The material usually employed in the construction of the churches of this county, was the stone drawn from the quarries of Totternhoe, (a village in the southern part of Bedfordshire;) it is of soft quality, admirably adapted for all purposes of carving and internal decoration, but, as offering little resistance to the weather, its substance quickly perishes when applied to external uses; hence there is generally in this district an absence of that out side grandeur and elegance of form which meets the eye in other localities, though within there is no deficiency either in features of interest, or beauty of detail and execution.
Among the most ancient churches in this county is that of Clapham, supposed by Mr. Rickman to be anterior to the period of the Norman Conquest, and a small portion of St. Peter’s, Bedford; among those which exhibit portions of Norman work, the most rich and considerable are the remains of the priory church of Dunstable, and the eastern portion of Elstow, which probably terminated originally in an apse; Meppershall is a specimen of a Norman cross church, though altered in subsequent times; and in various others there occur arches and doorways assignable to this era. As examples of Transition from the Norman to the Early English style may be noticed the northern side of the nave of Harold, and some portions of Elstow.
In the next style, the Early English, we have in Felmersham a most rich and perfect specimen of a cruciform church, of a character seldom surpassed; of the same period are also the south aisle and most elegant doorway and door of Turvey, the nave of Eaton Bray, some portions of Keysoe, Pertenhall, Tillbrook, and Arlesey.
Many churches may be assigned to the period between the decline of the Early English and the establishment of the Decorated styles, such as the nave-arches of St. Paul’s at Bedford, of Wootton, Carlton, Oakley, Stevington, &c, combining details of both styles, which renders it often difficult to say to which style they belong.
Of pure Decorated churches, the most complete and rich are Yielden and Wymington; Salford has also many curious portions; Higham Gobion is a simple Decorated chapel; and amongst others, Houghton Regis, Tilsworth, Sutton, and some parts of Luton, present good examples.
Of the Transition from Decorated to Perpendicular, Shillington is a fine and interesting specimen.
The Perpendicular churches are very good; among the most considerable are Colmworth, Tingrith, Marston Moretaine. Sandy is a cruciform church of this date, and Willington late in the style, and Cople rather earlier, both present excellent models, and might be copied with ad vantage.
Spires are a feature very rare in this district, a circumstance readily accounted for by the difficulty of procuring durable stone requisite for such constructions; they are, with two exceptions, confined to the churches of the northern division of the county.
The prevailing form of Plan is oblong, consisting of a chancel, a nave with aisles, and a tower at the western extremity of the nave, which arrangement, unless specified to the contrary, may be understood to have been followed in the churches hereafter described; the eastern ends of Shillington, Great Barford, and of Wymington, have the peculiarity of turrets at the eastern angles.
The roofs are often very finely enriched, as at Marston, Dean, &c.
The ecclesiastical furniture is often worthy of notice; there are many good examples of open seats, rich remains of stalls, as at Luton, St. Paul’s Bedford, Northill, Leighton Buzzard, and Cople, while of rood-lofts may be instanced the celebrated specimen at Felmersham, one equally perfect at Tillbrook, and another at Pertenhall. Clifton has also the front of a magnificent rood-loft; there are fine remains at Marston, Oakley, and several others; besides these there are often richly carved parclose screens, as at Luton, Shillington, Sharnbrook, Cople, &c, and most churches have more or less good carved work.
There are good Norman fonts in Poddington and Houghton Regis; Early English in Eaton Bray, Harold, Turvey, Streatley, Keysoe, Studham; Decorated in St. Paul’s Bedford, Houghton Conquest, Kempston, Stagsden, Stevington, &c.; Perpendicular in Elstow, Arlesey, Harlington, Caddington, &c.
The sedilia are often highly enriched; amongst the finest examples are those in the churches of Luton, Sutton, Turvey, Sharnbrook, Pavenham, Clifton, Caddington, Barton, Wymington, &c.
