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Episode 27: Bedfordshire

Where is Bedfordshire?

In our twenty-seventh episode we mentioned lots of interesting places and things in Bedfordshire, so here are some pictures and links if you're interested to find out more.

Dunstable Plait

"Over one, under two, pull it tight and that will do."

This is a "flat plait" created using seven straws, and is known as the Dunstable Plait, after the Bedfordshire town involved in producing straw plaits for the hat industry.

Augustinian Priory at Dunstable

The Priory Church of St Peter with its monastery (Dunstable Priory) was founded in 1132 by Henry I for Augustinian Canons in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, England. St Peter's today is only the nave of what remains of an originally much larger Augustinian priory church.

The monastic buildings consisted of a dormitory for the monks, an infirmary, stables, workshops, bakehouse, brewhouse and buttery. There was also a hostel for pilgrims and travellers, the remains of which is known today as Priory House. Opposite the Priory was one of the royal palaces belonging to Henry I, known as Kingsbury.

The present church and Deanery form part of the Archdeaconry of Bedford, located within the Diocese of St Albans. It became a Grade I listed building on 25 October 1951.

Elstow Abbey

Elstow Abbey was founded in 1078 by the Countess Judith, niece of William the Conqueror. It became one of the richer of the 106 Benedictine nunneries existing at the time and in its hey-day, in the fourteenth century, the building was twice its present size.

The end of the Abbey came in 1539, as part of the dissolution of the monasteries.The Abbey was a monastery for Benedictine nuns and was founded c.1075 by Judith, Countess of Huntingdon, a niece of William the Conqueror. It is therefore classed as a royal foundation.

Chicksands Priory

Chicksands Priory has been here since 1150, and has the only surviving remains of a Gilbertine cloister. The Gilbertine Priory was dissolved in 1538.

Twelve generations of the Osborn family have been associated with Chicksands from 1576 to the present day. Eight of these have enjoyed the hereditary title of "Baronet of Chicksands Priory" since it was bestowed on Sir John Osborne, 11th Feb. 1661.

Chicksands Priory now sits on the campus of JFC Chicksands and is the Officers' Mess for JFC Chicksands. Prior to this the USAF were stationed here (1950) and before that the RAF (1940). The USAF left in 1995 but in 1998 The Friends of Chicksands were asked to reopen the Priory to the public by the DISC commandant of the day.

Woburn Abbey

Home of the 15th Duke and Duchess of Bedford, Woburn Abbey has been the principal family seat since the 1620s.

Guided both by rigorous research and the requirements of modern family life, the Abbey’s interiors are being conserved and re-presented, underpinned by essential services work and using traditional materials and methods.

Major highlights of the conservation programme include the restoration of Issac de Caus’s 17th-century Grotto with the famous shell-lined interior at its centre. A remarkable survival through successive architectural change, this fantastical room is unique and will be at the heart of the home, serving as the new guest entrance.

For the first time in over 250 years and following a five-year conservation programme, the Mortlake Tapestries will hang once again in the room for which they were commissioned by the 5th Earl of Bedford, and elsewhere wall-finishes will be recreated from historic evidence. The Long Gallery and the family’s Dining Room, with its famous collection of Venetian paintings by Canaletto, will be redecorated to reflect the taste of the present generation, informed and guided by the past.

Whipsnade Tree Cathedral

This incredible tree cathedral, made from trees, shrubs and plants, was created after the First World War in the spirit of 'faith, hope and reconciliation' and is the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral that you see today.

Bedford Castle

It is not known when the Norman castle at Bedford was built. The town had defences during the Anglo-Saxon period. The castle is not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 but as the survey was primarily concerned with making an assessment of landholding for taxation purposes this does not prove that a castle was not in existence (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!)

It was built on the site of the Anglo-Saxon defences north of the river and may even have included some of them. It was a classic Norman fortification of a mound, or motte, on which were wooden, later stone, defences, surrounded by an area of dwellings, armouries, stables and so on called the bailey. There were, in fact, two baileys, an outer one and, separated from it by a wall, an inner bailey which would, no doubt, have contained the lord’s own hall, the chapel and other such buildings. The motte then lay inside the inner bailey, giving three defensive rings to the whole structure.

Someries Castle

Someries Castle's name was derived from William de Someries who had a residence on the site. The site was acquired by Lord Wenlock in 1430 and work commenced on building the mansion.

The house is unique in that it is regarded as one of the first brick buildings in England. Demolished in the 1700s, the fine brickwork can still be seen in the remains of the gatehouse.

Houghton House

Houghton House today is the shell of a 17th-century mansion commanding magnificent views, reputedly the inspiration for the ‘House Beautiful’ in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

It was built around 1615 for Mary, Dowager Countess of Pembroke, in a mixture of Jacobean and Classical styles: the ground floors of two Italianate loggias survive, possibly the work of Inigo Jones.

