A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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The parish of Flitwick covers an area of about 2,160 acres, of which 1,106½ acres are arable land, 593¼ permanent grass and 208¾ woods and plantations. (fn. 1) From the River Flitt, which forms the southern and eastern boundary, the ground rises from a height of 220 ft. to 345 ft. in the extreme west, where the Flitwick and Priestley plantations give a pleasant wooded aspect to the country. In the east lies the marsh land called Flitwick Moor, on the outskirts of which are the works of the Chalybeate Company, which utilizes the chalybeate springs here issuing from the ground. The soil is light gravel with a subsoil of sand, and an extensive vein of gravel has been worked for many years and shows no sign of exhaustion. The sand and gravel pits are scattered throughout the parish, the old workings being used for market gardening, which is a very flourishing industry, occasioning a considerable increase in population within the last thirty years. French gardening is carried on to some extent, and there are also crops of wheat, oats, barley, beans and peas.
The village of Flitwick consists of several disjointed groups of houses, the oldest portion of which, Church End, lies south of the station on the Midland Railway, which crosses the parish from north to south. It contains some picturesque cottages of half-timber work with thatched roofs and remains of an ancient earthwork called Mount Hill. (fn. 2) Here is also the Manor House, the residence of Miss Katherine M. F. Brook Brooks, elder daughter of the late Major Brooks.
The more modern and larger portion of the village, East End, formerly Easton, (fn. 3) lies eastward of the railway. It has a Baptist chapel, founded in 1660, and an iron mission room, and possesses few features of interest apart from an old water-mill and millhouse on the banks of the River Flitt. At one time steam power was employed, but the original motivepower has been found sufficient for present purposes.
Denel End, formerly called Dunhill, (fn. 4) lies to the north of the station and is rapidly increasing. It is served by an iron church and has a Wesleyan chapel.
In the north-east of the parish is the interesting moated site of the cell of Ruxox, now partly occupied by farm buildings. The south-east part of the parish was formerly known as Priestley, and the name still survives in Priestley Wood, Priestley Farm and Priestleymoor Plantation.
The following place-names have been found in documents relating to this parish. In the 16th century William Hall was granted two closes called Pypers and Deanes, and the family of Collopp held Stanyate Mead, (fn. 5) Easterwine Mead and Sagg End. (fn. 6) In the 17th century the same family owned The Thinnings, Stockinge and Slade Mead. (fn. 7) Flitwick parish was inclosed in 1806. (fn. 8)
At the Domesday Survey William Lovet held FLITWICK assessed at 5 hides. (fn. 9) It passed to the Countess of Albemarle, by whom it was subinfeudated, and before 1195 the overlordship was held by William Earl of Albemarle and his wife Hawis. William died in 1195, and his widow Hawis, who afterwards married Baldwin (fn. 10) Earl of Albemarle, continued to hold the overlordship. (fn. 11) Hawis of Albemarle was succeeded by her son William, overlord of Flitwick, in the early 13th century, (fn. 12) who died in 1241, and was succeeded by his son commonly called William le Fort. (fn. 13) At his death in 1240 this William left a widow Isabel Countess of Albemarle and an only daughter Aveline, who died without heirs in 1277. (fn. 14) In 1284 Flitwick was held of the countess, (fn. 15) who died in 1292, (fn. 16) but in 1346 it was held of John de Lyle as of the fee of Albemarle. (fn. 17) John was succeeded by a son Robert, who in 1368 alienated his right in Flitwick to the king, (fn. 18) by whom it was bestowed on John de Wahull, who died seised of the overlordship in 1370. (fn. 19) In 1414 the manor was held of Nicholas Borus, but no later mention of the overlordship has been found. (fn. 20)