The remains of Domestic work in this county are inconsiderable. Of ecclesiastical domestic, Elstow, Bushmead, and Dunstable have each one small portion, and of Harold, Newenham, Stevington, and Warden, will be found notices under the names of the parishes to which they belong.
Of the early secular domestic can be cited traces only, whilst farther on the examples are confined to some late remains at Willington, a brick gate-house at Sommeries near Luton, and the old George Inn, Bedford.
Few churches are without one or more piscina, some richly crocketed and carved; it is also common to find a piscina in an angle of the wall, and the jamb of the south east window, with a small opening to the two sides, and a shaft between them. There is often a southern porch with a room over it, and in some cases a north porch also; sometimes the original vestries on the north side of the chancel are of two stories, as at Toddington, Marston, and St. Paul’s at Bedford.
The monuments present a numerous class; there are some effigies of cross-legged knights under stone canopies at Salford and Pertenhall; a lay figure at Oakley, and priests at Dunstable and Tilsworth; the altar-tombs at Salford are highly curious: there are good tombs and effigies of the fifteenth century at Chalgrave, Toddington, Apsley, and Luton: and of a later period are those at Willington, Eyworth, Sutton, Bromham Turvey, Holcott, and Blunham. Nor may it even here be out of place to mention as a favourable specimen of modern art, the re cumbent figure of Sir Hugh Inglis, in Milton Bryan church, by the late Sir F. Chantry.
The monumental brasses are numerous, and will generally be found noticed under the churches wherein they exist. Wymington, Elstow, Bromham, Shillington, Luton, Marston, Biggleswade, Sutton, contain the most fine and curious; whilst Aspley, Barton, St. Paul’s Bedford, Little Barford, Biddenham, Blunham, Cardington, Clifton, Cople, Dean Dunstable, Eaton Bray, Goldington, Lower Gravenhurst, Cockayne Hatley, Holwell, Houghton Conquest, Houghton Regis, Leighton Buzzard, Lidlington, Maulden, Poddington, Salford, Stevington, Tillbrook, Turvey, Wilshampstead, Yielden, possess specimens, nearly all of interest.
As examples of scroll iron-work on doors, the south doors of Turvey and Eaton Bray are most rich and fine.
An ancient tile pavement is found at Wilhngton, and at Norhill; these are good tiles, with the patterns impressed into them: such occur also at Elstow, where, and at Barton, there are also some figured tiles of the usual kind, having the pattern in yellow, on a red ground. At Chalgrave are some tiles of this latter class, having a Dutch inscription: and a small curious piece of tiling, probably of Elizabethan date, consisting of one square tile in the centre, with four others of diamond shape round it, the whole forming an octagon. The pattern is principally blue, on a white ground, but there are small portions of green and yellow colour also.
The remains of stained glass are very scanty, and these are nearly confined to quarries, which exist in St. Peter’s church at Bedford, Bolnhurst, Chalgrave, Dean, Eaton Bray, Felmersham, Langford, Sharnbrook, and Tilsworth. At Edworth are some portions of D. glass. At Eaton Socon are traces only of fine P. glass, much mutilated; at Luton is a good figure of St. George, and a window partly filled with very curious quarries, bearing the word Hola, and a figure of a rudder alternately.
Source: The Ecclesiastical and Architectural Topography of England. Bedfordshire. John Henry Parker. 1848.
The County Gaol and House of Correction is situated at Bedford; it was rebuilt in 1849 upon the principle of the model prisons, so as to carry out the separate and silent system; there are 176 cells for males, and 8 for females; the governor’s and turnkey’s houses are attached; the cost of the building was about £23,000. The visiting justices meet weekly to transact the general and financial business of the prison. Robert Evan Roberts, governor; Mrs. E. Maria Anderson, matron; Rev. George Maclear, M.A., chaplain; Robert Couchman, surgeon1.
