I have many memories of Langley End. I attach a photo which I took circa 1970 (above).
The impressive dovecote was not in the garden but on a lower level beyond the garden
wall. My grandfather garaged his cars in the barn just west of the Cottage, most
memorably a large Humber. He said Lutyens designed the Cottage as the servants hall
for Hill End House. It comprised mostly small rooms probably intended as bedrooms,
a very large kitchen with an adjoining scullery and a substantial, walk-in pantry.
There was a modern [for then] bathroom beyond the kitchen. My grandfather had a bedroom
on the ground floor and his cook/housekeeper, known to everyone as ‘Ben’, had a room
upstairs. A rather grand sitting room occupied the southern end of the ground floor.
The small room on the ground floor overlooking the garden had a wireless, a gramophone
and a pre-war television which received broadcasts from Alexandra Palace when the
BBC recommenced transmissions in 1946. A photo of me at the wheel of my uncle’s MG
(below) was taken outside the Cottage at around that time and is attached.
Gareth Gunning writes: My grandfather - Samuel (Sam)Thomas Gunning (1886-1981) lived
in Langley End Cottage from the late 1940s until the middle 1970s. He was son of
a Bristol builder and served with the Leicestershire Regiment during WW1.
When he retired, he was the Public Health Officer for Hitchin Rural District. When
first appointed, he was Inspector of Nuisances.
The photo of Sam Gunning in uniform (right) is undated but is probably very early
20th Century. I have his drumsticks. His distinctive Bristol accent persisted until
I am not sure why it was to Langley End he moved after separating from his wife,
who continued to live in the family home in Norton Road, Letchworth, but he and the
Puxleys were always on very friendly terms.
I have been told my grandfather was a member the War Agricultural Committee during
the 1940s. He and Mr Puxley might have worked together there. The historian Reginald
Hine (1883-1949) was also a friend. I have suspected a grace-and-favour tenancy.
Childhood walks to the Minsden Chapel’s ruins, walks through Hitch Wood’s bluebells
and cows being milked by hand in the dairy at the farm are all clear memories. In
the middle 1950s, my father paid a small sum for an old Rover used on Hill End Farm
as a utility vehicle, largely because Sam Gunning thought the car historically interesting
and worth better.
After some restoration, it became the family car here in Chelmsford and, until it
finally expired in a clatter of broken engine valve mechanism, returned to Langley
End whenever we visited the Cottage.
I think the image above right might be something like it.
The Sam Gunning, ‘Ben’ and Rosa photo (shown right) was taken outside the Cottage
by my father (1912-2002), probably in the later 1960s.
Stanley Gunning was an architect and an alumnus of Hitchin Grammar School. Rosa was
my mother (1913-2013), a Letchworth girl who my father married in 1936. They lived
in Letchworth before moving to Chelmsford in 1948.
I last visited Langley End in 1992, parking in the new Hitch Wood car park and walking
up the steep lane to look at the Cottage.
From the outside, apart from position of the garden fence, it seemed little altered.
Although sub-divided, Hill End House looked as I remembered it too. It seemed incredible
that vehicles had used the unmade lane quite ordinarily in summer all those years
I have found a photo of Sam enjoying a joke during his 90th birthday party (below
right). He had asked for a small electric lawnmower, the handle of which is just
visible in the picture. The lady is his daughter: Muriel Dillaway (1917-1992).
The main change to Langley End Cottage since the 1970s seems to be incorporation
into the curtilage of the dovecote and land on the lower level between it and the
cottage. Previously, the garden comprised only the area between the cottage and the
barn together with the open, always immaculate, front lawn.
Internally, the changes have been amalgamation of some small rooms to make larger
ones. The pantry has become a utility room and the bathroom, which used to be reached
via the kitchen, is now off the room defined in these particulars as the master bedroom.
Ithere was a huge table in the kitchen which would have easily seated ten people.
If Sam Gunning was right about the design, I guess it was planned for seven residents.
The south room, ie the sitting room (1940s to 1970s and also now), might have been
originally for the senior servant – perhaps the butler. If the building was ever
a gardener’s cottage, the gardener must have been most highly prized to warrant such
I am grateful to have the benefit of your researches into the Fenwick’s period at
Temple Dinsley proving that Lutyens did design the buildings at Langley End (Link:
Langley End Cottage). My assertions to this effect, repeating Sam Gunning’s confident
account, have been challenged by people who say I must mean Temple Dinsley. As you
probably know, the Lutyens catalogue (http://www.lutyenstrust.org.uk/about-lutyens/#)
omits his work at Hill End. Had I searched the listed building descriptions I would
have found confirmation but I didn’t think to do so before reading your account.
My father claimed a remote association with the Lutyens practice because, as an articled
pupil, he had drawn plans for a house in New Delhi; work on it having been sub-contracted
to the firm of Hitchin architects [S. B. Russell] in which he first entered the profession.
Via my father, I inherited some of Reginald Hine’s publications. One of my copies
of “Hitchin Worthies” has the inscription: “to my friend Samuel T. Gunning”. Under
Hine’s signature, and obviously in his handwriting, is a boast of how important the
book is. Could such vulgarity have been some private joke between them? Inside I
found a copy of the programme for unveiling the Hine memorial tablet in 1952 and
a small photograph of what is almost certainly the stone on Hine’s grave.
Of the dovecote
The dovecote is an interesting case. Historic England’s listed buildings account
refers to Lutyens saving it, together with the surviving barn, as ornaments in the
Hill End House ensemble when that replaced Hill End Farm. The sequence of Ordnance
Survey 1:10,560 maps 1899 – 1924 – 1948 – 1950 clearly shows removal of the farm
from the Hill End House site to its new location along the lane in a north easterly
direction. However, at that scale, it isn’t possible to distinguish the dovecot from
other buildings in 1899. Inspection of the OS 1:2,500 map for 1898 suggests the dovecote
was either part of, or perhaps attached to, a larger building which was demolished
during clearance of the original farmstead. I think we can be reasonably sure it
wasn’t a free standing building pre-Lutyens. I am tempted to suggest he might have
Another interesting conclusion from the cartography is that the building you identify
as the current farmhouse (Link: Hill End) appeared between 1948 and 1950. I have
no recollection of it under construction although old enough then to have noticed.
New house building was still a novelty so soon after the war and mostly confined
to either New Towns like Stevenage or completion of works abandoned in 1939. However,
it is entirely possible we didn’t visit my grandfather during that period which coincided
with our move from Letchworth to Chelmsford. He quite often came to see us.
Which of the buildings on the 1924 and 1948 maps was the farmhouse from 1911 to 1950?
The house next to the farmyard was present in 1924 and must be the prime candidate.
In the right place but why not in brickwork to match the other Langley End buildings?
The chimneys are not part of the set either. This ‘Farm two’ in my attachments looks
today like so many houses in Letchworth which had the render to cover very ugly local
bricks. Lutyens specified lovely bricks for the Hill End House ensemble. Perhaps
the render on both farm houses came later but I doubt the bricks used in 1949 would
have been anything like those chosen by Lutyens. That there were two farmhouses after
1950 might indicate two generations of Rex in residence, perhaps?
The white gate posts pictured between the farm and Langley End Cottage evoke many
memories. I don’t think the gate was ever closed, even if there was one. The route
through and down the hill to Hitch Wood was a highway open to traffic and the Ordnance
Survey’s current mapping suggests it probably remains one.
Gareth Gunning has sent several illuminating emails together with photographs about
Langley End Cottage and his family’s association with it.
I am grateful for his approval to include his thoughts here.