History of Bedfordshire

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Ancient extent of Bedfordshire

Bedfordshire is an English shire county which lies between approximately 25 miles and 55 miles (or approximately 40 and 90 kilometres) north of central London.

Anglian Bedfordshire

The Angle invaders were naturally attracted to Bedfordshire by its abundant water supply and suitability for agriculture, but the remains of their settlements are few and scattered. With one exception, they all occur south of the Ouse. Evidence of Anglian occupation has been found at a cemetery at Kempston, where both male and female graves dating from the fifth century have been discovered[1] as well as a settlement near Biggleswade.[2]

Political history

Early reference to Bedfordshire's political history is scanty. In 571, Cuthwulf inflicted a severe defeat on the Britons at Bedford and took four towns. During the Heptarchy what is now the shire formed part of Mercia; by the Treaty of Wedmore it became Danish territory, but it was recovered by King Edward (919-921). The first actual mention of the county comes in 1016 when King Canute laid waste to the whole shire. There was no organised resistance to William the Conqueror within Bedfordshire, though the Domesday survey reveals an almost complete substitution of Norman for English landholders.

Bedfordshire suffered severely in the civil war of King Stephen's reign; the great Roll of the Exchequer of 1165 proves the shire receipts had depreciated in value to two-thirds of the assessment for the Danegeld. Again the county was thrown into the First Barons' War when Bedford Castle, seized from the Beauchamps by Falkes de Breauté one of the royal partisans, was the scene of three sieges before being demolished on the king's order in 1224 [1]. The Peasants Revolt (1377–1381) was marked by less violence in Bedfordshire than in neighbouring counties; the Annals of Dunstable make brief mention of a rising in that town and the demand for and granting of a charter.

A large part of the county was subject to forest law as a royal forest, until 1191.[3]

In 1638 ship money was levied on Bedfordshire, and in the English Civil War that followed, the county was one of the foremost in opposing the king. Clarendon observes that here Charles I had no visible party or fixed quarter.

The earliest original parliamentary writ that has been discovered was issued in 1290 when two members were returned for the county. In 1295 in addition to the county members, writs are found for two members to represent Bedford borough. Subsequently until modern times two county and two borough members were returned regularly.

Sub county level administration

Before 1835

Bedfordshire was divided into nine hundreds, Barford, Biggleswade, Clifton, Flitt, Manshead, Redbornestoke, Stodden, Willey and Wixamtree, and the liberty, half hundred or borough of Bedford. From the Domesday survey it appears that in the 11th century there were three additional half hundreds, viz. Stanburge, Buchelai and Weneslai, which had by the 14th century become parts of the hundreds of Manshead, Willey and Biggleswade respectively.

Until 1574 one sheriff did duty for Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, the shire court of the former being held at Bedford. The jurisdiction of the hundred courts, excepting Flitt, remained in the king's possession. Flitt was parcel of the manor of Luton, and formed part of the marriage portion of Eleanor, sister of Henry III, and wife of William Marshall. The burgesses of Bedford and the prior of Dunstable claimed jurisdictional freedom in those two boroughs. The hundred Rolls and the Placita de quo warranto show that important jurisdiction had accrued to the great over-lordships, such as those of Beauchamp, Wahull and Caynho, and to several religious houses, the prior of St John of Jerusalem claiming rights in more than fifty places in the county.

1835 - 1894

Following the enactment of the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, Bedford was the only borough in the county. Charters of incorporation were granted to Dunstable in 1864 and Luton in 1876.

In 1837 the county was divided into poor law unions, each consisting of a town and surrounding rural parishes: Ampthill, Bedford, Biggleswade, Leighton Buzzard, Luton and Woburn. In addition, a handful of parishes near the boundaries of Bedfordshire were included in PLUs based in other counties, namely Hitchin in Hertfordshire, St Neots in Huntingdonshire and Wellingborough in Northamptonshire.

