Wednesday 6 August 2014

The Rise of Methodism in Bedfordshire

BHRS's new volume The Rise of Methodism: a Study of Bedfordshire 1736-1851 was published in July 2014 by Boydell & Brewer.  Its author, Jonathan Rodell, was born in Bedfordshire and educated at Aylesbury Grammar School and Pembroke College, Cambridge.  He was awarded a doctorate by the University of Cambridge in 2011

About the book, which is based on his thesis, he says 

'By the early 19th century Methodist societies constituted perhaps the largest voluntary organisation in Britain with possibly as many as one in seven of the population of England and Wales associated with the movement in some way or other.  This radical re-examination of Methodism’s emergence and growth draws on a wide range of evidence to give a bottom-up account of its life and impact. Overturning many myths and presumptions, the study digs beneath the seemingly steady advance portrayed by official membership statistics to uncover a much more unstable and rapidly changing picture in which different generations and social groups appropriated the religious structures of the movement as vehicles to express a wide variety of aspirations and grievances.'  

The book focusses on what Jonathan calls 'the unlikely Methodist stronghold of Bedfordshire and its neighbouring counties of  Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire'. His bottom-up approach quotes extensively from the ordinary men and women of the area and shows much of rural and small-town life as well as their religious experiences - and inner turmoils.

Jonathan discusses not only the 'familiar Methodist groupings but others whose more transitory popularity has veiled them in obscurity, including the Moravians, various kinds of Calvinistic Methodists, the Primitive Episcopal Church and the early Mormons.'  

This book is a delight - both scholarly and also down-to-earth.  Full of statistics for those who like to quantify their research; full of local colour for those who want to see the people.

Additional information on Methodist preachers, not in the book, is on his website.

By day Jonathan works as a specialist teacher with children who exhibit serious learning and behavioural problems; by night he writes and lectures on the disappearing world of England’s Nonconformist communities, with several articles and book chapters to his credit.  He was a Visiting Fellow at Southern Methodist University, Dallas in 2012 and is a Panel Tutor for the Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge.

Monday 23 June 2014

Bedfordshire Local History Association: Annual Conference 2014

Maulden Mausoleum

The 2014 conference of Bedfordshire’s umbrella organisation for local history societies was organised by Maulden History Society and held at Maulden Village Hall on 14 June. Some 69 local historians, representing 21 societies as well as individuals attended.
The theme this year was Bedfordshire and the First World War, to tie in with the national centenary commemorations of its commencement in 1914.  The programme was a varied one involving four key speakers plus a lunchtime visit to Maulden Church and its famous Mausoleum.

Martin Deacon, a senior archivist from the county’s record office and a military historian opened with a fascinating talk on the 7th Bedfordshire Regiment’s involvement in the Battle of the Somme in France – its successes and its failures and the reasons for both.  (His account and the battalion's war diary can be read in  BHRS's 2004 volume The Shiny Seventh)
Debbie Radcliffe, an English Heritage volunteer researcher at Wrest Park, and a former education officer for The Higgins Museum, Bedford, told the story of how the mansion house at Wrest was transformed into a private military hospital during the first part of the Great War, to provide rest and recuperation for wounded soldiers (although initially conceived as a hospital for the navy).
After a pleasant cold buffet lunch in the hall, Marian McDowell, one of Maulden History Society’s most active researchers, painted a picture of how the First World War affected the lives of everyday people on the Home Front in so many ways, by looking at Maulden villagers’ own experience.
Finally, Kevin Fadden of Ampthill and District Archaeological and Local History Society, told us about the impact of the presence of the 126th Company of the Canadian Forestry Corps in central Bedfordshire from August 1917 through to the end of the war in November 1918. Their task was to fell large numbers of trees in a number of locations on the Duke of Bedford’s estate, in order to feed the Allies’ need for timber for tunnelling and trenches at the Front in France and Flanders.
As usual, as well as the interesting speakers, half the pleasure of the day was being able to meet up with like-minded local historians from around the county and viewing displays of photographs and research material on a wide range of topics, in this case, with a focus on WW1: from family history biographies to WW1 War Department Light Railway engines preserved at Leighton Buzzard, life at Ampthill Park training centre for the Bedfordshire Regiment, the work of the Canadian foresters, and Wrest Park hospital.
At the AGM which preceded the conference, the committee of the BLHA made an urgent plea for one of their 37 member societies to commit to putting on the 2015 conference.  Sharnbrook Local History Group has offered to arrange the 2016 summer event.
Both the BLHA and Maulden History Society are to be congratulated on the smooth running of the day. 
Report by Stuart Antrobus of Bedford Architectural, Archaeological & Local History Society (BAALHS) and a BHRS Council member.

Friday 30 May 2014

Bromham's historic watermill

Bromham Mill, situated on the River Great Ouse three miles west of Bedford, just off the A428, and the eighteenth-century post mill at Stevington, are the two most iconic and important industrial heritage landmark sites in north Bedfordshire. Both were saved for posterity by the former Bedfordshire County Council and are now in the care of Bedford Borough Council.
Thanks to fundraising by the Friends of Bromham Mill, a new set of historical interpretation boards have been installed around the watermill’s interior. These well-illustrated and informative panels guide visitors around the site, explaining its history and how the mill worked when it operated commercially up to 1971.

Milling has taken place at Bromham since Saxon times, as recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The present buildings date from the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries but based on seventeenth century foundations. They contain milling machinery and a waterwheel in working order. The last commercial operation was under the Quenby family, from 1905, by which time – thanks to the development of more efficient, industrially-powered roller mills throughout the country – milling, using  water power was restricted to the production of animal feeds. 

The mill is open to the public, free, each weekend from April to the end of October on Saturday and Sundays, plus Bank Holiday Mondays, 10am to 4pm, and is served by the Mill CafĂ© offering fresh coffee, cakes, light lunches and afternoon teas. Situated as it is next to a delightful meadow, ideal for picnics, and also an island nature reserve, the Mill is well worth a visit. There is a changing programme of art and craft exhibitions and workshops as well as children’s events. There are a range of walks and cycle routes in the area, including a circular walk taking in the unique Stevington Windmill just a few miles away.

The interpretation boards have been developed by Amanda Keen, of the Friends of Bromham Mill (seen on the right with Dave Hodgson, Mayor of Bedford, at the mill's re-opening in April 2014), with technical and historical advice, respectively, by Adrian Fett and Stuart Antrobus. In addition, prospective visitors with smartphones can download 10 audio files, prior to their visit, which will provide an audio tour around the mill.

Stuart Antrobus

For more on the history of Bromham Mill and other mills in Bedfordshire, see the illustrated book: Hugh Howes The Windmills and Watermills of Bedfordshire – past, present and future (Book Castle Publishing, 2009), or a brief history online from Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service. 

For a map, audio tour to be downloaded, walks and cycle routes and dates of events such as Apple Day (Sunday 19 October 2014) see the Friends of Bromham Mill