Baylins Farm


Baylins 1900 – 2020

The arrival of the Great Western & Great Central Joint Railway at Beaconsfield in 1906 brought huge changes that effected the whole area. Beaconsfield New Town grew up from almost nothing to cater for commuters traveling to and from London’s Marylebone Station. The railway had come as far as Slough in 1838, and a branch ran from Maidenhead to High Wycombe from 1854, so the line through Beaconsfield was a relatively late addition to the network.  The prospect of a forthcoming rail link enticed landowners to offer land for speculative development. The 4th Earl Howe, Richard George Penn Curzon (1864-1929), who had been MP for Wycombe until 1900 before becoming a member of the House of Lords upon his father’s death, began to offer building plots from his estate along Ledborough Lane in 1903. In 1906 a further 105 acres of land were released on either side of the Penn Road. The area North of Knotty Green was zoned for ‘superior country residences’ with a minimum value of £750 on land that had previously been farmed by the tenants at Baylins Farm.

Among the houses that sprang up close to Baylins before the First World War were Whichert (now Jevington), Witheridge, West Witheridge (possibly inter-war), Davidge and Drews. This would have significantly reduced the size of the farm. The man who appears to have been behind much of this development was Henry Dixon-Davis who was the solicitor to the railway with an address at Marylebone Station. The architect for Whichert House built in 1906, was Charles Biddulph-Pinchard FRIBA who also built himself a house off the Forty Green Road.

Even if reduced in size, Baylins Farm was still an active farm operated by William Priest in the years before World War One. We have a fairly detailed record of the condition of the buildings at that time from the survey published in 1912 by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. It is worth reproducing in full for the detail it provides.

Royal Commission on Historical Monuments,
Buckinghamshire (South) – 1912


Baylins Farm, 1 mile S.E. of the church, is a house of two storeys, and timber-framed with brick fillings; the roofs are tiled. It was built probably early in the 16th century, on an L-shaped plan, with wings extending towards the N. and W.; in the 17th century a room was added on the E. side; in the 18th century the building was much restored, and further additions were made in the 19th century. The S. front retains a little original timber framing, and some 17th-century brick, but has been much rebuilt with 18th-century brick; the doorway has an original four-centred head, with sunk spandrels. On the E. side the N. end has original timber-framing with filling of thin bricks, and at the S. end the lower storey is of 17th-century brick, and there is a projecting chimney stack of very thin bricks, probably original. The W. side is modern, except the gable at the end of the W. wing, which is of thin bricks, with an original two light window, now blocked. The N. side of the W. wing also has a gable of thin bricks, restored at the top and covered with plaster.  Interior: – On the ground floor the dining room, in the W. wing, has large intersecting moulded beams and joists in the ceiling, all now covered with whitewash; the fireplace is partly blocked. The drawing room is lined with panelling of various dates, chiefly of the 17th century, all painted. Three doors, in four-centred openings, are original, of wide battens with strap hinges. The staircase has, on each side, a handrail on brackets, probably of the 17th century. On the first floor the roof-timbers are visible, the trusses have curved struts and wind-braces.

The walls surrounding the garden on the S. side of the house are built of flint and thin bricks, probably of the 17th century; and the E. wall has buttresses of 18th century brick, and a small building at the S. end is modern; the W. wall now forms the side of a barn. In the wall adjoining the house are two small niches with arches of thin bricks.

Condition – Of house, fairly good, some parts poor; of garden walls, poor.

William Priest who had been the tenant farmer since 1875, died in October 1917. His wife and family continued to live at Baylins Farm until 1919 but Lord Howe decided to sell the house and about eight acres of surrounding paddocks. The remaining farmland was then worked from other farms on the Howe estate.

Ambrose & Edith Heal

Ambrose and Edith Heal who had moved from Pinner in 1917 and were living at “Little Bekkons” in Westfield Road, Beaconsfield, were attracted by the possibilities offered by the rather run-down yet historic Baylins Farm.

Ambrose was much influenced by the design ideas of William Morris; he was a member of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (S.P.A.B.) set up by Morris in 1877 as a reaction against insensitive and extensive renovations that had become fashionable in the Victorian era.  He was also a member of the Art Workers’ Guild where many of the leading  architects and designers of the day would meet as part of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and for whom the study of old English vernacular buildings was a crucial part of their training. Already renowned for designing simple unadorned oak furniture, Ambrose saw that Baylins could provide the perfect setting to demonstrate the timelessness and appropriateness of his work, as well as an attractive family home.

Ambrose’s wife, Edith Heal, was the daughter of the Irish poet and playwright, John Todhunter. Born in London she had trained at the Slade School of Art in London before marrying Ambrose and starting a family. Once they had moved to Baylins Farm she appears to have devoted herself to creating wonderful Arts & Crafts gardens around the house where previously had been a rather derelict and muddy farmyard.

