Biggleswade History Society Walk on Shortmead Street – Review

Advertised as : ‘Cracking Tales and dark Deeds in Old Biggleswade’  this walk was led by Jane Croot of Biggleswade History Society on Wednesday, 2 July 2014.

Dan Albone Plaque, Shortmead Street, Biggleswade
Dan Albone Plaque, Shortmead Street, Biggleswade

Having a busy life means less blogging – but here I am again! Recklessly writing children’s stories about my alter ego – a witch called Gwubbins, has meant slowing up on other projects. However, history will not be kept down and I could not resist a foray into the town of Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, England, for a walkabout with the Biggleswade History Society.

My connection to Biggleswade is through my grandparents who were the last of seven generations to live thereabouts. The walk was well attended and I felt at home with fellow enthusiasts as we listened to the stories Jane told about the infamous Shortmead Street, one of the oldest streets in Biggleswade.

The Sun Inn Biggleswade
The Sun Inn Biggleswade

Beginning by the modern bridge at the Dan Albone carpark, Jane related the story of a waggon that crashed into the River Ivel from the old (probably wooden) bridge that had been nearby in July 1787. Although I knew this story, she brought the incident alive and I knew that this walk and talk was going to be fun. Next she led us to the site of the old Sun Inn and explained how it would have looked and what this establishment would have meant to the coaches passing through and the employment opportunities that it gave the local people.

As we passed down Shortmead Street we were shown where the wharves for the canal goods once stood with old buildings and lost ale houses, although the Coach and Horses is still present. Jane gave an idea of where the wealthy lived and where the poor struggled. She indicated where Anchor Yard would have been, and there was no illusion, the home of my ancestors would have been rough and overcrowded. No wonder the expanding family moved out of the town, returning to the surrounding villages of Langford and Clifton.

Biggs Shortmead Walk_graveyard_03The bell ringers were having a practice so that Jane was nearly drowned out at the grave yard of St Andrews Church, where we were shown two distinct gravestones, one of the founder of Battersea Dogs home, the other a grim reminder of an inspector of bridges who crossed to the wrong railway line one day, consequently losing his head. The papers of the day claimed he left over thirty children and there was speculation that he may have had a family at every station, as Jane had researched his records and he was never at home with his wife on census day.

The gory story of the body snatchers was retold at the other side of the graveyard and we learned that a dead body had no value, so when the thieves were caught, they were only fined, and this was probably paid off by the London School of Medicine who were often desperate for bodies to practice on…..

We learned of horse thieves who were hung, stocking stealers who brawled in the pub yard and serious rioting which was quelled with copious amounts of beer. I can honestly say that I felt well and truly connected to the Biggleswade of my ancestors for about two hours that evening.

Many stories survive despite there being no local paper until late in the 1800s. This History Society has an excellent website and a passion for the town of Biggleswade. Sharing time with this group gave me an excellent insight into the past, and like all great experiences, I made new friends.


Pigs as Horses


Pigs for horses

‘In the autum of 1811 people doing business in Beford market had the surprise of their lives when an eccentric farmer came to market in a vehicle drawn by four large
hogs. It had been specially constructed and was smaller than most other conveyances on the roads.

The farmer who lived outside Bedford is said to have entered the town ‘at a brisk trot’.
Crowds seemed to come from all over the place to see the unusual spectacle. He took the vehicle round the market place three or four times, then drove into the yard of the Woolpack Inn, where the hogs were unharnessed in a stable and fed well from a
trough full of beans and wash. The farmer went to do his normal market business,
returing three hours later with his purchases. The hogs were harnessed again and
the farmer set off home. He, his vehicle and his hogs drove out of Bedford to cheers of
encouragement from people lining the streets.

The farmer had only been training the hogs for this sort of work for six months. An
eyewitness commented ‘it is really surprising to what a high state of docility and tractablity he has brought them’.  A well to do man was so struck by the novelty of
what he had seen that he offered the owner of the trained hogs fifty pounds for the conveyance and the animals. The offer was indignantly refused.

The demonstration may have been in part a protest against government taxes levied on various forms of livestock to pay for the Napoleonic wars. There had been earlier protests at taxes on animals. When the horse tax was imposed by William Pitt in 1784 a northern farmer drove his cow to market to show his contempt for the legislation.’
Based on a report in the Wakefield and Halifax Journal of november 1811.

