Central to the original Tudor manor is an inglenook fireplace with a wrought iron fire plate dated 1588. Maps, census records, wills and broader local histories help create a rich tapestry of local life through the centuries.
Although major changes to communities and upheaval was widespread through early C20th. nothing impacted upon Fairlands Farm so much as post-war New Town development which forced the land out of agricultural use.
By the close of C20th, the farms future had passed into the inexperienced hands of Stevenage Borough Council, and the house was leased for use as artist studios where ideas for its future were first shared.
Historic Environment Record
Fairlands Farm features in the Historic Environment record for Stevenage. The description reads: Fairlands is on Seller's 1676 map as Faire lane, and is shown clearly on the 1766 map as Fairland, with its farmyard and orchard, on the road between Stevenage Old Town and Shephall. The 1881 OS map shows the farm layout, which by 1881 may have had a rebuilt farmyard but still had the orchard. The farm is now within Fairlands Valley Park and this section is a landscaped municipal park, but the house survives. It is timber-framed with close-set studding of large timbers, and appears to be 17th century or earlier, with later additions. Close inspection and subsequent Listing has provided much information on the detail. The building is a 17th century lobby entrance house, altered and extended in the 19th century but with a good deal of original 17th century interior detail surviving (including a 16th century fireback). In 1685 it was owned by William Tyttmus and was a valuable property; by 1731 the manor of Fairlands belonged to the Lytton’s of Knebworth. In the 1950s it was the subject of compulsory purchase in the New Town development.
The farm within Stevenage New Town
When Stevenage was designated a 'New Town', efforts were generally made to retain historic buildings within historic settlements and to develop around these older buildings. Unfortunately many historic buildings were lost during the development of the New Town which makes the retention of those that remain of particular importance. As well as its architectural properties, Fairlands Farm is unique in that it is part of the central farmland of Stevenage and also centrally located is the only remaining site situated within the areas of the New Town development that has a designaton as a farm. Fairlands Farm is located at the North end of Fairlands Valley Park and set back from Fairlands Way (the main road). It has sat quietly in this location for many years and had become concealed from the main road by trees (thereby also concealing its architectural interest). The old orchard to the south has not been managed or maintained by the authority and is significantly overgrown. An outbuilding which looks to have been erected around the same period as the C19th development of the main house is situated a little apart to the west side of this. Stevenage Museum holds a drawing of the property from 1804, which adds evidence that the original property was built around. There are also photographic records pertaining to the demolition of the farm barns in early 1970s around the time when the valley lakes were constructed.
20th Century Post-War Changes
In Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s New Town Act (1946) through which Stevenage was developed, it was a key element, following the model for town and country planning set out by Ebenezer Howard that some element of rural activity should remain in the town. It is well documented that farming should remain at the site and during the early years of the towns development residents held firm to this principle by ensuring county proposals for an inappropriate thoroughfare through the valley and farmhouse was not built. The 469 acres site of Fairlands Farm was purchased from Gonville and Caius College in 1951 using powers of compulsory purchase granted to the Stevenage Development Corporation. Records are clear that farming should continue at the site, although much of the land was turned into housing. There is a covenant on the property shown in land registry records prohibits development of the farmhouse to residential accommodation, though not prohibiting service accommodation. Inevitably, with the surrounding urban development, dairy farming could not continue at the farm and though family members remained on site until the late 80’s, by which time the agricultural activity on the surrounding land had long ceased. Family members still live locally and Sybil Marriot, who married on of the farmers and was a local headmaster’s secretary for 25 years passed away last winter at the age of 98. A new Bedwell School, replacing that in which Mrs. Marriot had worked, was built a few years ago, and sits on the other side of Fairlands Valley Park. It was named Marriot’s School in memory of Mrs. Marriot and also Fairlands Farm which was also known as Marriot’s Farm. The site had been entrusted to Stevenage Borough Council in transfer of assets when the Development Corporation was wound up. A local resident, assisted the council extensively in securing further use for the property, which was leased to Digswell Arts Trust in early 1990s and many graduate artists from Hertfordshire University, such as David Keford, have been successful in founding their careers there through the opportunities to collaborate with other artists and engage with local communities that was afforded from the site.
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