginia (1893-1943), youngest daughter of Adamson Parker of Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and had issue:
(1) Edmund Hugh Hildenbrand Alington (1911-78), born 5 July 1911; educated at Stowe and Trinity Hall, Cambridge (BA); 2nd Lieutenant, Pioneer Corps, 1942; partner in Tre-Addur House School, Anglesey, until 1956; died in last quarter of 1978;
(2) Audrey Catherine Ina Alington (1912-62), born 14 July 1912; married, 24 September 1938, Capt. Adrian Bonnell Hudson RA (1906-73), son of James Bonnell Ernest Hudson of Clevedon, Ferndown (Dorset), and his wife Sophy Ellen Elfrida Alington (see next post); died 1 April 1962; will proved 5 June 1962 (estate £31,716);
(3) Lt-Cmdr. Charles Francis Alington RN (1919-87) (q.v.).  
He inherited Little Barford Manor House from his elder brother in 1931.
He died 26 February 1960, and his will was proved 20 May 1960 (estate £192,251).  His wife died 14 August 1943.

Alington, Cmdr. Charles Francis (1919-87) of Hemingford Park (Hunts).  
Younger son of Walter Hildebrand Alington (1874-1960) and his wife Ina Virginia, youngest daughter of Adamson Parker of Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, born 8 March 1919.  Educated at Royal Naval College, Dartmouth; served in Royal Navy, 1936-58, specialising in the Torpedo and Anti-Submarine Department (Commander); became a nurseryman on retiring from the service; member of St. Ives Rural District Council; High Sheriff of Huntingdonshire & Peterborough, 1967; DL for Huntingdonshire, 1968. He married, 1st, 25 November 1944, Anne (1921-81), daughter of Alexander John Hew Maclean of Ardgour, and 2nd, 1982, Kate Rosemary (1912-88), daughter of Frederick Lionel Huth and widow of Michael Coryndon Luxmoore (1909-77), and had issue:
(1.1) Nigel Argentine Alington (1947-2018), born 7 January 1947; educated at Stowe and Trinity Hall, Cambridge (BA); director of Aon Global Risk Consulting, 1991-2013; succeeded uncle as lord of the manor of Little Barford, 1978 and lived at the Dower House on the estate; died 4 June 2018;
(1.2) Felicity Muriel Alington (b. 1949), born 9 April 1949; married, 1980, Richard Learey (b. 1945) and had issue two sons;
(1.3) Virginia Louise Alington (b. 1951), born 2 December 1951; married, 1989 in Anglesey, Peter Teague.  
He purchased Hemingford Park in about 1957 and sold it again, apparently after 1982.
He died 29 September 1987.  His first wife died in a tragic car accident, 1 May 1981.  His widow died in 1988.


Burke's Landed Gentry, successive editions; VCH Bedfordshire, vol 3. 1908, pp. 206-09; VCH Hertfordshire, vol. 3, 1912, pp. 118-24; R. Hine, Hitchin Worthies, 1932, pp. 355-75; J.T. Smith, Hertfordshire Houses: a selective inventory, 1993, pp. 113-16; P.M. Hunneyball, Architecture and image-building in 17th century Hertfordshire, 2004, pp. 27, 66;

Location of archives

Alington of Little Barford & Letchworth: deeds of property in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Huntingdonshire, 1537-1971 (Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service, AN)

Coat of arms

Sable a bend engrailed between six billets argent.

Revision & Acknowledgements

This post was first published on 10 November 2013 and was revised on 2 April 2015, 1 March, 18 August, 8 September and 15 December 2017; 17 June 2018 and 20 October 2020. I am grateful for information about the family from a correspondent who wishes to remain anonymous, and to Sarah Flynn of Cheffins Fine Art for supplying an image of the 18th century house at Little Barford.


  1. The Alington family portraits are being sold at Cheffins, Cambridge on 13/14 September 2017 = a sad sight

    1. Sadly Nigel Alington died on June 4th after a long illness bravely born.

  2. Rev. Henry Alington and Rev. William Alington are not, I think, both (1761-1849)
    Henry may have died in 1809, but I am not certain.

    1. The Rev. William Alington's dates are (1761-1849). He was the son of the Rev. Henry Alington (1718-81), for whom see William also had a younger brother Henry (a solicitor not a clergyman) whose dates are (1762-1845). I hope that clears things up!


Please leave a comment if you have any additional information or corrections to offer, or if you are able to help with additional images of the people or buildings in this post.