A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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Wilden is a parish of 2,265 acres, of which 1,026¾ are arable land, 1,111 permanent grass and 4¾ woods and plantations. (fn. 1) The slope of the ground is irregular, and varies from 246 ft., the highest point above ordnance datum, in the north to 127 ft. in the east of the village, where the land lies low. The soil is clay and loam variously distributed, the subsoil Oxford clay. The principal crops produced are wheat, oats and barley.
Wilden village, which is somewhat straggling, is situated in a hollow mainly in the centre of the parish, having the parish church of St. Nicholas, standing in a graveyard surrounded by trees, as a nucleus. In the 15th century, and probably a great deal earlier, it would appear that there were the same outlying residential districts as at the present day. Thus reference has been found in a Court Roll of 1499 to ditches left unscoured by the inhabitants of 'Seywick' or 'Sewyk End,' known at the present day as Sewick End, and including a farm-house and a few scattered houses. Smartwick, a small settlement, now consisting of a farm-house, cottages and public-house in the north of the parish, is also mentioned at the same date. (fn. 2) East End, lying about 1 mile east of Wilden and south of the main road from Roxton, was also a hamlet, certainly as early as the 15th century. Wilden village proper appears as 'le Church End,' a name which survives in Church End Farm. Outlying districts which have now disappeared are Overwyk in the 13th century, (fn. 3) Hudwyk, Lemerestwik and Ruddoks (probably Redwick) Green, which appear in the 15th century. It is interesting to note, in explanation of the unusual number of hamlets found in this comparatively small parish, that in the time of the Confessor Wilden was owned by twenty-four sokemen, these various districts possibly marking their 'wics' or dwelling-places.
At the present day Wilden lies north and south of the road from Roxton. The cottages are of brick and are of varying date; the older ones have tiled and thatched roofs, the more modern have slate. South Brook runs almost parallel with the road, and is crossed at intervals by foot-bridges. One such is mentioned in 1499, and was known as 'le Parsons Bryg.' The rector was summoned by the lord of the manor at this date because it was in an exceedingly ruinous condition and a source of common danger. He was ordered, under a severe penalty, to repair it before a given date. (fn. 4) There is a small foot-bridge at the present day near the rectory grounds, which probably marks the site of this ancient one. Approaching the village from the east Brook Farm stands on the north of the road. Some little distance further west is the parish church of St. Nicholas, with the Manor Farm, a 17th-century brick building with a tiled roof, on the opposite side. The rectory is pleasantly situated in its own grounds opposite the church. The distance between the stream and the road here widens, and the houses stand some little distance off the main road. Well on the western outskirts of the village, and on the east side of the road, is Crowhill Farm.
There is no industry connected with this parish, and the inhabitants are principally engaged in agricultural pursuits. It was inclosed in 1811 by Act of Parliament, at which time the common and open fields were estimated at 1,006 acres. (fn. 5)
At the time of the Survey WILDEN MANOR, assessed at 5 hides, belonged to the Bishop of Bayeux. (fn. 6) On his death in 1097 the overlordship of Wilden reverted to the Crown, and became attached to the king's honour of Peverel, the manor being held by service of one knight's fee. (fn. 7) The latest mention of the overlordship has been found in 1492. (fn. 8)