The earliest tenant of Flitwick appears to have been Philip de Sanvill, who before the reign of Richard I made large grants of land in Flitwick to Dunstable Priory. (fn. 21) His son Gilbert confirmed these gifts and was succeeded by his daughter Osmunda, who married William son of Fulcher. (fn. 22) Their daughter Amabel and her husband David Rufus de Flitwick bestowed lands here on Warden Abbey. (fn. 23) David died in 1247 (fn. 24) and was succeeded by David de Flitwick, living in 1256. (fn. 25) The estate then descended to Adam de Flitwick, who held it in 1284, (fn. 26) and was succeeded by David de Flitwick, who in 1305 received a grant of free warren. (fn. 27) The manor was settled on his son David, who died in 1353, (fn. 28) leaving a widow Joan, who obtained seisin in 1355, (fn. 29) but it reverted to David, the father, who died before 1370, (fn. 30) leaving a daughter and heir Eleanor, the wife of John Goderiche. (fn. 31) By them Flitwick Manor was conveyed to Sir John de Clynton and his wife for their lives with reversion to themselves, but in 1381 John and Eleanor sold their reversion to Ralph Crophill and his heirs. (fn. 32) John had no issue by Eleanor, but by his first wife he had three sons, John, William and Robert, of whom the eldest had a daughter and heir Eleanor wife of John Durrant. Their son John Durrant claimed the manor in 1423 by right of his mother, but was not able to enforce his claim against John Howard, John Hare and John Markham, the trustees for Robert, youngest son of John Goderiche the elder, who claimed Flitwick by the gift of his father in spite of the sale to Ralph Crophill. (fn. 33) The manor was held by the trustees till 1429, (fn. 34) when they alienated it to John Cornwall Lord Fanhope, (fn. 35) who afterwards obtained Ampthill Manor and died seised of both in 1443. From this date until its annexation to the honour of Ampthill in 1542 Flitwick follows the same descent as the manor of Ampthill (q.v.). (fn. 36) In 1617 Sir Francis Bacon, kt., and others obtained a lease of the manor for ninety-nine years, the interest in which they transferred in 1628 to William Williams and others. (fn. 37) The reversion of Flitwick was bestowed in 1628 on Edward Ditchfield and John Highlord, trustees for the city of London, (fn. 38) by whom the estate was doubtless sold in small portions and the manorial rights thus dispersed, for nothing further is heard of this property.
A second FLITWICK MANOR belonged to the priory of Dunstable, which is first mentioned in 1284 as holding land in the parish. (fn. 39) Two years later the prior claimed by prescriptive right to hold a view of frankpledge once a year at Flitwick, (fn. 40) and in 1323 a grant of free warren was obtained. (fn. 41) This estate was assessed at 35s. 5d. in 1342, (fn. 42) but c. 1535, when it was first called a manor, it was valued with the rectory at £11. (fn. 43) In 1537 a thirty years' lease of the manor was obtained by Robert Hewet on the condition of finding green rushes for Dunstable and Flitwick Churches at the Feast of St. Peter, straw for Flitwick Church in winter, and meat, drink and horsemeat at the prior's view of frankpledge. (fn. 44) By his will Robert Hewet left the remainder of the lease to his widow Margery, but at the dissolution of the priory in 1540 the manor was granted in 1552 to Thomas Cecil and Philip Boulde, by whom it was conveyed to Simon Aynesworth, who alienated it in the following year to Thomas Lownde. (fn. 45) He died in 1557, (fn. 46) and his widow Katherine in 1559 disturbed Margery Hewet in the enjoyment of her lease, and took the profits on the ground that rushes and straw had not been provided as agreed, but 20d. had been paid instead to the poor-box at Dunstable. (fn. 47) Margaret the daughter and heir of Thomas and Katherine Lownde, aged eleven at her father's death, married John Whitworth, (fn. 48) and in 1567 conveyed Flitwick, then worth £11 a year, to John Lacy, (fn. 49) preparatory to an alienation to William Hewet. (fn. 50) It passed to George Bury and Thomas Cheney, by whom it was conveyed in 1600 to Robert Honeywood, (fn. 51) on whose death in 1627 it passed by settlement to his son Matthew. (fn. 52) The latter's niece, Elizabeth wife of Sir John Cotton, (fn. 53) obtained eventual possession, for in 1753 the manor was held by her four great-granddaughters: Elizabeth, married to Thomas Bowdler, and Jane, Frances and Mary Cotton. (fn. 54) Twenty years later Elizabeth Bowdler and Mary alienated their moiety to John Earl of Upper Ossory, (fn. 55) of whom it was purchased in 1804 by the Duke of Bedford. (fn. 56) The other moiety held in 1753 by Jane and Frances Cotton passed to Dr. Humphrey Dell, under whose will Jeffrey Fisher of Maulden inherited it in right of his wife. Their daughter Ann in 1789 brought the estate in marriage to George Brooks, (fn. 57) on whose death in 1817 it passed to his son John Thomas. The latter was succeeded in 1858 by his son John Hatfield Brooks, (fn. 58) on whose death in 1907 (fn. 59) Flitwick descended to his daughter and heir Miss Catherine Brooks.
The house appears to date from the 17th century; the greater part of the front was, however, added in the 18th century. The grounds, which lie on either side of the roadway, are connected by a tunnel. Towards the southern boundary the River Flitt, which passes through the grounds, is widened out into a sheet of ornamental water. A fine avenue of lime trees borders the now disused main drive.
