A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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Swineshead was formerly in Huntingdonshire, but in 1888 it was transferred to Bedfordshire, to which county it has always geographically belonged. There are 1,353½ acres in the parish, of which 405½ are arable land, 551 permanent grass and 120¾ woods and plantations. (fn. 1) The soil is loam and gravel, and the subsoil mainly blue galt. The chief crops grown are wheat, barley, beans and peas. The main part of this parish has a level surface, but on the eastern border, where the road from Yelden enters it, there is a considerable rise, while the land also rises slightly to the northward. The parish is well wooded, Swineshead and Spanoak Woods in the northern portion covering a considerable area. There is also a small wood called Tarbags in the south-east, forming a part of Melchbourne Park.
The village is in the west of the parish and lies low. The houses of which it consists are mostly old, the Three Horse Shoes Inn dating from the early 17th century. The cottages are of brick and timber, with tiled and thatched roofs. The present rectory, a modern building, is on the south of the road as it enters the village from the west. The former rectory, now used as a farm-house, is an ancient plastered building of brick and timber opposite the church. When it was undergoing restoration in 1864 a copy of the Solemn League and Covenant (signed by the then rector of Swineshead) was discovered in the roof, where perhaps it may have been hidden by the cautious rector of the time. (fn. 2)
Swineshead was inclosed by Act of Parliament in 1803. (fn. 3)
In 1086 the men of Huntingdonshire swore that King Edward gave Swineshead to Earl Siward of Northumbria (c. 1055) with sake and soke, 'save that (the men) paid geld in the hundred and went against the enemy with them.' (fn. 4) This entry is of high importance, for it suggests that the men of an immunist would normally pay their geld in his manor as well as follow his banner to the fyrd. Instead of passing to Waltheof son of Siward, it would seem that this property became annexed as sokeland to Earl Harold's manor of Kimbolton, and in 1086 3½ hides were held of that soke, then in the possession of William de Warenne, by a certain Eustace, who is probably the well-known Sheriff of Huntingdonshire. From 1227 to about 1293 (fn. 5) it was held of the Bohun family, Earls of Hereford and Essex, but about the latter year the Bohuns became seised of the property, and hence-forward it was held in chief of the king. (fn. 6) The earliest tenants of whom mention has been found bear the name of the manor. Walter de Swineshead in 1163 is recorded as owing 2 marks for a trespass in the king's forests (fn. 7); possibly this is the same Walter de Swineshead who granted land to the priory of Chicksands. (fn. 8) Another Walter de Swineshead was one of the jurors summoned for the determination of the boundaries of the king's Huntingdonshire forest in 1244. (fn. 9) It then reverted to Humphrey de Bohun Earl of Hereford and Essex, the overlord, who granted it for a term of years to Geoffrey de Skeffington, (fn. 10) from whom it passed to Isabel la Erchtdehene, who in 1276 sublet it to William de Castre for four years. (fn. 11) In 1279 Walter son of Ralf de Swineshead was a minor, and William de Castre as his guardian held the Swineshead property as one knight's fee. (fn. 12) No further mention has been found of Walter, but in 1290 his mother Isabella sued the Prior of Huntingdon and Peter de Herdwick for pasturing live stock on land of hers in Swineshead, which they claimed to be common land. (fn. 13) Three years later, on the outlawry of Robert de Swineshead, probably a brother of Walter, for felony, the manor of Swineshead came into the king's hands for a year and a day. (fn. 14) By 1294 it had reverted to Humphrey de Bohun, who, on his departure for Gascony on the king's service, in that year granted it (here assessed at 2 carucates) for life to Bartholomew de Enfield, who was accompanying him. (fn. 15) The reversion of the manor was conveyed in 1315 by the said Humphrey to his son William de Bohun, afterwards Earl of Northampton. (fn. 16) The further history of this manor is until 1610 the same as that of Hardwick Manor in Tilbrook parish (q.v.). In 1610 Sir James Wingfield received a lease of Swineshead, (fn. 17) while five years later the reversion was granted to Sir Henry Montagu. (fn. 18) Sir Henry was in 1626 created first Earl of Manchester (fn. 19); his son Edward, the well-known Parliamentarian general, succeeded him, whilst his grandson Charles, afterwards first Duke of Manchester, (fn. 20) was lord of Swineshead Manor in 1684. (fn. 21) The manor has remained in the hands of the Dukes of Manchester down to the present day.
