Friday, 31 October 2008

Where is that place?

Did you know that -

  • Bedfordshire has its own California, Ireland and Stratford?
  • ‘end’ is probably the most common placename element (even more common than ‘green’) in Bedfordshire hamlets and that there are fourteen places called Church End and six called Water End?
  • St Peter de Dunstable was a parish in Bedford, not Dunstable?
  • many places have the suffix –hoe, –oe, -o or –ow (derived from the Old English hoh, describing the shape of a hill)?

This and much more fascinating information about places in Bedfordshire can be discovered from Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service’s website.

It is unfortunate that the websites of county record offices and public libraries are so often hidden within the complex structures of local government websites because many of them contain information treasures for the local historian. BLARS’ home pages are one such hidden treasure. They are subsumed under Leisure and Culture at and are vital for Bedfordshire’s historians. One of the most useful sections is the Guide to Bedfordshire Parishes within the section on Guides to Collections.

It lists the county’s ancient and modern parishes (as you would expect), dating many changes of status. It explains civil parishes and ecclesiastical parishes. It notes the effect of county boundary changes on the counties into which parishes or parts of parishes fall. It also lists ‘hamlets, townships, ends and localities’ - the small places, the dispersed settlements that seem to occur in all except the smallest of parishes and are often so difficult to locate. And it goes beyond the county by listing the 80-or-so contiguous parishes and hamlets in the counties adjoining Bedfordshire.

Altogether, a treasure trove for local place names and an example for other counties to follow.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

More Bedfordshire apprentices far from home

Following the posting about Bedfordshire boys being apprenticed in Gloucester, two more Bedfordshire boys have turned up out-of-county as apprentices, this time in Oxford. They are:

Thomas Gillett, son of George Gillett late of Clanfield (ie Cranfield) yeoman, deceased, who was apprenticed to John Knibb clockmaker of Oxford on 24 June 1698, presumably for 7 years although the record does not mention the period,


James Keats, son of Thomas Keats of Ampthill yeoman apprenticed to Edward Pittaway locksmith of Oxford for 7 years from 8 February 1741/2.

These two entries are from the published list of Oxford City Apprentices 1697-1800, edited by Malcolm Graham, 1987 (Oxford Historical Society, new series, vol. 31). The introduction to the volume describes the records and the system of apprenticeship in Oxford. Records of apprentices survive from the sixteenth century in various of the Oxford City Council books and maybe there are more Bedfordshire boys (and maybe even girls) apprenticed in Oxford in the earlier period.

What happened to these two boys after their apprenticeship? Did they remain where they were, return home or move on elsewhere?

Can anyone out there add the names of other Bedfordshire boys and girls apprenticed outside the county?

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Women's Land Army in Bedfordshire

Bedford Central Library hosted the launch of Stuart Antrobus’s book about land girls in Bedfordshire -

“We would not have missed it for the World”:
the Women’s Land Army in Bedfordshire 1939-1950

And what a launch it was! More than fifty former land girls (sporting their new WLA badges) and their families (including a couple from the USA) were amongst the audience viewing the display of information about their work and helping to launch the book. The event room overflowed and buzzed with conversation. Anglia TV took pictures and interviewed some people.

Book launches are about speeches to celebrate the successful completion of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. In this case, there was a double celebration because this was the book of the award-winning website.

Nicola Avery of Bedford Library’s Information Services welcomed everyone and explained the library’s involvement with Stuart Antrobus’s WLA research. She was presented by a trustee of the Library Services Trust with the Alan Ball Local History Award which is an annual award for local studies publishing by public libraries (see my blog earlier this year). The award was accompanied by certificates for the site’s webmaster and for the author. The book's publisher, Paul Bowes of Book Castle Publishing, praised everyone involved in its design and production, which was well-deserved as a great deal of care has gone into presenting information and illustrations in an attractive and clear fashion.

Finally, Stuart thanked all the former land girls who had contributed so much to the project and his team who helped compile the list of c3,500 names from WLA records. He has been working on the project for five years and is continuing to research the people and places.

And the book itself? It begins with a straightforward and brief account of the Women’s Land Army, nationally and locally. At this point it is worth noting that the book is about land girls who WORKED in Bedfordshire, not Bedfordshire born and bred land girls who were sent out of the county to work – that’s a different project!