John Bunyan

John Bunyan (1628 -1688) was an English writer and Puritan preacher. He is best remembered as the author of the Christian allegory The Pilgrim's Progress, which also became an influential literary model. In addition to The Pilgrim's Progress, Bunyan wrote nearly sixty titles, many of them expanded sermons.

Bunyan came from the village of Elstow, near Bedford. He had some schooling and, at the age of sixteen, joined the Parliamentary Army at Newport Pagnell during the first stage of the English Civil War. After three years in the army, he returned to Elstow and took up the trade of tinker, which he had learned from his father. He became interested in religion after his marriage, attending first the parish church and then joining the Bedford Meeting, a nonconformist group in St John's Church Bedford, and later became a preacher.

After the restoration of the monarchy, when the freedom of nonconformists was curtailed, Bunyan was arrested and spent the next twelve years in prison because he refused to give up preaching. During this time, he wrote a spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, and began work on his most famous book, The Pilgrim's Progress.

St Cyneburg's Well

In Chalgrave, there is a place called Kimberwell. This is an adaptation of its old name, recorded since 926. Cynburge Wellan became Cynburge Well and was eventually named Kimberwell in recent times. The well in question is most likely dedicated to St Cyneburg who is thought to have been born in Chalgrave. The daughter of a Pagan king called Penda of Mercia, Cyneburg married the son of the Northumbrian king. They lived together in chastity until her husband died or relinquished her as his wife. Cyneburg then returned to her home lands in Mercia where she established convents in Castor, Peterborough, and Huntingdonshire. In Castor, Cyneburg is remembered as Lady Coneyburrow and Lady Ketilborough.

Many magical and spiritual rituals are based around wells, and no doubt the one at Kimberwell has been the centrepiece for many ceremonies. Water has always been a vital part of a community and when wells were its only source, their presence has always been revered.

St Mary's Church, Marston Moretaine

St Mary’s Church lies at the heart of a small Bedfordshire village in an area known as Marston Vale. Up until the early 21st Century this area was famous for brick making. Established in the 19th Century, this industry lasted for over a century. Now it is seen as a place of population development and as the site of the Millennium Park. This latter establishment is the central focus of a developing community forest, where native woodland is being re-established in what was once a scarred area, due to the extraction of the valuable clay deposits. Artificial boating lakes have been developed over the years as a way of filling in clay pits and making an area of beauty for recreational purposes. This aim to beautify continues to the present day. Against this background, the ancient church of St. Mary’s Marston Moreteyne has watched over the changing face of the Vale since the mid-fifteenth century. Evidence exists that there was probably an earlier church on the site, which may have been established in Anglo Saxon times.

The unusual detached tower of the church, with its thick walls at the base, suggest that this was once a watchtower, or a place of refuge in times of strife. There is a theory that it may have been used to protect villagers from the pillage of the Vikings, whose long ships may have sailed as far as Bedford on the River Ouse. We will probably never the know the truth of this … but it makes for a good story!

The Devil's Jump Stone

There is just one small Neolithic standing stone in Bedfordshire, hidden in the village of Marston Moretaine. Not far from this standing stone is the 14th century St Mary’s Church which unusually has a separate bell tower from the main church building.

These two unusual village features have been the subject of local folktales with the Devil being named as being responsible for both. It is said that the Devil tried to steal the church tower but finding it too heavy, dropped it a few feet away. When he returned for a second attempt, on a Sunday, he noticed that three young men were playing leapfrog instead of observing the holy day in a more conservative manner. Recognizing the chance to add to his stock of souls, the Devil sprang down to join their game, landing on the stone itself.

The men were tricked into jumping over the Devil’s back. But instead of landing on the earth, they found that a gaping hole leading straight to hell had opened up, and all three plunged down it to eternal damnation.

Maiden Bower

The Maiden Bower hillfort, perhaps more accurately described as a `plateau fort', survives well despite the encroachment of the quarry and the prolonged ploughing of the interior, and will retain highly significant archaeological information.

Recording along the quarry face has demonstrated the complexity of the rampart's design, further evidence for which will be retained in the largely complete circuit of the bank and the accompanying buried ditch. This evidence together with that of buried features within the ramparts will provide valuable insights into the function of the fort, and contain artefacts illustrating the date and duration of its use.

Five Knolls Barrow Cemetery

The Five Knolls round barrow cemetery is set in a prominent location on Dunstable Down and consists of three bell barrows, two bowl barrows and two pond barrows.

Five Knolls barrow cemetery is the only such site known in Bedfordshire. Although some barrows are partially excavated, the cemetery as a whole is well preserved and retains potential for the preservation of archaeological remains in and beneath the burial mounds and in the fills of the ditches. The cemetery also demonstrates a diversity of features including pond barrows, a comparatively rare class of monument.

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