An inland county of England, situated nearly in the centre of the island, between the parallels of 51° 50’, and 52° 21’ N. lat. It is bounded on the north west and north by the county of Northampton; on the north-east by Huntingdonshire; on the east by the county of Cambridge; on the south-east and south by Hertfordshire; and on the west and south west by Buckinghamshire. Its greatest length is 36 miles; its greatest breadth 23. Its circuit is about 150 miles. The general aspect of the country is undulating and diversified, the hills being numerous, but not lofty, and the valleys neither-deep nor extensive. The Chiltern hills cross it in a north eastern direction; and to the east of these is another small range running in the same direction. The vale of Bedford lies between these ranges; it is a strong clay soil, and is intersected by the Ouse, which flows in a very winding course through it.
This county is watered by three principal rivers: the Ouse, the Ivel, and the Lea. The Ouse rises in the county of Northampton, and, after passing through the county of Buckingham, enters Bedfordshire near Turvey, 8 miles west of Bedford, but, from its windings, does not reach that town till after a course of above 25 miles. At Bedford it begins to be navigable, and proceeds in a north-eastern direction towards St. Neots in Huntingdonshire. This stream is remarkable for the slowness as well as tortuousness of its course; and it is subject to sudden overflows after heavy rains. It receives a few small streams from both sides; but its principal tributary is the Ivel, one branch of which rises a little to the north of Dunstable in this county, and another in the vicinity of Baldock, in Hertfordshire. The Ivel flows north-east, becomes navigable at Biggleswade, and falls into the Ouse at Tempsford, 6 miles north-west of Biggleswade, after a course of 30 miles. It is connected with the town of Shefford by the Ivel navigation. See articles Ouse and Lea. The Lea rises in this county, in the neighbourhood of Houghton-Regis; flows east to Limbury, and then south-east to Luton, and enters Hertfordshire between East and West Hide.
The county of Bedford contains an area of 463 square statute miles, or 296,320 acres, of which 80,000 are stated to be arable, and 168,000 pasture or common, mostly upon a cold clay soil. The vale of Bedford is considered one of the finest corn-districts in the kingdom. On the south, the country is much less fertile, being crossed by a ridge of chalk hills, and covered with a very thin soil. Towards the south-eastern corner of the county, there is some rich dairy land. The general aspect of the western portion is flat and sandy, but is favourable to the culture of turnips and beans. In the more favourable parts of the county — as in the vicinity of Biggleswade and in the parish of Sandy — large quantities of vegetables and garden-produce are raised for the supply of the metropolis, as well as the local markets. To the north of Bedford the land is very poor, and presents large tracts of iron sand. Farms in this county are seldom of large extent; the average size is about 150 acres. The extent of woodland is now much less than formerly. — The mineral products of this county are of comparatively little value. Fuller’s earth abounds in the neighbourhood of Woburn, and was anciently known by the name of Woburn earth. Limestone and coarse marble are abundant. There are numerous mineral springs in this county; some saline, others chalybeate; but none have attained any degree of celebrity. They occur at Bedford, Bletsoe, Bromham, Clapham, Cranfield, Milton-Ernest, Odell, and Turvey.
Bedfordshire is divided into 9 hundreds, namely: Barford, Biggleswade, Clifton, Flitt, Manshead, Redborne-Stoke, Stodden, Wllley, and Wixamtree : which see. The county-town is Bedford; besides which there are the market-towns of Dunstable, Ampthill, Biggleswade, Harrold, Leighton-Buzzard, Luton, Potton, Toddington, and Woburn. See these articles. Two members of parliament are returned for the county; and two for the borough of Bedford. The influential families of Bedfordshire are those of Russell, Osborn, Pym, St John, Fox, and Whitbread. The county is included in the Norfolk-circuit; and the assizes and sessions are held in the shire-hall at Bedford on the 2d of January, 10th April, 3d July, and 16th October. The county-rates and poor-rates in 1815, were £72,782, raised by an assessment on rent at the rate of 4s. in the pound; in 1827, the whole amount was £92,340 11s., of which £81,959 was applied to the relief of the poor; in 1830, it was £96,994; in 1834, £77,819; and in 1837, £37,530, being an expenditure of 8s. per head on an average. The amount of money invested in Savings’ banks in this county, in 1837, was £68,668; average amount of each deposit £33. The total amount of real property, returned in 1815, was £343,685.