Source:Bedfordshire Magazine Vol21 No161

Pigs pulling a cart
Pigs pulling a cart

© Ella Jo @Diamond Seeds 2012

Happy New Year 2013

Christmas and New Year were especially fun this year as we saw out the old 2012. I staggered up to an eminent archaeologist in the pub on Christmas Eve to give him a ‘hot archaeological tip’ which he took very good humouredly (I realized later when I totalled up the number of brandies I had consumed)…

Father Xmas 2012
Father Xmas 2012

The end of 2012 saw happy neighbourly gatherings, drinks with old friends and the opportunity to review all the hard work the year had seen…perhaps 2013 will see a reaping of the rewards! And to top it all Father Christmas popped in to say hello on his way to see a little girl down the road – making it a very special Christmas indeed!

Patronymic Family Surnames

A patronymic is a component of a surname based on an earlier male ancestor such as the father or grandfather. Conveying lineage, patronymics names are still in use world wide. Patronyms pre-date the use of family names and can be found in many Celtic, English, Scandinavian, and Slavic surnames.Other cultures formerly using patronyms now pass on the father’s last name to his children, although patronymics are still commonly used as middle names in Russia.

In England, names ending with the suffix ‘son’ were often originally patronymic. The prefix ‘Fitz’ (from French for ‘son’), appears in English aristocracy from the time of the Norman Invasion, and in Anglo-Irish names. The name Fitzroy, meaning ‘son of the king’, was used by the illegitimate children of royalty, acknowledged as such by their fathers.

‘Mac’, meaning ‘son’ was prevalent in Scottish Gaelic, Irish and Manx, occurring as ‘Mag’ in Ireland. In Ulster, the Isle of Man and Galloway, ‘Mac’ was frequently anglicisized, eg ‘Qualtrough’ meant son of Walter and ‘Quayle’ meant son of Paul,(MacPhail). In Ireland, this truncation resulted in surnames such as ‘Guinness’. Colloquial Scottish Gaelic has other patronymics, still in use. An interesting crossover variation in the use of ‘Ó’ for grandson in Irish (anglicised as ‘O’) and ‘Ap’ for ‘son’ in Welsh. Thus ‘Howell’ from West Wales was derived from Uí Mhell of old Irish, which then became O’Well, then ‘Howell’ in their Welsh relatives.Thus ‘Ap Howell’ means ‘the son of the grandson of Mell’!

In Wales, before the 1536 Act of Union, all Welsh people used patronyms and matronym as the sole way of naming people. Welsh, used ‘Map’ which in modern Welsh is ‘Mab’, in contrast to the Celtic Scottish ‘Mac’. Up until the Industrial Revolution, the use of patronyms was still widespread, especially in the west and north of Wales. A revival of patronyms during the 20th century continues today. Because Cornwall was absorbed early on into England, patronyms are less common than toponyms or occupational surnames.

Meaning literally ‘son of the uncle’ in Old English , Eames meant maternal uncle. The term fell out of use after the Norman Invasion, although in the late 14th century poem ‘Sir Gawain And The Greene Knight’, the young Gawain addresses King Arthur as ‘myn em’. (part 1 line 356)

In the aristocracy or ‘courtly society’ there was a strong bond between uncle and nephew (Nave being a surname from the latter), and the forms ‘Eames’ and in America, ‘Ames’, probably survive from the relationship as a favourite or ward of an uncle. The alternative suggestion ‘son of Emma’ has been rejected, and the surname, ‘Neame’, certainly arises from the incorrect division of the customary form of address.

Mr H P Guppy in his ‘House of Family Names in Great Britain’ (1890), recorded Eames in only two counties, Bedfordshire and Somerset. ‘Numerous entries in the telephone directory show how tenaciously it has survived, spreading into North Hertfordshire’.
Bedfordshire Magazine Vol 17 number129 Summer 1979.

© Ella Jo @Diamond Seeds 2012

A Good Halloween

It was a Good Halloween, but I sort of missed it. Between writing and singing and choosing music,Halloween got a bit forgotten, even though I would have loved to have thrown a party! I hope it will come together next year!