In 1086 Tursa held half a hide in Swineshead of Eustace the sheriff. (fn. 22) It is probable that this land was later merged in the larger holding that Eustace held of William de Warenne, and followed the same descent as the manor of Swineshead (q.v.).
Swineshead was within the metes of the king's forest of Huntingdonshire. (fn. 23) As mentioned above, Walter de Swineshead was in 1163 fined 2 marks for trespassing therein. (fn. 24) King John granted the forest of Swineshead with all forest rights to Geoffrey Fitz Piers Earl of Essex. (fn. 25) In 1279 the wood that formed part of the demesne of Swineshead Manor was stated to be a league in circumference. (fn. 26) An annual forest court called 'Swanimote' was appurtenant to the manor, (fn. 27) and was usually held in Hardwick Wood. (fn. 28) William de Bohun Earl of Northampton was granted rights of free warren in Swineshead in 1328. (fn. 29)
Walter de Swineshead granted to the priory of Chicksands 80 acres of arable land with 3 acres of pasture, which they held in 1279. (fn. 30) In 1535 the possessions of Chicksands Priory in Swineshead were valued at 30s. (fn. 31)
The church of ST. NICHOLAS consists of chancel 23 ft. 10 in. long by 13 ft. 8 in. wide, nave 42 ft. long by 14 ft. 8 in. wide, north aisle 8 ft. 4 in. wide, south aisle 8 ft. wide, and west tower 8 ft. square, all internal measurements.
The church seems to have been begun about 1330, and carried through with one alteration, the substitution of a west tower for one at first arranged for at the north-west. It was probably finished about 1360, the only later additions being the nave clearstory and the vestry and passage at the east of the north aisle. The chancel walling is of pebbles and oolite rubble, and that of the rest of the church, where not ashlar-faced, is of the oolite rubble alone, with a few pieces of ironstone; the aisles have plain parapets with a string of ball flowers and heads beneath, and the clearstory is embattled.
The chancel is divided into two bays by narrow buttresses of three stages, and in each bay is a pointed window of two lights, with modern tracery of early 14th-century style, except in the south-west window, where the old tracery is preserved with the original glass in the head of the window. All have internal jamb shafts and moulded rear arches with foliate or moulded capitals. The east window of like style is of three lights, with no old work except in the jambs and rear arch. On either side of it are contemporary image brackets carried on human heads.
In the north wall is a fine 14th-century tomb recess with a moulded arch, the inner order cinquefoiled with feathered cusps and carved spandrels, and shafts in each jamb with foliate capitals; through the west end of the recess a shouldered doorway opens to a narrow passage running westward outside the chancel wall to the vestry at the east end of the north aisle. The passage has a low stone roof below the sill of the north-west window, lighted by a small quatrefoiled opening.
In the east jamb of the south-west window is a trefoiled piscina recess, and the sill of the window is stepped down to serve as sedilia. There is a plain south doorway, and to the west of the south-west window a small square-headed low-side window with an internal rebate. The original chancel arch and east wall of the nave have been taken away for the insertion of the existing 15th-century screen, and a chamfered arch spans the chancel just to the east of the line of the destroyed wall. Its inner order springs from corbels, one carved as a man, evidently in acute internal discomfort, and the other an unpleasantly realistic figure of a man who has driven a sword into his body up to the hilt. The two-story vestry at the east end of the north aisle and the passage to it are also works of this date.