In 1875 the county was divided into urban and rural sanitary districts. The boundaries of the districts coincided with those of the boroughs and poor law unions. Local boards were formed in Leighton Buzzard, Biggleswade and Ampthill in 1891, 1892 and 1893 respectively, so that by 1894 the county contained the following sanitary districts:
Urban sanitary districts

  • Ampthill (Local board)
  • Bedford (Borough)
  • Biggleswade (Local board)
  • Dunstable (Borough)
  • Leighton Buzzard (Local board)
  • Luton (Borough)

Rural Sanitary districts

  • Ampthill
  • Bedford
  • Biggleswade
  • Hitchin (one parish)
  • Leighton Buzzard
  • Luton
  • St Neots (7 parishes)
  • Wellingborough (2 parishes)
  • Woburn

1894 - 1974

The Local Government Act 1894 replaced the system of sanitary districts with urban and rural districts, each with an elected council. These, along with municipal boroughs formed the principal subdivisions for local government for the next eighty years.

Municipal boroughs and urban districts

In 1964 Luton became a county borough, and in the following year Leighton Buzzard UD was amalgamated with the urban district of Linslade in the neighbouring county of Buckinghamshire. The resulting Leighton-Linslade Urban District was included in Bedfordshire.

Rural districts

1974 - 2009

The Local Government Act 1972 replaced the system of urban and rural district councils with a two-tier system of metropolitan and non-metropolitan county and district councils.

County council (principal authority)

  • Bedfordshire

Borough and district councils

In 1997 Luton became a unitary authority, meaning the borough became administratively independent of Bedfordshire County Council. Luton remained part of Bedfordshire for ceremonial purposes.

2009 - present

In 2006 the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) considered reorganising Bedfordshire's administrative structure as part of the 2009 structural changes to local government in England. The four proposals considered were:

  • Proposal 1, To abolish the three districts within the county to create a "Bedfordshire unitary authority". (Luton would remain a separate unitary authority.)
  • Proposal 2, To create two unitary authorities: one based on the existing Bedford Borough, and the other, to be known as "Central Bedfordshire", a combination of Mid Bedfordshire and South Bedfordshire Districts. (Luton would remain a separate unitary authority.)
  • Proposal 3, To create two unitary authorities: one a combination of Bedford Borough and Mid Bedfordshire District, and one a combination of Luton Borough and South Bedfordshire District.
  • Proposal 4, To form an "enhanced two-tier" authority, with the four local councils under the control of the county council, but with different responsibilities.[4][5]

On 6 March 2008 the DCLG decided to implement Proposal 2. Bedfordshire County Council initially challenged this decision in the High Court, but on 4 April 2008 it was announced the Judicial Review in the High Court had been unsuccessful, and the County Council declared they would not be appealing the decision.[6][7][8][9]

Unitary authorities

Bedfordshire County Council was formally abolished on 1 April 2009, with its powers transferred to the new unitary authorities. the three authority areas continue to form the ceremonial county of Bedfordshire for functions such as lieutenancy and High Sheriff.[10]

Industry and agriculture

Owing to its favorable agricultural conditions, up until at least the late nineteenth century Bedfordshire was predominantly an agricultural rather than a manufacturing county. From the 13th to the 15th century sheep farming flourished, Bedfordshire wool being in demand and plentiful. Surviving records show that in assessments of wool to the king, Bedfordshire always provided its full quota. Tradition says that the straw-plait industry owes its introduction to James I, who transferred to Luton the colony of Lorraine plaiters whom Mary, Queen of Scots, had settled in Scotland.