I did find some great props for a spooky picture though in between taking pictures of my things for sale on Reckless Relic, so here it is for prosperity!

Picture for Halloween, the mask and the candle
The mask and the candle, a halloween picture

I have an Edgar Allen Poe book to go with this scene!

Time to gather fruit, walk through the swirly mists and navigate blindly through the fog! – Oh and light the fire of course!

Reckless Relic Goes LIVE!!!!

Well at last time to write my blog! Reckless Relic is now live and all the hard work is there for the world to see. Trips to find recycled packaging meant making friends with the washing machine shop who don’t mind unloading their packaging to us now and again.

Other projects are also taking off – soon my book ‘Journey of A Tarot Reader’ will be available on Amazon – when I can figure out how on earth to up load it – as it will be an e book! Much research has been going on to find out how to make my tarot books available – and it seems now that self publication is just too expensive. Despite my desire to reject the modern world – I have to embrace e books and I suppose its ok, although I would rather see my tarot books written in cursive handwriting on rolls of parchment!!Maybe if I make my fortune I could commission some especially, but in the scheme of things it doesn’t look likely!

Although I have never really been a fan of modernity I must admit that I do like some plastic – glasses frames, airtight boxes and buckets and bins (and where would I be without bubble-wrap?). I think that recycled plastic should be used for house tiles (as long as they are not flammable ). I particularly don’t like plastic toothbrushes as they are almost impossible to recycle (apart from cleaning up push bike parts – and after that what could be done with them?)

I am very glad that I have the opportunity with Reckless Relic to recycle objects from the past that were lovingly made, but wonder what objects we use today will have the same value in the future? I suppose I have always loved things that were made with care, appreciating ‘vintage’ before I even knew the stuff had this name!

More lovely things are waiting to be put up for sale, and I am hoping that I will be able to get through my living room to my sofa soon! – also winter is coming and I really need to get to the fireplace to light the wood burner, so more of my collection is going to have to go!

what people really value

My latest little find was a small cut glass broach that was looking so pretty I couldn’t leave it in the thrift shop. When I got home I fastened it to my jacket, but not before giving it a good look over. I was startled to see that beige cotton had been strung around some of the strands. I wondered why – could it be broken? But it seems fine. At first I was disappointed – the piece may have been less than perfect. But I did not notice anything amiss.

little trinkets from thrift shops can bring so much joy
shiny blues and greens

When I reflected upon it I thought that the careful threading showed just how loved that broach must have been to someone. They had spent time preserving it – perhaps it had been a present or reminded them of a special day. When I thought about it like that, I didnt mind that the threads are there, almost invisible. They are a tiny reminder that the things that we value are not always worth much in money.

There is nothing better than hopping along for the ride when a friend offers to take you on a trip! We visited the beautiful South of England, journeying to the Isle of Purbeck in the county of Dorset. We were not disappointed and found much to amuse and educate.

The beach has cliffs behind it that sometimes collapse in wet weather
The scenery around the beach at Lyme Regis is superb

Lyme Regis is famous for its fossils, but many will tell you that although they spend hours on the beach there, they don’t find a thing. However, the beach experience and the busy street down through the town is certainly worth stopping for!

Beachcombing brought to light some small, smoothed pieces of glass, rounded by the pounding waves. I thought they may look good on a homemade ceiling hanging or light shade – or even perhaps a mobile that could be hung outdoors. They are certainly unique shapes, catching the light in different shades – I thought upcycling these bits would suit someone who loved arts and crafts.

Outside the museum, a copy of the rules for payment from 1489
This announcement is a very early piece of writing

Recent landslides had claimed lives in Dorset after a wet summer – and there has been some coastal errosion at Lyme Regis. The landslide which had fallen from the cliffs turned out to be an old rubbish dump – and it had spilled its contents over the rear of the beach. One old comber, unafraid or oblivious to the danger, was picking his way through the rubbish, although it seemed to us that the stuff couldnt be more than thiry years old. We didn’t think the beach looked too clean, but it was interesting and extremely scenic. Signs made the danger clear to the visitors and there was a museum.

