Friday, 8 January 2010

More on Where is Bedfordshire

Last year I posed the question of Bedfordshire's place in regional history - midlands, eastern counties, home counties, etc.  A book from English Heritage has just come my way, although published in 2006, that answers that question by placing the county firmly in the East Midlands. 

It draws upon topography, forests and hills, settlement patterns, weather and agriculture to define the East Midlands region as running in an arc southwest from the North Sea coast of Lincolnshire to west Oxfordshire.  At its eastern and southern boundaries it excludes the Fens and the Chilterns, thus including the majority of Bedfordshire firmly within the region.  The exception is those extreme southern parishes at the intersection of Beds, Bucks and Herts, which fall within the South East region and the outer limits of the pull of London.

The book is a sweeping survey of climate, communications, settlements, housing, industry and religion over several millenia.  Despite this wide sweep, there is much to interest and instruct the historian of Bedfordshire, not least the importance of placing a county in its wider geographical context.  The maps, diagrams and photographs illustrate the text superbly.

The book:
David Stocker, England's landscape: the East Midlands. Collins for English Heritage, 2006.

The photos here, courtesy Ewart Tearle:
Above: a signpost in Toddington, Bedfordshire.
Right: Airship hangers at Cardington - a bit of modern landscape.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Goldington people in the early sixteenth century

Before the censuses of the nineteenth century the existence of lists of inhabitants or householders depends on the survival of a variety of documents created for reasons other than recording all people in a place - taxation lists and hearth tax returns, parish registers and jury lists, manorial court documents and pew lists amongst others.

A less obvious source for the inhabitants of a town or village are wills.  Normally they only mention the testator's family and a few friends.  Rarely do they contain as much about the testator's neighbours as that of Alice Gray of Goldington who made her will on 20 October 1505.  It must have been a deathbed will as it was proved six days later.  Deathbed or not, she remembered the local religious houses and forty six people amongst whom she distributed her cows, barley, clothing and household goods.  She also remembered the poor of Goldington, giving 12d to each of ten named people.  She made no mention of husband or children which would account for the distribution of her goods amongst friends, neighbours and servants.

An abstract of Alice Gray's will, including the names of all these beneficiaries, is in BHRS volume 37 (1956) together with nearly 200 other wills of Bedfordshire people for the period 1498 to 1526.  It is probable that she was the widow of John Gray of Goldington who died in 1500, apparently without children, leaving a few  modest bequests and appointing his wife Alice as one of his executors.  His will is also abstracted in a BHRS volume, number 45 for 1966.

This list in Alice Gray's will provides a snapshot of some, at least, of the inhabitants of this village on the outskirts of Bedford and is particularly important because it was made twenty years before the taxation returns of the mid-1520s and fifty years before the earliest extant parish records.