The Redfield Estate… A history
The Redfield estate totals 6.9Ha, (hectares), it comprises the main house, a separate stable block, a small, semi-derelict cottage, and tarmac car park areas which cover an area of about 1.7Ha. There are also 2.8Ha of pasture land, 2.0Ha of woodland and 0.4 Ha of cottage garden. The main house faces south and looks out onto the pasture in which the small flock of sheep graze. The pasture itself is bounded on three sides by woodland which has a woodland walk running through it. The cottage garden stands on the north west side of the house and a small orchard stands on its southern edge. To the north of the house is the pond and “chicken city”, further to the north stands “Eco-Woods” and the tennis court. The stable block stands to the north-east of the main house with car parking to its south and the gateway to the eastern aspect of the house which is the main entrance.
Redfield House is built to three storeys and has approximately 50 – 60 rooms, according to who counts them and what they consider to be a ‘room’. It was built from ‘red rubber’ bricks, a soft type of brick which could be ‘rubbed’ to form relief patterns in the finished brickwork. The southern aspect of the house has four main rooms on each floor, the ground floor rooms being communal and comprising, lounge, dining room, activity room and the historically named, ‘T’ai Chi’ room, so called because one of the original members used it to practice and teach the oriental art of T’ai Chi. On the ground floor there is also the communal kitchen and ‘breakfast’ room which forms a central meeting point for the members, a laundry and various store rooms. Below this there are extensive cellars which, considering their location, are remarkably dry. The first and second floors are used for private living space, this is nominally divided into ‘units’ that can be used to house families, couples or single people depending on the requirements of the community and the individuals occupying the space.
There is nothing spectacular about the story of Redfield House. Its evolution from farm … to Victorian country house… to use by the armed forces… to welfare state institution… is replicated in hundreds of cases throughout Britain. What is perhaps less common is its use now – as the home of an intentional community adults and their children. Early members of the community became aware that a strong relationship had existed in the past between “The House” and the local townspeople; and that with the closure of the County Welfare Home this relationship had been abruptly terminated. This brief history celebrates the people who have lived and worked at Redfield over the last two centuries and tries to convey something of the flavour of their lives.
Redfield is located at a place which was formerly known as Dudlow or Dudslow and it seems likely that it was the site of a burial mound. Until the late eighteenth century the landscape around Winslow would have been not dissimilar to the Prairies of North America. Following the Enclosure Act, however, the local landowner William Lowndes enclosed fields with hedges and built a number of model farms. One of these was at Dudslow. The tenants of the farm were James Cox, a Mr Richardson and finally William Mobbs. For a brief time the property became known as Mobbs’ Farm but in the 1840s Lowndes’ younger son, Edward, took it over and turned it into a country house. William Lowndes had done a deal with the Selby family of Whaddon Hall (who had no heir) and in return for incorporating the word Selby in the family name had managed to incorporate Whaddon Hall into the Lowndes property portfolio! It is not clear whether Mobbs’ Farm was demolished to make way for Edward Selby Lowndes’ new villa or whether parts of it were incorporated but, whatever happened, the end result was described as a ‘neat mansion’ and had a large stable block. It was sometimes called Winslow House, sometimes Selby Lodge and sometimes The Lodge, Winslow. Edward and his wife Mary Clara (formerly Hartman) had seven children: Isabella, William, Maria, Owen, Lucy, Meyrick and Clara. The Selby Lowndes were very involved in high society and there is a theory that Anthony Trollope, the famous Victorian novelist, visited Selby Lodge while attending the local Hunt.
There exists an album of remarkably sharp photographs taken in 1885 which clearly show the middle section of the house and the Stable Block which still exist today. The album ends on a somewhat macabre note with a photograph of the gravestone of Edward Selby Lowndes who died in that year. Selby Lodge was auctioned by local auctioneer Geo Wigley on Tuesday July 21st 1885. Its major selling point was -“The excellent Stabling Accommodation with the exceptional facilities of increasing it at a minimum expense, together with the convenient Grass Paddocks surrounding the house”. These presented -… “the finest opportunity for a complete Hunting Establishment”. The district was becoming increasingly fashionable as a hunting centre as it was -… within pleasurable distance of the whole of the Meets of Mr Selby Lowndes’, the Duke of Grafton’s, and the Bicester Fox Hounds, and Lord Rothschild’s Stag Hounds.