On a hill overlooking the village of Corfe
This was probably the largest stone building in England

A further nosey mosey saw us calling into the small village of Corfe – with its iconic ruined castle on a hill above, and a visit to the coast at Worth and Langton Mantravers outside Swanage.

This is the land of quarries and there is a rich history concerning occupations regarding stone, closely tied in with the area.  Corfe was the place where the quarrymen updated their ‘Ancient Order of Purbeck Marblers and Stonecutters’ agreements (on Shrove Tuesday every year, before a game of football). We visited the Fox pub where the meetings had always taken place and saw a few artifacts in the tiny museum opposite, which used to be the village lock up!

From the museum at Corfe Castle
The history of Stone Quarrying goes back an awful long time

A walk around the coast near Worth took us to St Aldhelms Head – a scenic path looking out over cliff tops with the blue sea fading into the sky in the distance. The view was superb and the wild flowers were dazzling.

A short distance away was the village of Langton Mantravers with two pubs, a church and a lovely little museum. Barely changed from the seventeenth century it was a little gem, and valued its quarrying history. The museum showed a 20 minute film about the stone quarries of the area and how the stone was used. Apparently there are more farming exhibits for the museum but no place to show them – so sadly they are in storage. The charming museum building had been the vicars stables, behind the church, which itself had been very small at one time, but enlarged over the centuries. One church warden is commemorated even though he was a brandy smuggler who hid his booty in the church roof. When the weight of the brandy caused the roof and walls to collapse, his identity was discovered, because his son had written down all the activities in his diary! I believe this church warden was transported to Australia!

This sculpture was in the graveyard at St Georges Church, Langton Mantravers, Dorset
The village of Langton Mantravers housed the quarry workers who toiled in the quarries along the cliffs nearby

We ended our nosey mosey at the remains of the coastal quarry at Langton Mantravers. Called Dancing Ledge I think this quarry got its name because of the scrambling and balancing needed to get across and down to the edge of the sea. It really is like dancing when you have to look so closely at where you are putting your feet!

Dancing Ledge is tricky to climb down to - but well worth the effort
The authorities have blasted out a pool in the stone to make it safe to swim

The sun shone on the glittering waves and baked the quarry stone. Some rugged types jumped into a hole which had been blasted by dynamite to allow people to swim without chancing the dangerous tides. Dorset – what a place!

Two Times A Ghost – The Battle of Olney Bridge

Oh the English Summer – what a joy to burble about on a Sunday dreaming of the England of yester-year…oh how my mind is haunted…..

To explain – I was going for a walk to Emberton because it was a nice day and I had spent too long slaving over a hot computer (so hot it got stuck). This was the first visit for me and the last outing for my baseball boots which had, like all my other cheap footwear, given up the ghost. But not before I met some ghosts of my own.

The way to the country park (read campsite) was over a bridge. On the bridge I paused because I saw a plaque, and the plaque said that on the bridge back in 1643 The Battle of Olney Bridge took place. This had my blood racing, for I realized that at this place I was in the land of my ancestors.

To explain, from being a Family Tree enthusiast I knew that at least one or two of my family were involved in the English Civil War. Unfortunately though, the more I learn about it, the more questions are thrown up because during a Civil War records are not kept properly, if at all.

The connections hinge on one Sir Samuel Luke who was the head honcho at the Newport Pagnell barracks. He was a staunch parliamentarian and Puritan – to the point that some wit wrote a satirical poem about him in a rather unflattering way. (‘Hudibras’ published after the restoration of the monarchy in 1663, by Samuel Butler, was basically a mock heroic poem criticising the Puritans, later the style was called ‘Burlesques’. He actually worked as a secretary for Sir Samuel Luke – its as if he was stalking him for a literary attack in his own home!)

Sir Samuel Luke was also the squire at the Manor of Haynes, the residence of my folks in the early 1600s. Being a smallish place the gentry would have known and employed the village people. By 1643 the Luke family had been in Haynes for two generations and my family would also have been there for two generations. Or would they?

The investigation began when I got home – the family tree at that time has some unknowns which had not been untangled, and I tried yet again to make sense of the information!

