Pleas to save Fairlands Farmhouse in Stevenage from wrack and ruin

PUBLISHED: 12:04 19 August 2017 | UPDATED: 12:15 19 August 2017

The farm during the demolition of the barns in February 1973. CREDIT: Stevenage Museum.

The farm during the demolition of the barns in February 1973. CREDIT: Stevenage Museum.

Archant

Concerns have been raised over the future of a Grade II-listed 17th-century farmhouse, which has been empty since last year after the most recent tenants were reportedly forced to move out due to the poor state of the property.

Painting by George Oldfield of the farmhouse, 1804.Painting by George Oldfield of the farmhouse, 1804.

Fairlands Farmhouse is a prominent building within Stevenage’s Fairlands Valley Park and dates back to the early 1600s.

The farmhouse had been leased to Digswell Arts Trust since 1993, but in November the artists moved out and people have been left wondering what the future holds for the historic building, which is owned by Stevenage Borough Council.

One artist, who did not want to be named, said: “We vacated the building because of the state of the building.

“There were leaks from the roof over a series of months. The ceiling fell down in one of the rooms and the artist using that room had to move to another room, where the ceiling there started to fall down as well.

The farm barns and farmhouse in 1972. CREDIT: Stevenage Museum.The farm barns and farmhouse in 1972. CREDIT: Stevenage Museum.

“It was a very inspirational place to be in the beginning, but it wasn’t looked after and it started to get damp.

“The building has been really neglected and hasn’t been kept to the standard it should have been, being a listed building.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the roof fell in. The council hasn’t looked after it in any shape or form. It’s a shame. It’s literally rotting away and it breaks my heart to see it.”

The artist added: “We had started to get break-ins and people were vandalising the farmhouse. They actually used artists’ spray cans, as well as all the fire extinguishers, and damaged the whole building.

The farm barns in February 1973,  prior to demolition. CREDIT: Stevenage Museum.The farm barns in February 1973, prior to demolition. CREDIT: Stevenage Museum.

“It did make us feel unsafe.”

In 2008 and 2011 the farmhouse was marketed for sale for pub/restaurant use after the council said it took account of the fact that a significant level of expenditure would be required to bring the property into acceptable condition.

Digswell Arts Trust was given notice to quit but the property remained unsold.

The artist said: “We wouldn’t want it to be part of a pub chain because the inside would be gutted and redesigned.

“Everything in the farmhouse is still original. It would be fantastic if it could be a museum and the house could be preserved, with the original fireplace.”

Councillor Joan Lloyd, executive member for resources at Stevenage Borough Council, said: “We are working hard to secure the long-term future of the Farmhouse as it has huge potential given its setting in one of the town’s glorious green spaces. We hope to provide a facility that will benefit the local community and bring the Farmhouse back to life. We should be in a position to make a further announcement in the near future.”

History of Fairlands Farmhouse:

Fairlands Farmhouse is a timber-framed building dating back to the early 1600s and is Grade II-listed.

In 1684 the farm was owned by Sir William Lytton of Knebworth, and its tenant farmer, who also died that year, was William Tyttmus.

The last tenants of the farm were Stanley and Sybil Marriott - with the nearby secondary school named after the family - after Stanley succeeded his father, Rupert, as tenant.

The farm formerly provided milk to Stevenage residents in milk bottles embossed ‘R. V. Marriott & Sons Fairlands & Lodge Dairies’.

In 1951, the Stevenage Development Corporation served a Compulsory Purchase Order on the owners of the farm - Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge - but allowed the Marriotts to remain as tenants and to continue to farm there.

Farming within a developing New Town was not easy and in 1957 the last herd of cattle at the farm was sold.

In 1968 the last harvest was gathered and Fairlands Farm then became part of Fairlands Valley Park.

The farm barns remained in place until 1973, when they were demolished.

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