For some years a man called Henry Lambton had been living with his family at Winslow Hall at the other end of the town. He had been renting it from another member of the Selby Lowndes family with whom he was undoubtedly a hunting associate. The family traced their lineage back many centuries and emanated from Lambton Castle in County Durham. Henry Lambton was the nephew of -‘Honest Jack’ – the well respected First Earl of Durham. Some say that the Lambton wealth had come from coal mining while others maintain that it was really made from piracy on the high seas! Henry Lambton bought Selby Lodge at auction and then employed builders Parnells to demolish the modest frontage and erect a new three-storey building in the, then, fashionable Queen Anne style. The house was renamed Redfield, but nobody knows quite why.
There is a field in Winslow called Redfield but, curiously, it is out on the Aylesbury Road and nowhere near Redfield House. Henry Lambton and his wife, Elizabeth, had five children: William, Bertha, Ralph, Margaret and Dorothy. They had a huge domestic staff and seem to have lived in an even grander style than the Selby Lowndes. Henry Lambton, himself, died in 1896. Margaret and Bertha were married and gone by the end of the nineteenth century and Ralph became a banker in Paris. William (who was a Captain in the Coldstream Guards) had officially inherited Redfield and he continued to live there with his mother and younger sister Dorothy. Willie, as he was affectionately known, was apparently a bit of a madman on a horse. One day in 1907 he was out riding with the Bicester Hunt when he hit is head on the bough of a tree and was knocked unconscious. Reg Langley (born at what is now Redfield Farm in 1901, son of Charles Langley the Stud Groom) recalls hiding in the Grain Store above the Stables and watching the Captain being brought back to Redfield on a stretcher. According to Reg, Willie was never quite the same again and for several years -“… had the brain of a child …”. Those familiar with the Legend of the Lambton Worm might wonder if this was not yet another visitation of the famous curse on the Lambton family! Mrs Elizabeth Lambton died in 1917 so was never to see the decline in the family’s fortunes which were to follow the Great War.
Estates like Redfield were designed to be run with cheap labour and unfortunately for the gentry this regime ceased to exist in the new climate which now came into existence. The Lambtons at Redfield survived longer than many but by the early 1930s they were having to lay off staff. Then in 1934 Willie and Dorothy’s brother Ralph died suddenly. He seems to have been at Redfield at the time and there has been a suggestion that he committed suicide (possibly he lost a lot of money in the Wall Street Crash?). Whatever happened, the event seems to have marked a turning point and Willie decided to sack the rest of the staff and sell up. However, he had a last minute change of heart; decided to stay on; shut up the top floor; and employed a new, much reduced set of domestic staff. Dorothy Lambton was keen on good works. She became a governor of the Royal Latin School in Buckingham, a member of the Public Assistance Committee, sat on the Board of the Royal Bucks Hospital; and ran a Bible Class and a Woodcarving Class for local boys at Redfield – Willie called them -“her young heathens”! She also financed a home for six orphan boys in Park Road, Winslow (having acquired 30,000 pounds that had been intended for another Lambton who had forfeited his inheritance by getting the cook into trouble!)
Many garden fêtes were held at Redfield and a dominant feature was the game of -“Living Whist” in which local children were dressed up as playing cards and then played! The Lambtons were also very fond of the game of curling and had their own rink which was located where the current tennis court is – it was fed by small streams from the pond and was lit by gas! Dorothy seems to have been rather officious but generally recognised as a kind person. Willie was also fairly generous on a public level although privately somewhat mean. They were both staunch Conservative Party supporters and only really got on with other members of the gentry of the same political persuasion – they didn’t have anything to do with the Verneys of Claydon, for instance, because they were Liberals. Dorothy never really spoke to Reg Langley again when she discovered that he was a Socialist! Prudence Kerrison became a Parlour Maid in the “-new staff”. She recalls that, despite their failing finances, Dorothy and Willie, still entertained a lot and were out hunting four or five days a week. Every year when the Hunting Season was over they would go away on holiday, sometimes abroad, sometimes to Scotland, and while they were away the house would be cleaned from top to bottom; carpets and curtains would be changed; and much of the estate maintenance work carried out. With the Lambtons out of the way the staff would have a fantastic time – sometimes dressing up in their clothes and generally having great fun. Ultimately, the Captain developed terrible arthritis and as a result started using an electric wheelchair. He would drive all over the place in this and would frequently get stuck in the corner of a faraway field. His valet would then have to run back to Redfield for assistance!