Richard (1)of Shillington, Born 1586, married a lass (Marie) in 1612 and went to live in Haynes :

It is possible that Richard (1) was the father of Matthias (1), born in B1628 Haynes (Son of Richard) but this sits badly with the surviving records of the siblings of Matthius(1). The clues to geneology are all in the names:

Richard 1)’s oldest child was Alice born 1614, named after Marie’s mother. The next child was named Thomas, possibly after Richard1s brother. Then a birth in 1619, with no name, then in 1622 Joan – the name of Richard (1)’s grandmother. A child that died as a baby was named John, probably because he was not expected to survive.Then in 1624 the initial A only – no parents named, may have been another Alice, and then at last the child with his fathers name, in 1627 a Richard. The youngest child may have been Matthius born 1628.

But the records are a jumble – nearby places show evidence of an extended family with other Richards having kids – and there are two more births recorded in Haynes having Richard as a father – which would make Richard (1) 47 when his last child was born. Not likely, but not impossible.

What is pretty certain is that Richard (1) would have been 42 when Matthias (1) was born. And this raises the question as to whether there was an unrecorded birth of a Richard (2) around the time that Richard (1) and Marie were married in 1612, their first child. This makes sense name-wise as Richard (2) would have been the eldest son with his fathers name.

The theory failed a little when I considered that if Richard (2) was born in 1612 he would only be 16 when his son Matthius (1) was born in 1628 – a young age and not following the pattern of eldest son named after the father.

But then I had to consider that a year before, the records show a Richard born in 1627, son of Richard and I wondered if this could be Richard (2)’s son, thus suggesting that Richard (2) DID exist, but was born BEFORE Richard and Marie were married in 1612 – say perhaps in 1610 (his father, Richard (1) would have been 24 years old). And Richard (2) would have been 17 when his eldest son Richard was born in 1627, brother of my ancestor Matthius (1) born 1628.

This date fits with the other dates and perhaps Richard (2) was born in another place and had his mothers surname before changing it to his fathers after they were married which is why he was not discovered in the records. Great detective work, I thought I could live with this theory!

Information from  the Parish Records of Bedfordshire
The records were not kept properly during the Civil War

But it didnt stop there of course! Confidently I decided to tackle the information I had about Matthius 1 (born 1628 in Haynes)

The records at Haynes show Matthius (1) had children, but do not mention his marriage or his wife.Again there was no eldest son named after his father Matthius. Things were looking messy again.

What I can say is that Matthius (1) was fifteen at the time of the Battle of Olney Bridge – and I am pretty sure that he was there (and obviously survived). His father may have been there – whether it was Richard (2) who would have been about 33 years old, or Richard (1) who would have been 57 had he still been alive. So there may have been one generation of my family there, or there could have been two, or three. What fascinates me is that Richard (2) is a ghost on my family tree and also a ghost of Olney Bridge. Maybe one day I will come across a record somewhere that will allow me to really see him….

Portrait by Gerard Soest, now at the Moot Hall Museum, Elstow, Bedford
Sir Samuel Luke Lived in Haynes and Cople in Bedfordshire during and after the English Civil War.

Ice Cream and Iron Age Huts

The hot summer sun eventually slid from behind the clouds and the sky changed from a blue bruise, to the blue that accompanies lashings of ginger beer. A quest was sort, a quest was made, but nothing from the quest was gained. Not materially anyway!

To explain – the Reckless Relic fraternity set out for a carboot and on arrival at the country farm destination – no one had ever heard of it!

I believe it happens frequently that someone has a good idea, tells the world via the internet, then forgets to let the world know when the idea falls through. So on a lovely hot
day we ended up in a nature reserve, the fish were jumping, the kids were playing and someone had slapped together a reconstructed iron age hut that looked like it would probably dissolve in the next squall of wind and rain. We spotted some heavy duty screws and some plastic, so I predict it will be half the disaster it could have been, but on the day of its demise it is still going to look right sorry.

In the nature reserve - hut held together with big screws
A quest was sort, a quest was made, but nothing from the quest was gained

I sometimes wonder how people managed back in those days – what a hard, short life. Nothing like the constant pressure of survival to make a person value what little they own and what little time they had got on the planet. Our ancestors would scoff at us for our little gripes about trivial things.

Mind you – I bet they wouldn’t have said no to a minty Cornetto – you know the day can’t have been a dead loss when ice cream is involved!