The book ends with a superbly reconstructed list of the land girls who worked in Bedfordshire (the website contains information on some of them), the hostels they lived in and other useful facts on the WLA and farming jobs. The middle section of the book tells the story of some of these girls and what the work and the conditions were like. It brings home how different life was then, especially in comparison with the technology and convenience of the early 21st century. This is an essential reference work for anyone interested in women’s war work or the home front in Bedfordshire in WWII and it has the advantage of being updated through the website.

“We would not have missed it for the World”: the Women’s Land Army in Bedfordshire 1939-1950; by Stuart Antrobus. Yorkshire, Book Castle Publishing, 2008. £16.99. Is available from the bookshops on the side panel or online.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Sir Gregory Page-Turner

Anyone wanting to find out from the internet about the Page-Turner family of Bedfordshire will have a problem. If you put “page turner” or “Page-Turner” into Google, in excess of two and a half million hits will be generated, mainly in the senses of something (films as well as books!) of compulsive interest and a person or software that literally turns pages. Of course, adding a first name narrows the hits to nearly manageable proportions.

Earlier this year the National Gallery had an exhibition of paintings by Pompeo Batoni in the Sainsbury Wing which included his portrait of a Bedfordshire gentleman Sir Gregory Page-Turner, 3rd Bt, painted in 1768-69 while he was on his grand tour. It shows a rather preciously posed young man in a red coat against a classic architectural backdrop. The pose is reminiscent of the Apollo Belvedere but actually makes him look overweight. More information about the portrait and the grand tour is at

The picture is owned by Manchester City Galleries and can be seen and downloaded for private use at

How many other Bedfordshire people were painted on their grand tour?

Lutonian Odyssey

Recently published by Dr Clive Field OBE, formerly of the British Library, is his mother’s account of growing up in Luton between the wars, entitled Lutonian Odyssey: reminiscences of Lily Field for 1915-52.

The introduction explains that Lily worked on the text over a number of years. The account of her life has both the immediacy of the first hand account and the accuracy of Clive’s editing.

It is particularly interesting for being an account of a financially, but in no other way, impoverished life. Lily’s father died when she was very young. She makes light of their poverty, concentrating on the highlights in her life especially her sister, who also sadly died young. A picture of support from her grandfather and from neighbours emerges. There are firsthand accounts of the excitement of visits beyond Luton and of her later immersion in Methodist culture. The description of places and transport in Luton gradually brings out how small the town was then.

At first I felt that insufficient attention was given to their financial hardship but then I realised that this is an account of happily making the best of what they had – a lesson for today.

This book should be read by Lutonians, who will be interested in the people and places described, and by anyone who is caught up in that period of Bedfordshire’s (and England’s) social history.

To buy a copy, price £6, email Clive at

How Bedfordshire Voted

BHRS's 2008 volume, published in September, is the second in the series of Bedfordshire poll books published under the title How Bedfordshire voted: the evidence of local poll books.

The aim is to make Bedfordshire people's voting record in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries available for study. A review of volume 1 says that it shows "how county politics actually functioned at the level of the individual voter.” and that "this edition … will be absolutely essential for those with specific political, local or familial interests in late seventeenth-century Bedfordshire, as well as those seeking material for a comparative analysis.”

(H R French in History, volume 93, no 311, July 2008, p428-9)

HBV1 covers five elections from 1685 to 1715. HBV2 continues the poll book transcriptions for 1722 to 1735 covering the elections for two representatives of the borough of Bedford for 1722, 1725 (a by-election to elect one representative), 1727 and 1730/1 (another election of one representative) and for two knights of the shire for 1722, 1727 and 1734.

Accompanying text sets the elections in their local, county and national context and demonstrates that political calculations in selecting candidates and how many votes could be counted on are not a new phenomenon. This volume needs to be read with volume 1 where the electoral system and method of voting are explained.

HBV1 and 2 contain around 20,000 names of Bedfordshire voters in 12 elections for the half century from James II’s reign. Three of the poll books were printed at the time and the texts may be found on the internet, but most of the poll books are in manuscript only, so these two volumes make available a massive amount of new information for the historian of Bedfordshire. They give a vivid – and changing – picture of life in the county at a time of social and political upheaval.

Last word to the reviewer “Given the work involved in editing, checking and indexing these lists, the retail price [£25] offers good value, as is usually the case for county record society volumes.” Both volumes are available from the publisher, Boydell & Brewer, and bookshops (see side panel.)