With the advent of World War II Redfield received half a dozen billetees from the top secret Government establishment at Bletchley Park. Prudence recalls them eating in the Dining Room with Willie and Dorothy. One of their number was a mysterious Herr Greifenhagen but there was no Alan Turing (the man credited with the invention of the digital computer) as far as we know. In 1942 Redfield was requisitioned by the Secretary of State for Defence and much to the Captain’s disgust (as a Coldstream Guardsman) his property was occupied not by the Army … but by the Royal Air Force! 92 Group Bomber Command were head-quartered at Winslow Hall and Redfield became the Officers Mess. While the Officers enjoyed the grand rooms that only the Lambtons had known until now, a large number of WAAFs found themselves sleeping in the stables! One compensation was the Recreation Room which was created in the old Grain Store. This became the scene of much revelry with frequent parties and singsongs. The Air Ministry also erected a couple of Nissen Huts on the site and these survived right through to the 1960s. One of them supplied extra dining space and was “plugged in” to the kitchen – the remains of its foundations can still be seen in the car park. The poor old Captain and his sister had been turfed out into the estate cottages on the Great Horwood Road. His health declined dramatically and in May 1943 he died. The contents of Redfield came up for auction – the catalogue contains such gems as: copper kitchen utensils comprising saucepans, preserving pans, moulds etc.; bread slicer; personal weighing machine; chute fire escape; box of wood carving tools; supreme electric vacuum cleaner; Marconi all electric wireless receiver; rubber water bed; and of course: cards and costumes for Living Whist.
When the War was over it was up to Thomas Barnard, the son of Willie’s sister Bertha, to find a buyer for Redfield. Buckinghamshire County Council had for some time been endeavouring to find suitable premises to provide accommodation for cases of pulmonary tuberculosis and soon entered into negotiations for the purchase of Redfield. By the time that the transfer had gone through, however, the National Health Service had been formed and local authorities no longer had responsibilities for looking after such patients. They therefore decided to make use of the property under Part 3 of the National Assistance Act 1948 and adapted it for use as an old persons hostel. The farm became a part of the County Smallholding. They paid less for Redfield than Henry Lambton had paid for its construction in 1886 but did make a substantial financial input in converting it. The Buckingham Advertiser and North Bucks Free Press of May 9 1953 announced the grand opening with a story entitled – “Country Home for Old People – A Happy Winslow Retreat”. It reported that there were 69 beds, of which 58 were for residents, 4 for emergency accommodation and 7 for staff. All residents were required to pay for their accommodation as far as they were able; all received pocket money of not less than 6 shillings and sixpence per week. Four ounces of sweets or twenty cigarettes or one ounce of tobacco was given weekly to each resident. There were no rules or regulations other than a few necessary ones and all residents could come and go as they please.
Redfield was the first Old Peoples Hostel that Bucks County Council had set up and turned out to be just about the largest that ever existed in England. The elderly people who lived there tended to be the ones who had no relatives at all and they could often be resident for up to 20 years! The result was that as time progressed the average age of the residents got older; they needed more care; and consequently greater numbers of staff. Staff numbers increased from six in the mid 1960s to more than 40 in 1976! Redfield’s maintenance swallowed huge amounts of County Council funds but it was finally the fear of what would happen in the event of a fire that closed the Welfare Home down. A false alarm one night led to the alarm bells ringing continuously for 45 minutes but in that time only one elderly resident got up to see what was happening! The news of the proposed closure was broken to Grace Billson – the last Matron – just before Christmas of 1975 and the Welfare Home was run down over the following months, finally closing in June 1976.