The population of the county, in 1801, was 63,393; in 1811, it was 70,213; of whom 9,431 families were returned as engaged in agriculture, 4,155 in manufactures, and 1,341 otherwise employed. In 1821, the population was 83,716; and in 1831, 95,383, of whom 56.8 per cent. were engaged in agriculture, and 25.7 in trade. Houses, in 1831, 17,978. A large proportion of the female population is employed in the plaiting of straw, for which Dunstable in particular is famous, and in the manufacture of thread-lace; but this latter branch has much declined since the application of machinery to its processes. A considerable number of mats are made, and a pretty extensive trade in corn, timber, and seed is carried on. The county is reckoned healthy; the rate of mortality, on an average of ten years, is estimated at 1 in 56.
The following are the principal roads in Bedfordshire. The Great Northern road from London to Glasgow enters near the 41st mile-stone, and, after passing Biggleswade, Tempsford, and Eaton-Socon, enters Huntingdonshire about 2 miles north of Eaton-Socon. The great road from London to Chester and Holyhead enters at Dunstable, near the 33d mile-stone, and, passing through Hockley, quits it at the 42d mile-stone. The road from London to Higham-Ferrers and Kettering, enters from Kitchin in the county of Hertford, near the 36th mile-stone, and passes through Shefford, and Bedford, 11 miles beyond which it enters Northamptonshire. There are about 240 miles of turnpike-roads in the county. The Grand Junction canal, and the London and Birmingham railway, skirt the county to the west of Leighton-Buzzard.
Bedford is in the province of Canterbury, and was formerly in the dio. of Lincoln, but has been recently transferred to that of Ely. It forms an archd., valued at £60 12s. 3 1⁄2 d.; and is divided into the rural deaneries of Bedford, Clapham, Dunstable, Eaton, Fleet, and Shefford. It is divided into 124 parishes, of which 56 are rectories, 61 vicarages, and 7 are perpetual curacies and donatives. The number of dissenting congregations in this county, in 1828, was 71; up to the end of 1838, 19 dissenting places of worship had been licensed under the marriage-act in this county. Bedfordshire, in 1835, contained 208 daily schools, with an aggregate of 6,009 scholars; and 198 Sunday, and 36 infant-schools, comprising in all 15,918 children.
This county is crossed in the southern extremity by the ancient British road known by the name of Iknield street, or way. Watling street, which stretched across the island, from the Kentish coast to the country of the Guetheli, enters this county near Luton; and turns north-west, passing a little to the north of Dunstable, to Fenny-Stratford, in the county of Buckingham. Another Roman military way enters the county near Baldock, and, keeping the line of the Great North road, leads in a direct line to Chesterfield. There are various other remains of Roman, Saxon, and Danish origin. Of castles, the most important was Bedford castle, built by the family of Beauchamp, and dismantled by order of Henry III. The keeps and extensive earth-works of the castles of Risinghoe and Cainhoe still remain; and at Bletsoe, Ridgmont, Meppershall, Puddington, and Thurleigh, vestiges of castles or castellated mansions may be seen. Some of the old churches, such as that of Puddington, Felmersham, Eaton-Bray, and Elstow, exhibit interesting remains of early architecture. Previous to the Reformation, this county contained 15 religious houses, including one alien-priory and a preceptory of Knights-Hospitallers. See articles Bedford, Dunstable, Eaton, Elstow, Newnham, &c.
Previous to the Roman invasion, this county was inhabited by the Cassii, or Cattieuchlani. When the Roman dominion was established, it be came part of Britannia Superior, and afterwards of Britannia Prima; subsequently, in 310, it was added to the district of Flavia Caesariensis. During the Saxon heptarchy, it belonged to the kingdom of Mercia; and, on the abolition of two of these kingdoms, it was equally divided between Mercia and Essex. When England was united under one monarchy, Bedfordshire was included within the Denelege, or Danish jurisdiction. It was the scene of many conflicts with the Danes, in the reign of Edward the Elder. Bedford was one of the first counties to declare against Charles I., at the beginning of the parliamentary war.
