Leagrave Cottages


An 18th-century barn converted into cottages

  • This building started life as an 18th century barn in Leagrave, near Luton in Bedfordshire.  The barn was converted into cottages in the 1770s.  The date of conversion was confirmed by the discovery of a mint condition George III copper farthing under the brick paving near the south gable.
  • Interviews with the Marks family who lived in one cottage from 1913 to 1928 are held in the Museum’s archive.
  • Although it was a listed building, permission was given for demolition in the 1980s because it was unfit for human habitation.  This was when it was donated to the Museum.

Things to do:

  • Explore the two contrasting cottages – go up the stairs in the 18th century and down the stairs in the 1940s.
  • Don’t miss the historic outdoor privy in the back garden.  Unlike the Caversham Public Convenience, this is no longer in use!
  • Enjoy the beautiful garden in summer.
  • What Can I Hear? In the lean-to are the sounds of a cobbler (someone who fixes shoes) at work.
  • Our Historic Baking Experience Days take place in Leagrave Cottages.


Leagrave-Cottage-600pxThese are two cottages, side by side, which have been restored to show two significant periods in the life of this building. The cottage nearest the road interprets the 18th century and the cottage with the fenced garden depicts the building as it was in the 1940s. The building came from Leagrave, near Luton, Bedfordshire, and was rescued by the Museum after it had been condemned as unfit for human habitation in 1982. A careful survey of the building, and other research, has revealed a fascinating history that is summarised here.

The building started life in the early 18th century as an agricultural building, thatched with long straw and weatherboarded on all sides with central double doors at the front. In the late 18th century the barn was converted into two labourers’ cottages: the chimneystack and bread ovens were built, doors and windows were inserted, and an upper floor was put into the building. The outshot at the gable end – now the Cobbler’s shop – also dates from this period. The Museum has restored the cottage nearest the road to this period in the building’s history, and the form and furnishings of the cottage are appropriate for the 1770s. Many alterations were made in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Larger window openings were made, the weatherboarding was stripped off the back wall and replaced by lath and plaster, and later brick infill replaced the weatherboarding on the front wall. Extensions were built onto the front. The Museum has restored the cottage further from the road as it might have been in the 1940s. Although by this date the bread oven was no longer in use and a range had replaced the open hearth, there is in fact little difference from the 1770s cottage in terms of internal living space.

In 1851 there were 7 members of one family living in one of the Leagrave Cottages Joseph and Rebecca Thomas – Agricultural Labourer and Straw Plaiter. And their children: Emma (17), Esther
(12), Caroline(6), Straw Plaiters, Joseph (3) and Dinah (7 months).

Construction Materials

The cottages are timber framed. The 18th century cottage is weatherboarded.

The roof of both cottages is thatched with wheat straw.

Both cottages are built on a brick plinth. A brick infill replaced the weatherboarding at the front of the 1940s cottage.

Lath and plaster
The weatherboarding to the rear of the 1940s cottage has been replaced with lath and plaster.

The rear window in the 18th century cottage is of blown glass. You can see the base of this sheet in one of the panes on the rear wall.

Some of the windows in the 18th century cottage have panes separated by leadwork.

An 18th century re-enactor outside Leagrave Cottages  Inside 1920s Leagrave Cottage

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