Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for BEDFORDSHIRE, or Beds

BEDFORDSHIRE, or Beds, an inland county; bounded on the NW by Northampton, on the NE by Huntingdon, on the E by Cambridge, on the SE and the S by Herts, and on the SW and W by Bucks. Its length southward is 35 miles; its greatest breadth, 22½ miles; its circuit, about 145 miles; and its area 295,582 acres. The general aspect is diversified and pleasing. The surface in the centre, called the vale of Bedford, is prevailingly flat and luxuriant; in the SW, hilly, a portion of the Chilterns, commanding extensive views; on the flanks of the vale of Bedford and in the N, hillocky and rolling; and in other parts, a mixture of swells and flats. The chief rivers are the Ouse, the Ivel, the Hiz, the Ousel, and the Lea. The prevailing rocks in the S, up to Houghton-Regis and Barton-in the-Clay, are chalk; those of a belt about 7 miles broad, east-north-eastward from Eaton-Bray and Leighton-Buzzard, are upper greensand and ganlt; those of a belt of similar but more irregular breadth immediately N of this, are lower greensand; those of the tracts further N and NE, including most of the vale of Bedford, are middle oolite, variously coral rag, calcareous grit, and Oxford clay; and those of a small tract along the Ouse N of Bedford, and of another small tract continuous with this in the extreme NW, are lower oolite, variously forest marble, Bradford clay, and fuller's earth. Chalk, under the name of clunch, is burnt for lime; freestone is quarried at Tattenhoe; a little iron stone is found; fuller's earth, of economical value, was formerly raised in Aspley-Guise; and a few grains of gold were once obtained at Pulloxhill. Mineral springs occur at Bedford, Bletsoe, Bromham, Clapham, Cranfield, Milton-Ernest, Odell, and Turvey. The climate is mild and genial, the prevailing winds south-westerly

The soil is very various and mixed; and occasions diversity of husbandry. A very thin soil lies on most of the chalk hills; a mixed sand prevails from Woburn to the vicinity of Biggleswade; a rich gravelly loam lies along much of the Ouse and the Ivel; and a clayey soil, often very fertile, prevails throughout the vale of Bedford and the N. About 84,000 acres are in tillage; some small tracts are in market-gardens; about 168,000 acres are pasture; and a considerable extent, but not so large as formerly, is woodland. The system of agriculture was much improved through the exertions of the late Duke of Bedford. The average size of farms is less than 200 acres. The chief crops raised are wheat, barley, turnips, oats, and beans. Large quantities of vegetables, butter, and cheese, are sent to market. The cattle are of a mixed breed, and estimated at 200,000. The produce in wool is reckoned at 4,250 packs. Husbandry employs a larger proportion of the population than in almost any other tract of equal extent in England. Manufactures are confined chiefly to pillow-lace, straw-plat, rush-mats, and agricultural implements. The Great Northern railway traverses the eastern district, northward from Hitchin; and sends off a branch to Potton. The Midland railway, deflecting from the former at Hitchin, goes north-westward, through the centre of the county, toward Leicester. The Northwestern railway impinges on the county at Leighton-Buzzard; and sends off thence a branch eastward to Luton. The Bletchley and Bedford railway strikes o from the Northwestern at Bletchley; goes north-eastward to Bedford; and is prolonged thence to Cambridge. The Bedford and Northampton railway was in progress, but not completed, at June 1869. The turnpike roads have an aggregate of about 240 miles, and are under eleven trusts; and the revenue from them, as reported in 1859, was £5,163.

Bedfordshire contains 122 parishes, parts of 3 other parishes, and 2 extra-parochial tracts; and is divided into the borough of Bedford and the hundreds of Barford, Biggleswade, Clifton, Flitt, Manshead, Redbornestoke, Stodden, Willey, and Wixantree. The registration county differs from the electoral one; includes 10 parishes of Bucks, and 1 parish and parts of 2 others of Herts; excludes 1 parish to Herts, 3 parishes to Northampton, and 7 parishes to Huntingdon; comprises 305,366 acres; and is divided into the districts of Bedford, Biggleswade, Ampthill, Woburn, Leighton-Buzzard, and Luton. The county town is Bedford: and the market-towns are Bedford, Dunstable, Ampthill, Biggleswade, Harrold, Leighton-Buzzard, Luton, Potton, Toddington, and Woburn. The chief seats are Woburn-Abbey, Luton-Hoo, Oakley House, Silsoe Park, hawnes House, Ampthill House, Old Warden Park, Battlesden Park, Chicksand Priory, Milton-Bryant, Sutton Park, Aspley-Guise, Bromham House, Bushmead Priory, Colwarth House, the Hasels, Henlow Grange, Hexton Hall, Houghton-Regis, Hinwick House, Howbury Park, Ickwellbury, Moggerhanger, Southhill, Stockwood, Stratton, Tempsford, and Turvey. Real property in 1815, £364,277; in 1843, £517,474; in 1860, £619,836.