The nave has arcades of three bays of two chamfered orders, and a label with octagonal pillars and moulded capitals and bases; in place of a second pillar on the south side is a pier with responds, and the springing of an arch on its north face; this was to have been the south-east pier of the projected north-west tower, which would have taken up the west bay of the north aisle. The clearstory has four windows a side, each of two trefoiled lights. The rood stair was in the east end of the south aisle, and a second doorway led from the loft to an upper room over the east end of the north aisle. Probably both the upper and lower rooms have served as vestries; in the lower there are a piscina of 14th-century date and a line in the wall east of it, showing that the 14th-century east wall of the aisle was some 6 ft. westward of that now existing. The vestries were lighted by single windows in the east wall, the upper trefoiled and the lower square, and in the north wall of the lower vestry is a blocked recess, probably once a cupboard.
The north aisle has three square-headed north windows with trefoiled lights and a doorway of two continuous moulded orders. Under its north-east window is a square locker. The north wall at the west is 4 ft. thick, setting out on the outer face 16 in. beyond the rest of the wall.
The east end of the south aisle is blocked by an organ, behind which a central canopied niche is hidden. In the south wall are three pointed windows, each of two trefoiled lights, with a quatrefoil in the head, and the west window is a square-headed 15th-century insertion of two cinquefoiled lights.
In the jamb of the south-east window is a piscina. The south doorway is of two continuous moulded orders with a crocketed niche above, and the south porch is of the same date, with a chamfered outer arch of two orders, the inner having moulded capitals to its responds. On the east and west sides are stone benches and small square-headed windows, round which the string which runs under the aisle windows breaks to form a label. The tower is in four stages, with pairs of angle buttresses dying out below the belfry stage, and a stair at the south-west. It has a plain stone spire and a parapet of pierced quatrefoils with gargoyles at the angles. The belfry windows are in pairs—two-light windows with trefoiled heads and a quatrefoil over.
The west doorway has continuous mouldings, and over it a shallow porch with an embattled gable and flanking pinnacles, and over its outer arch a small trefoiled niche; above is a three-light window with modern tracery of 15th-century style, and above that is a square-headed trefoiled light. The stair is lighted by one of the small cross-shaped slits common in the neighbourhood.
The font at the north-west of the nave is octagonal, and perhaps coeval with the church. The chancel roof is modern, but that of the south aisle is probably original, with a moulded purlin running its full length. The nave aisle roof is very plain, but perhaps also old, and the nave roof bears a date 1841, though much of it is probably 15th-century work, and marks on the purlins of the east bay suggest fixing for a panelled ceiling over the rood.
The screen is a pretty piece of 15th-century design, with two traceried openings on each side of the doorway and remains of tracery and colour in the lower panels; against its east side are a set of returned stalls, some of the arms and misericordes of which, simple moulded brackets, are old.
In front of the tomb recess in the chancel, and probably turned out of it when the 15th-century doorway was inserted, is a large Purbeck marble slab, cut short at the west end, inscribed ' + RICHARD AYTROP GIST IC [1 DEV] DE SALME EYT MERCI AMEN.' There is also a 14th-century coffin slab in the chancel floor with a cross.
The earliest mention of the advowson of Swineshead Church occurs in 1279, (fn. 34) when it was the property of Ralf de Swineshead. The descent of it is the same as that of the manor (q.v.).
It is probable that the church underwent repair towards the end of the 14th century, as Bishop Buckingham notes a charge against some of the parishioners of Swineshead, that they refused to contribute towards the fabric of the church, (fn. 38) whilst in 1398 Pope Boniface granted a relaxation to those parishioners who contributed regularly to the conservation of the parish church. (fn. 39)
A quaint entry in Bishop Repingdon's memoranda records how Joan widow of John Annesley, in an early year of the 15th century, restrained the parishioners of Swineshead from making offerings to the parish church on the occasion of her husband's funeral. (fn. 40)
This parish appears to be entitled to participate in the charity of Joseph Neale. (See under parish of Dean. (fn. 41) )