In 1086 Herbert held this manor of the bishop, having as under-tenant his nephew Hugh, (fn. 9) from whom it appears to have passed some time in the following century to the family of St. Remy. This family, which was of Norman extraction, also held land in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and other counties. In 1164–5 Robert de St. Remy paid 4 marks into the Exchequer for land held in the first-named county, and in 1175–6 and succeeding years owed £100 'pro foresta' on behalf of himself and his sons. (fn. 10) It is not until 1204 that we find the name connected with Wilden. In that year, probably during the minority of William de St. Remy, who appears to have succeeded Robert here as elsewhere, (fn. 11) the Sheriff of Bedford was ordered to pay 15 librates of the land lately belonging to Robert and Richard de St. Remy to James St. Clare. (fn. 12) In 1206–7 another grant of Robert de St. Remy's lands was made to Peter de Manley 'to maintain himself in the king's service,' (fn. 13) but a year later William de St. Remy appears to have entered into possession certainly of part (fn. 14) of his ancestral property. (fn. 15) He died c. 1224, in which year his widow Cecilia received an assignment of dower in Wilden, (fn. 16) and also on payment of £10 received the wardship of her husband's daughters. (fn. 17) Of these Agnes married Ralph Ridel, and Elena John de Pabenham (whose family has been traced in Pavenham, (fn. 18) q.v.), the dual heirship leading to a temporary division of the property. With regard to the moiety which passed to Agnes, John Ridel her son is found holding in 1286–7, (fn. 19) and again in 1302–3. (fn. 20) He died without direct heirs in 1313, when by arrangement with Henry Tilly and Matilda (who represented Ralph Ridel's family) and John de Pabenham (whose claim rested on his relationship to Agnes de St. Remy) the former took lands in Huntingdonshire, whilst the latter acquired the Wilden property, thus reuniting the moieties. (fn. 21)
After its acquisition by the Pabenhams Wilden Manor follows the same descent as those manors held by that family in Pavenham and Carlton (q.v.). Its history diverges from that of Pavenham on the alienation of the latter in 1340 to Thomas de Pabenham. Like Carlton, Wilden Manor passed to Margery daughter of James de Pabenham, who some time before 1388 married William Huggeford, (fn. 22) and so, by the marriage of their daughter Alice and Thomas Lucy, to the latter family. It was retained by the Lucys till 1569, when Sir Thomas Lucy alienated it to Thomas Rolt. (fn. 23) For nearly 200 years the Rolts, who were a branch of the Milton-Ernest family, held Wilden Manor. Thomas Rolt died at Wilden in 1617, (fn. 24) and was followed by John Rolt, probably his son, whose son Thomas received the freedom of the manor in 1630. (fn. 25) One of his name made a settlement of the manor in 1664, (fn. 26) and yet another Thomas Rolt, clerk, died at Wilden in 1695. It is difficult to state with certainty that he was lord of the manor. In his will, which was proved the same year, he leaves his real and personal estate to his wife Elizabeth, £100 to 'my relations at Milton Ernest,' 50s. to the poor of Wilden and minor bequests. (fn. 27) Thomas Rolt, a later member of this family, made in 1727 a settlement of the manor, (fn. 28) which he sold five years later to Sarah Duchess of Marlborough. (fn. 29) She died in 1744, and it was purchased from her family by the Duke of Bedford, whose successors continued to hold the manor till about 1837, when it became the property of the family of Chalk, (fn. 30) from whom it has passed within recent years to the Rev. Norman Ramsay, rector of Radclive, Bucks.