The architects engaged to restore and modernize the house and also to produce a plan for the gardens were Edwin Forbes and Duncan Tate whose office was in Jermyn Street, London. However Forbes & Tate had designed a number of houses in Buckinghamshire before the First World War which had been featured in The Studio so they were familiar with the area and Ambrose would have been well aware of their work. They were beginning to work on plans and costings for Baylins in the summer of 1919, but the Priest family were still in residence and even though negotiations with the Howe estate to buy the house were progressing, Edwin Forbes wrote to Ambrose Heal on 11th September 1919 that “The Priests have flatly refused to allow us inside Baylins Farm” to carry out a survey. However they had already measured up the size and layout of the rooms in June which were sufficient for design purposes. By mid-November things had advanced sufficiently for Rust & Ratcliffe to be appointed as builders for the job and the Priest’s must have left by the end of that month as work started on site in December.

The Gardens

A working farm had very little space devoted to garden. The area around the house was mostly a sloping muddy farmyard with hayricks or paddocks for grazing cows. The creation of a large structured garden in an Arts & Crafts style was one of the most significant changes the Heals made to the property when they arrived. It was largely the work of Edith and it became her life’s work to maintain and develop the garden. The outline concept of four, levelled, descending terraced areas stemmed from Forbes & Tate but it seems that Edith was responsible for softening the design and she was certainly the person behind the selection of plants and detail planning area by area.

In the early years of the century much thought had been given to garden layouts and their relationship to the houses they surrounded. The best known garden designer of those times was Gertrude Jekyll and much of her work had been featured in Country Life. In 1912 she published with Sir Lawrence Weaver her hugely influential book Gardens for Small Country Houses and Ambrose and Edith owned a copy of it. The garden at Baylins was planned to incorporate many of the features that Jekyll used in her gardens; stone paved walks, grass walks, gravel paths, yew hedges to enclose and create different rooms, a pergola, a pond, herbaceous borders, pleached limes, brick and flint walls, curved brick steps. It also incorporated a tennis court, a fives court and probably a bowling alley, beyond which were apple and cherry orchards, as well as vegetable gardens.

Among the unique features at Baylins was the cobbled courtyard with its geometric pattern of knapped flints. From that a few gentle steps led down to the oval grass lawn with herbaceous borders that cleverly disguised the asymmetric shape of the quadrilateral space in which it was placed. The transition from interior to exterior rooms was linked by the verandah – a raised open room from which to appreciate the garden sheltered from sun or rain. The “outdoor rooms” were conceived to include a Winter Garden and a Spring & Autumn Garden. The granary which had stood near the position of the new verandah was moved on rollers to its position overlooking the valley, in what was henceforth known as the Granary Field, where it was remounted on its staddle stones and used as a summer house.

The House

Work on the house itself was done sympathetically. What had previously been the cart shed was linked to the main house through the construction of servant’s quarters at the North East corner. The cart shed itself with windows installed facing south provided a children’s playroom heated by a specially imported Swedish ceramic stove, and the main entrance hall along with cloakroom. Although there were massive oak double entrance doors these were discreetly tucked under a low roof line, making for a very unpretentious opening in an Arts & Crafts manner. From the quarry-tiled hall passageway led to the parlour which had been opened up by removing partitioning and re-floored with wide oak boards. The parlour housed two of the most distinctive new features – the ceiling beams were decorated by the architect and map designer MacDonald Gill and his two assistants . The fireplace surround consisted of hand painted tiles showing the signs of the zodiac and the four winds. The concept for the fireplace design stemmed from Ambrose and he consulted various “experts” to ensure the layout was correct. The Poole pottery tiles used were decorated by Minnie McLeish who is better known as a textile designer. The bathrooms upstairs also featured decorative tiling. The floor in the  spare bedroom sloped severely reflecting an ancient structural problem and so it was fitted with a unique set of built-in bedroom furniture constructed of pinewood with a comb-painting finish, a technique that had recently been developed to decorate less expensive timbers. Externally the most noticeable feature was the installation of mostly standardized metal frame Crittall windows.

For more details and interior photographs, see: Ambrose Heal at Home: a glimpse into the private collection of the famed furniture designer

Anthony & Theodora Heal

Following the death of Edith Heal in 1947, Anthony and his wife Theodora along with their five year-old son, Ambrose, moved to Baylins to look after his ageing father, Sir Ambrose.  Anthony Heal Obituary:
Also: Racing Drivers of Penn: Anthony Heal

The Gardens

In that post-war period of austerity it was not feasible to keep up the gardens as they had been in Edith’s lifetime. Theo did not share Edith’s passion for gardening but instead sought to use the fields for livestock and gradually the size of the formal gardens were reduced somewhat. Baylins was registered officially as a smallholding. At different times there were pigs, a redpoll cow for milk, and then a couple of Aberdeen Angus cows that raised calves to be sold for meat. Most memorable perhaps were the donkeys. Lucy was a pregnant mare who came from the Ada Cole Memorial Stables who subsequently gave birth to Sammy at Baylins Farm. They were joined by another mare Clarissa (also from Ada Cole) and later by two dark brown donkeys, Duke and Duchess, who came from Lord Montagu’s estate at Beaulieu in the New Forest.

Baylins from the South, 2009

Oliver Heal, January 2024

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