Source: The Parliamentary Gazetteer of England and Wales; A Fullarton & Co. Glasgow; 1840.
The Three Counties Lunatic Asylum (Beds, Hunts, and Herts), situated in the parish of Stotfold, is a very extensive and elegant building; it contains over 500 inmates: — William Denne, Esq., F.R.C.S., L.S.A., medical superintendent; Rev. James Acton Butt, M.A., chaplain; George Mickley, M.В., assistant medical officer; John Barnes, steward; Mrs. Lucy Denne, matron; George Francis Butler, Esq., clerk to committee of visitors; and Thomas Lester, clerk to the asylum2.
Bedfordshire was divided into nine hundreds:
Biggleswade Hundred lies at the eastern extremity of the county of Bedford, and is bounded on the west by the hund. of Wixamtree; on the south by that of Clifton; on the east by Cambridgeshire; and on the north by Huntingdonshire. Area 28,265 acres. Houses 1,780. Pop., in 1831, 9,696.
The Parliamentary Gazetteer of England and Wales; A Fullarton & Co. Glasgow; 1851.
The Borough of Bedford contained the parishes of:
At the start of the 19th century, the hundreds contained the following parishes:
|Barford Hundred||Great Barford, Colmworth, Eaton Socon, Goldington, Ravensden, Renhold, Roxton, Wilden|
|Biggleswade Hundred||Astwick, Little Barford, Biggleswade, Cockayne Hatley, Dunton, Edworth, Everton, Eyeworth, Langford, Potton, Sandy, Sutton, Tempsford, Wrestlingworth|
|Clifton Hundred||Arlesey, Campton, Clifton, Holwell, Meppershall, Shillington, Upper Stondon, Stotfold|
|Flitt Hundred||Barton in the Clay, Caddington, Clophill, Flitton, Flitwick, Lower Gravenhurst, Upper Gravenhurst, Haynes, Higham Gobion, Luton, Pulloxhill, Streatley, Sundon|
|Manshead Hundred||Aspley Guise, Battlesden, Chalgrave, Dunstable, Eaton Bray, Eversholt, Harlington, Hockliffe, Holcot, Houghton Regis, Husborne Crawley, Leighton Buzzard, Milton Bryan, Potsgrove, Salford, Studham, Tilsworth, Tingrith, Toddington, Totternhoe, Westoning, Whipsnade, Woburn|
|Redbornstoke Hundred||Ampthill, Cranfield, Elstow, Houghton Conquest, Kempston, Lidlington, Marston Moretaine, Maulden, Millbrook, Ridgmont, Steppingley, Wilshamstead, Wootton|
|Stodden Hundred||Bolnhurst, Clapham, Dean, Keysoe, Knotting, Melchbourne, Milton Ernest, Oakley, Pertenhall, Riseley, Shelton, Little Staughton, Tilbrook, Yielden|
|Willey Hundred||Biddenham, Bletsoe, Bromham, Carlton, Chellington, Farndish, Felmersham, Harrold, Odell, Pavenham, Podington, Sharnbrook, Souldrop, Stagsden, Stevington, Thurleigh, Turvey|
|Wixamtree Hundred||Blunham, Cardington, Cople, Northill, Southill, Old Warden, Willington|
Three of the parishes above were in fact historically part of Huntingdonshire until they were incorporated into Bedfordshire in the late 19th century, though each was considered part of a Bedfordshire hundred. Eaton Socon fell into Barford hundred, Everton in Biggleswade hundred, and Tilbrook in Stodden hundred1.
Bedfordshire was divided into six Poor Law Unions:
Bedford Prison The old gate house to Bedford Prison. The copyright on this image is owned by Dennis simpson and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.