An estate which once formed part of the original manor, and which is also called WILDEN MANOR, is found in this parish in the 13th century. As shown above, Peter de Manley received in 1206–7 a temporary grant of the St. Remy lands in Wilden. In 1224 (the same year in which Cecilia de St. Remy received her dower and the wardship of the St. Remy co-heirs in Wilden) Ralph Tirell received a grant 'for as long as the king pleased' of lands in Wilden which Peter de Manley had held. (fn. 31) In 1232 a further grant to him is found of half a knight's fee, which would represent one-half the original manor. It is here stated that it formerly belonged to Robert de St. Remy, and in the event of its restoration to the heirs of the original owner, Ralph Tirell or his heirs was to receive a reasonable exchange in wards and escheats. (fn. 32) Peter Tirell held this fee at the time of the Testa. (fn. 33) He died c. 1246, when his brother and heir Thomas paid 50s. relief. (fn. 34) Thomas Tirell died in 1264, and the inquisition then taken states that his fee (which included one messuage, 100 acres in demesne, 9 acres of wood and 40s. 3¾d. rent) was held of the king in chief by service of finding one esquire with hauberk, sword and lance for forty days at his own costs in the king's army. (fn. 35) His heir was his son Ralph, then aged sixteen. In 1270 a further inquisition is found concerning Thomas Tirell's property (here called Wilden Manor) probably on the coming of age of his son. It was then worth £9 3s. 9¼d., including 2 virgates worth 6 marks, held in villeinage. (fn. 36) In 1286–7 Ralph Tirell held half of the township of Wilden, the remaining half being the property of John de Pabenham and John Ridel. He is declared at this time to have alienated much of his lands to tenants without licence. (fn. 37) Ralph Tirell held the same fee in 1302–3. (fn. 38) His daughter Alice married William de Norton, (fn. 39) and appears to have received part of this property in dower, for in 1313 she and her husband received pardon for acquiring without licence 15 acres of land and 30s. 4½d. rent in Wilden from Ralph Tirell. (fn. 40) William de Norton's name occurs in the feudal assessment of 1316 for Wilden. (fn. 41) Ralph Tirell died about two years later, being then found to hold one messuage, 27 acres of arable land, 2 acres of meadow, 1 acre of pasture, 12d. and ½ lb. pepper rents, which passed to his heir Alice de Norton. (fn. 42) In 1323–4 William de Norton and his wife granted their manor of Wilden to John de Pabenham, thus reuniting the original property in a single ownership. (fn. 43)
A small property, known as SEXTON'S MANOR, appears in this parish in the 16th century. It appears to have been originally part of Wilden Manor, and to have been leased by Sir Thomas Lucy in 1566 to William Wagstaffe for the term of 1,000 years. (fn. 44) George Wagstaffe, who held this property at his death in 1601, was son of William Wagstaffe. (fn. 45) The family continued to hold this property down to the 19th century. Lysons mentions their manor, and their name, as owning land in the parish, occurs in the Inclosure Act of 1811. (fn. 46)
In the early part of the 13th century a family called Blunt owned land in Wilden, whose descent can be traced for more than one hundred years. This land, formerly part of Wilden Manor, was acquired by William Blunt previous to 1313 from Ralph and Thomas Tirell, (fn. 47) and was held of the king as of the honour of Peverel by service of 1 lb. of pepper and 1 lb. of cummin yearly. (fn. 48) William Blunt appears to have acquired originally without licence, for which omission it was taken into the king's hands. (fn. 49) In 1315 his son John Blunt paid a fine to the Crown, and the property, extended at 1 virgate 18 acres of land, 4 acres of meadow and 15d. rent, was accordingly restored to him. (fn. 50) In 1360 one Richard Blunt, whose relationship to the above John has not been established, granted this property in trust to Richard Chamberlain. (fn. 51) Blunt died in 1377, at which time the messuage and land were worth 9s. 4d. (fn. 52) He left a natural son William White and a married daughter Agnes Morice, whose maiden name was also White. (fn. 53) The consequent irregularity in the succession led to further inquisitions regarding Richard Blunt's property. Agnes Morice was declared to be the rightful heir in 1389–90, (fn. 54) and again in 1391, to the exclusion of William White. (fn. 55) A partition was arranged, however, for on the death of William White in 1401 he held two crofts and land in Wilden worth 4s. yearly, to which his son Thomas White succeeded. (fn. 56) Agnes Morice died in 1417, when her share passed to her son John Morice. (fn. 57) Thomas White died in the same year, and, as his nearest kin was his cousin John Morice, the moieties of this property became once more joined in a single ownership, though no further evidence of its descent can be traced. (fn. 58)