Shortly after the closure of the Home, Redfield was used as a minor location for a film produced by Jack Gold called -“The Medusa Touch”. It was an improbable story in which the central character, played by Richard Burton, fought a desperate battle to survive a vast series of disasters and unsolved mysteries. Once filming was over the shutters were closed and the doors were locked. Buckinghamshire County Council was now desperate to be rid of what, only 23 years earlier, had been its pride and joy. The 1960s had seen major transformations in political and social attitudes and the early 70s a massive rise in the price of oil.
These two factors came together to create a renewed interest in communal living and throughout the 1970s groups were forming all over the country with the idea of setting up collective living situations which involved greater or lesser degrees of sharing. As Redfield House slumbered a conference was being held in Scotland to discuss such matters. It was at this conference that two men with a similar vision met. Their names were Peter Read and Peter de la Cour. Both wanted to start some kind of intentional community with an educational focus and both had a group of interested people. They joined forces and started organising weekly meetings in London. Peter Read was Reader in Alternative Technology at the Open University and was quite keen to find a site near Milton Keynes. They seriously considered a property called Crawley Grange at North Crawley near Newport Pagnell but soon Redfield came to their notice. It was a better deal, had considerably more land and despite initial difficulties with the vendors their group ultimately managed to buy it.
And so, in January 1978, a whole new chapter in Redfield’s history began when the first members of the new Community moved in. They found a garden that was more like a jungle, with dilapidated greenhouses and bothies somewhere at the bottom; a derelict stable block that had scarcely had any maintenance for a quarter of a century; and – very fortunately – a caretaker called George Hawkins, who stayed on for six months and told them where everything was and how it all worked! An awful lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, but that is another whole story in itself!
The primary research for this brief history was carried out by Stephen Golding, Julian Hunt, Geoff Syer and myself. For additional assistance and reminiscences I would very much like to thank Penny Bardsley, Tom and Jennifer Barnard, Grace Bilson, Paul and Ryla Coffmann, Juliet Crittendon, Peter de la Cour, Decima Gibson, Lucy Goodgame, John and Angela Grange, Win and May Holt, Prudence and Harold Kerrison, Dorothy King, Reg Langley, Alice Mansfield, Bob Phipps, Peter and Lesley Read, Joan Selby Lowndes, Joan Tofield, Betty Turner, Mary and Frank Wilks.The Grounds
A major feature of the estate is the meadow to the south of the house and its boundary of forest. To the east of the meadow lies what is known to members as the Main woods, this area, in common with most of the estate, had been badly neglected when the original members arrived in 1978. It was renovated with some re-planting in 1979 and today is a wonderful example of small scale managed forest with a fair diversity of wildlife. It is believed to have originally been planted after the Enclosures Act of 1870 and comprises mainly native standards such as oak and beech with a laurel understory. Also in this area are six fine Redwoods, (Sequoia wellingtonia), which are believed to have been brought from the Americas in the latter part of the last century. They are healthy trees and currently stand at approximately 130 feet in height and about 20 – 25ft in girth at their base. The Front woods bound the extreme southern edge of the estate and hide the road from view. This was the latest area of woodland to be renovated, this was done in 1991 when it was re-planted with mixed broad leaf standards & ash coppice, including a new hedge across the front meadow. There were 2,300 saplings planted in this area at the time and today it is beginning to look healthy once again after the radical surgery that was performed upon it. To the west of the meadow is the New wood, this is a new plantation and again comprises traditional mixed broad leaf standards which are closely planted partly as a windbreak & partly for future biomass use, this wood also has a mixed fruiting edge. 700 saplings were planted in this area, it completes the almost circular walk through wood land that surrounds the southern meadow in front of the house. On the northern boundary of the estate is Eco wood, this was renovated in 1987 after the terrible hurricane that devastated a lot of southern Britain in that year. It is mainly hazel coppice with mixed standards, (oak, ash, poplar, walnut, chestnut), plus an amount of various species of conifer as a filler. The tennis court lies directly to the north of the garden, it was built in about 1986 on the site of a previous tennis court which had become derelict. This in its turn was built on the site of a curling rink which was used by the Lambton family each winter. The stable block is a fine example of Victorian stabling; we are currently developing long term plans for these buildings as a mixed development of workspaces, workshops and classroom spaces for courses.