The county is governed by a lord-lieutenant, a high sheriff, about 36 deputy-lieutenants, and 160 magistrates. It is in the Home military district, and in the Norfolk judicial circuit. The assizes and quarter sessions are held at Bedford. The police force includes 82 men for the county and 13 for Bedford borough. The only prison is the county jail at Bedford. The crimes, in 1864, were 116 in the county and 34 in the borough; the persons apprehended, 109 in the county and 24 in the borough; the number of depredators or suspected persons at large, 699 in the county and 98 in the borough; the houses of bad character, 114 in the county and 14 in the borough. The county, exclusive of the borough, sends two members to parliament; and the electors in 1868 were 4,845. It was formerly in the diocese of Lincoln, but is now in the diocese of Ely; and it constitutes an archdeaconry, comprising six deaneries. The poor-rates for the registration county in 1863 were £75,376. Marriages in 1866, 1,168,-of which 194 were not according to the rites of the Established church; births, 5,085,-of which 416 were illegitimate; deaths, 3,104,-of which 1,351 were at ages under 5 years, and 67 at ages above 85 years. The places of worship within the electoral county in 1851 were 133 of the Church of England, with 42,557 sittings; 19 of Independents, with 5,827 s.; 55 of Baptists, with 14,902 s: 3 of Quakers, with 622 s.; 3 of Moravians, with 840 s.; 78 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 16,736 s.; 18 of Primitive Methodists, with 2,490 s.; 1 of Brethren, with 500 s.; 11 of isolated congregations, with 3,021 s.; 1 of the Catholic and Apostolic church, with 80 s.; 3 of Latter Day Saints, with 240 s.; 1 of Roman Catholics, with 21 s.; and 1 of Jews, with 20 s. The schools were 120 public day schools, with 9,863 scholars; 157 private day schools, with 3,140 s.; 243 Sunday schools, with 24,753 s.; and 22 evening schools for adults, with 652 s. Pop. in 1801, 63,393: in 1821, 84,052; in 1841, 107,936; in 1861, 135,287. Inhabited houses, 27,422; uninhabited, 753; building, 139.

The territory now forming Bedfordshire was inhabited, in the primitive times, by the tribe called Cassii. It became part of the Roman Britannia Superior; afterwards part of the Britannia Prima; afterwards, in 310, part of the Flavia Cæsariensis. It belonged, in the time of the heptarchy, to the kingdom of Mercia; and became subject, in 827, to the Saxons. And it first took the name of Bedford in the reign of Alfred the Great. Icknieldstreet crosses its southern extremity eastward over the chalk hills. Watling-street crosses its south-western extremity north-westward through Dunstable and near Battlesdon. A Roman road, coming in from Baldock, traverses the eastern extremity to Potton. British, Roman, Saxon, and Danish remains occur near Dunstable, near Sandy, near Hexton, at the Maiden Bower, at Tottenhoe, Arlesby, Biggleswade, Bradford, and other places Earthworks, ruins, or other vestiges of ancient castles may be seen at Bedford, Risinghoe, Cainhoe, Bletsoe, Ridgmont, Meppershall, Puddington, and Thurleigh. An old cross stands at Leighton-Buzzard; a famous priory stood at Dunstable; 14 other monastic houses stood in other places; and some of the old existing churches, particularly those of Luton, Elstow, Eaton-Bray, Felmersham, and Puddington exhibit interesting features of ancient architecture.

(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "an inland county"   (ADL Feature Type: "countries, 2nd order divisions")
Administrative units: Bedfordshire AncC
Place names: BEDFORDSHIRE     |     BEDFORDSHIRE OR BEDS     |     BEDS
Place: Bedfordshire

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