In 1279 Hugh Wygod, who owned a messuage and 12 acres of land in Wilden, committed felony and was outlawed. The constables of Wilden seized the land, which was held of Ralph Tirell, the lord of the manor, and others, (fn. 59) and it was subsequently held 'for a year and a day and more' by the king. (fn. 60) This is interesting, because nearly 250 years later Richard Smyth died seised of a tenement called 'Wygoods' with 30 acres of inclosed land in Sewick End, held of the lord of the manor by socage, 2s. rent and 1 lb. of cummin. (fn. 61)
The Abbot of Warden owned a small property in this parish which had its origin in a grant made to the abbey in 1275–6 by Bartholomew Newman and Cecilia his wife. (fn. 62) In 1287 and again in 1330 the abbot was declared to have claimed unlawfully view of frankpledge from his tenants in Wilden. (fn. 63) In 1291 the property was worth £1 5s. (fn. 64) The abbot appears continually as a defaulting suitor at the court of the lord of Wilden Manor. (fn. 65) At the Dissolution 2 acres in this parish, lately belonging to Warden, were granted to John Gostwick, who acquired most of the Warden Abbey property. (fn. 66)
Other religious houses having interests in this parish were Bushmead, whose temporalities amounted at the Dissolution to 3s. 4d., Caldwell Priory, (fn. 67) and St. John's Hospital, Bedford, whose master claimed land here in 1532, of the gift of Robert and Richard de St. Remy. (fn. 68)
The church of ST. NICHOLAS consists of a chancel 30 ft. 6 in. by 15 ft. 2 in., with a modern north vestry, a nave 54 ft. 10 in. by 19 ft. 8 in., with a south porch and a west tower 8 ft. 6 in. square.
The western half of the south wall of the nave dates from c. 1340, and there is no evidence of earlier work except a 13th-century piscina in the chancel, which is probably reset. All the rest of the nave and chancel seems to have been rebuilt in the early part of the 15th century, and the tower and south porch are probably of much the same date. The walls of nave and chancel are in rubble of dark brown cobble-stones mixed with a little freestone, and the buttresses are ashlar-faced.
The chancel has a plain parapet and a moulded plinth, with diagonal buttresses at the eastern angles. The east window is of three cinquefoiled lights with 15th-century tracery, and there are two three-light windows of the same date in the south wall, each with two wide upright lights in the tracery. The sill of the south-east window is carried down to form a seat, and to the east of it is a large trefoiled piscina recess of the 13th century, with a modern wooden shelf. In the north wall near the chancel arch is a blocked square-headed 15th-century window of two cinquefoiled lights, and to the east of it is a modern doorway into the vestry. The chancel arch is in two chamfered orders with plainly moulded capitals to the inner order. The roof is of the 15th century and divided by a truss and secondary rafters into four bays; at the various intersections are carved bosses, and at the feet of the brackets to the trusses are angels.
The nave is lighted on either side, to the east of its north and south doorways, by two three-light windows like those in the chancel; to the west of the north doorway is a smaller 15th-century two-light window, and opposite to it a small 14th-century window with two trefoiled lights and leaf tracery. The north doorway is blocked; it is plain 15th-century work with continuous orders of two hollow chamfers, while the south doorway is good 14th-century work with continuous mouldings and a moulded label. There is a plain piscina at the south-east of the nave.
The porch is 15th-century work, but the head and the greater part of the jambs of its outer archway are new. In the east and west walls are cinquefoiled windows with square heads, and there are stone benches and the traces of a holy-water stone at the north-east corner.
The font stands at the west end of the nave, and is 15th-century work, with an octagonal bowl panelled on six sides, and having alternately a shield charged with a plain or flowered cross and tracery or flower patterns; the bowl rests on an octagonal shaft and base, and was repaired in 1837.
The tower, which is divided by strings into three stages, has an embattled parapet and diagonal buttresses at each angle. The west doorway is in two moulded orders, the outer forming a square head and the inner a pointed arch; the north spandrel is carved with foliage, and the other represents an owl in a tree. The west window is like those in the nave, and on each side of the top stage is a pointed window of two cinquefoiled lights with tracery and a transom; below this stage, on the north and south sides, are three square-headed windows with two cinquefoiled lights. The tower arch has three shafts in each jamb with moulded capitals and bases, carrying a moulded arch; it is now blocked and shut off entirely from the nave.