Bedfordshire was one of the main centres of the English lace industry from the 16th century to the start of the 20th century, although early records are sparse and assertions of the role of Huguenot refugees in the industry are unsupported by evidence. In the early 18th century Daniel Defoe's A tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain refers to the extent and quality of Bedfordshire lace manufacture,[11] and the Northampton Militia Lists of 1777 document the number of lacemakers in different parts of the county at that time.[12]

Prominent landed families

Woburn Abbey, belonging to the Russells since 1547, is the seat of the Dukes of Bedford, the greatest landowner in the county. The Burgoynes of Sutton, whose baronetcy dates from 1641, have been in Bedfordshire since the 15th century, whilst the Osborn family have owned Chicksands Priory since its purchase by Peter Osborn in 1576. Sir Phillip Monoux Payne represents the ancient Morioux family of Wootton. Other county families are the Crawleys of Stockwood near Luton, the Brandreths of Houghton Regis, and the Orlebars of Hinwick.

Ecclesiastical history

On the division of the Mercian diocese in 679 Bedfordshire was allocated to the new see of Dorchester. It formed part of the Diocese of Lincoln from 1075 until 1837, when it was transferred to the Diocese of Ely. In 1914 the Archdeaconry of Bedford, virtually corresponding to the county, was transferred to the Diocese of St Albans.[13] In 1291 Bedfordshire was an archdeaconry including six rural deaneries, which remained practically unaltered until 1880, when they were increased to eleven with a new schedule of parishes.

Antiquities and architecture

The monastic remains in Bedfordshire include the fine fragment of the church of the Augustinian priory at Dunstable, serving as the parish church; Elstow Abbey near Bedford, which belonged to a Benedictine nunnery founded by Judith, niece of William the Conqueror in 1078;[14] and portions of the Gilbertine Chicksands Priory and of a Cistercian foundation at Old Warden. In the parish churches, many of which are of great interest, the predominant styles are Decorated and Perpendicular. Work of pre-Conquest date, however, is found in the massive tower of Clapham church, the tower of St. Peter's Church in Bedford town centre, and in a door of St Mary the Virgin in Stevington. Fine Norman and Early English work is seen at Dunstable and Elstow, and the later style is illustrated by the large cruciform churches at Leighton Buzzard and at Felmersham on the Ouse above Bedford. Among the perpendicular additions to the church last named may be noted a very beautiful oaken rood screen. To illustrate Decorated and Perpendicular the churches of Clifton and of Marston Moretaine, with its massive detached bell tower, may be mentioned; and Cople church is a good specimen of fine Perpendicular work. The church of Cockayne Hatley, near Potton, is fitted with rich Flemish carved wood, mostly from the abbey of Alne near Charleroi, and dating from 1689, but brought here by a former rector early in the 19th century. In medieval domestic architecture the county is not rich. The mansion of Woburn Abbey dates mainly from the middle of the 18th century in its present form.


  1. "Kempston Anglo Saxons". Bedfordshire Libraries. Retrieved 2008-02-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "4.20.28 Stratton, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, deserted medieval village". Archaeology Review 1996-97. Retrieved 2008-02-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Raymond Grant (1991). The royal forests of England. Wolfeboro Falls, NH: Alan Sutton. ISBN 0-86299-781-X. 086299781X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> p221
  4. Bedfordshire County Council - The proposal
  5. Communities and Local Government - Proposals for future unitary structures: Stakeholder consultation
  6. Bedfordshire County Council: High Court backs two unitary authorities for Bedfordshire
  7. County Council Fails In Legal Challenge To Unitary Status
  8. Unitary solution confirmed for Bedfordshire - New flagship unitary councils approved for Cheshire - Corporate - Communities and Local Government
  9. County council to be abolished in shake-up - Bedford Today
  10. "The Bedfordshire (Structural Changes) Order 2008 (S.I 2008 No. 907)". Office of Public Sector Information. 27 March 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Letter 7, Part 2: East Midlands". University of Portsmouth et al. Retrieved 27 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Northamptonshire Militia Lists 1777". Northamptonshire Records Society. Retrieved 27 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. F A Youngs Jr, Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England, Vol. 1: Southern England, London, 1979
  14. "An Historical Sketch". Elstow Abbey. Retrieved 2008-02-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). [https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikisource.org%2Fwiki%2F1911_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica%2FBedfordshire "Bedfordshire" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>29-622