The communion table is of the 17th century, with panelled front and sides, having beneath it a large drawer. In the vestry is a finely-carved chest on turned legs and a bottom rail carrying a shelf: it is dated 1637. The doorway leading into the tower staircase is 15th-century work with tracery, and the south door of the nave has a good wrought-iron handle and circular scutcheon.
In the east window is a medley of glass of various dates, parts of 15th-century canopies, a figure of St. James, a head of our Lord, &c. The two large shields in this window appear to be fabrications, for, though they contain many quarters which are easily recognizable as the arms of well-known families, these are arranged in so haphazard a fashion that it seems impossible to refer the shields to any definite persons.
There are five bells: the treble of 1649; the second, a mediaeval London bell, c. 1460, by Henry Jurden, inscribed 'Sancta Katerina ora pro nobis'; the third by Hugh Watts, an undated alphabet bell; the fourth by Chandler, 1717; and the tenor by Hugh Watts, inscribed 'I.H.S. Nazarenus rex Iudeorum fili dei miserere mei 1637.' On the frame is cut 'AS: W.G: G 1650.'
There is a gap in the registers, where one book is missing: of those that remain, the first runs from 1545 to 1677; the second has baptisms and burials 1735 to 1812; the third marriages 1754 to 1775; and the fourth the same, 1777 to 1812.
The earliest mention of Wilden Church is in 1231, when it was in the king's gift. (fn. 69) Until the 19th century its descent is the same as that of Wilden Manor (q.v.). In 1291 the living, which is a rectory, was valued at £13 6s. 8d. (fn. 70) John de Pabenham, who was parson of the church in 1330, then paid 20s. for licence to hold view of frankpledge of his tenants in Wilden, saying that he held from time immemorial one messuage, 80 acres of land and 20s. rent in Wilden as endowment of the church. (fn. 71) No further trace has been found of a rectorial manor being claimed by the Wilden incumbent, who in the 16th century was a frequent suitor at the manorial court. (fn. 72) At the Dissolution the rectory was worth £18 17s. 6d. (fn. 73) The advowson follows the descent of the manor (q.v.), but was not alienated to the Rev. Norman Ramsay, being still exercised by Mr. Chalk. (fn. 74)
The Church Land consists of a farmhouse and land at East End, containing 21 acres or thereabouts, awarded in part on the inclosure in 1811 in lieu of lands comprised in deeds of feoffment by Richard Smith, dated 3 Henry VIII (1511–12), and by John Ward, dated 7 August 1630, in trust to defray charges appertaining to the church.
The Poor's Estate consists of a cottage and 3 a. 2 r. 13 p., partly acquired under a deed of feoffment, dated 27 June 1608, by Francis Dyllingham, and partly under will of Abraham Smith, dated 6 March 1635, in trust, as recorded in the table of benefactions for the poor aged and impotent inhabitants.
Thomas Peat, by indenture dated 18 December 1624, granted and assigned to certain feoffees a messuage and land adjoining at Church End, land in Mawcase Field, to hold the same for the residue of a term of 2,000 years upon trust that the profits should be employed in providing a schoolmaster to teach in the said messuage the children of the parish—one of them gratis—and for other purposes therein mentioned.
In 1625 additional land in Thurleigh was purchased by the donor, and in 1731 a cottage and land adjoining at Elstow were purchased by the trustees. In 1796 an exchange of certain of the trust property was effected between the trustees and Samuel Whitbread, and further changes on the inclosure in 1811. The trust property now consists of two cottages and 9 acres in Wilden and house and land containing 18 acres or thereabouts at Thurleigh, producing a gross income of £46 12s., which is applicable in support of the public elementary schools. (fn. 75)