Formerly at RUXOX in Flitwick there was a monastic cell or chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas which was granted before the reign of Richard I by Philip de Sanvill to the priory of Dunstable. (fn. 60) The grant was confirmed by William Earl of Albemarle and his wife Hawis. (fn. 61) The house at Ruxox was used by the priory as a residence for priors who had resigned, (fn. 62) and the last reference made to it as a monastic institution was in 1290, when Stephen chaplain of Flitwick died and was buried there. (fn. 63) Ruxox was included in the thirty years' lease of Dunstable property to Robert Hewet in 1537 on the condition of providing a roll of bread yearly at Ruxox at the Feast of St. Nicholas. (fn. 64) This estate, consisting of 56 acres, was assessed at 74s. at the Dissolution, (fn. 65) and was granted in 1558 to the West family as the manor of Ruxox. (fn. 66) In 1573 it was settled by Nicholas West on his son and heir William, (fn. 67) but as the latter died the same year it descended at Nicholas' death in 1586 to his second son Edmund. (fn. 68) Before 1663 Edward Blofield had obtained seven closes called Ruxox, and by his will dated that year he bequeathed these to Elizabeth Scarborough, (fn. 69) who held Ruxox Manor in 1703. (fn. 70) In 1704 she transferred the manor to Lord Bruce, from whose family it was purchased by John Duke of Bedford in 1738. (fn. 71) From him it descended to Francis Duke of Bedford, who held it in 1787, (fn. 72) and probably became merged in the other property held by the dukes in this parish, as there is no later separate mention of the manor.
At the Domesday Survey Nigel de Albini held 1½ hides in Prestley which are subsequently found attached to the barony of Cainhoe. (fn. 73) Turgis was the tenant of Nigel here as in Tingrith, and this land follows the same descent through the de Daventries as that manor (q.v.) until between 1316 and 1336, (fn. 74) at which latter date Master William de la Marche obtained a charter of free warren in PRIESTLEY MANOR. (fn. 75) A further alienation took place in 1342, in which year Edmund Bolstrode obtained a release from Walter Joce of Hereford of his right to 10 marks rent issuing from Edmund's manor of Priestley. Edmund Bolstrode still held in 1353, when he received licence to endow a chapel in the parish church. (fn. 76) By 1373 Edmund his son had succeeded him, making at that date a settlement of the manor on William de Stokes, clerk, and others. (fn. 77) This may have been preparatory to an alienation to the Greys, who are later found holding this manor. Sir Henry Grey, kt., alienated the manor to the Crown in 1542, (fn. 78) receiving in return the manor of Gravenhurst. (fn. 79) In 1560 this manor was granted to Richard Champion and John Thompson. (fn. 80) One of Lysons' correspondents, writing c. 1803, says that from John Thompson this manor passed by sale to the Cuthberts, from whom it descended to the Sheldons. (fn. 81) The daughter of Cuthbert Sheldon married Colonel Durham, who died in 1764, (fn. 82) and Priestley Manor was sold by the Hon. Miss Egerton in 1787 (fn. 83) to the Duke of Bedford, whose family owns at the present day.
The Prior of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem held a view of frankpledge in Priestley in 1286 and in 1330, (fn. 84) which at the Dissolution was granted to Sir Richard Loney with other of the prior's lands. (fn. 85)
In 1086 a king's bailiff held 1 hide in Priestley which provided woodland for twenty swine. (fn. 86)
Lands in this parish held by Caldwell Priory were assessed at 20d. c. 1535, but there is no later record of this small estate. (fn. 87)
In 1086 William Lovet held in Flitwick one mill worth 4s. (fn. 88) which was afterwards granted by Philip de Sanvill to Dunstable Priory. (fn. 89) In 1240 the priory acquired the mill of Nicholas in Flitwick for 20 marks given by Maude Hide. (fn. 90) In 1610 the Easton Mill in Flitwick, parcel of the honour of Ampthill, and formerly in the tenure of George Foster, was granted to Edward Ferrers and Frank Phillipps. (fn. 91) It was settled on Ann Collop in 1657 by the will of her father Reginald, (fn. 92) and was held by Samuel Rhodes and his wife Jane in 1668 (fn. 93) and by Joseph Walker in 1679. (fn. 94) This old water-mill is to be seen in Easton at the present day and is still in use.
The north doorway of the nave, of late 12th-century date, was moved to its present position from the north wall of an originally aisleless nave; the chancel was rebuilt and widened southwards and the south aisle added c. 1320. The tower dates from c. 1380, the nave clearstory and south porch from c. 1500, and the north aisle and vestry are modern.
The three-light east window of the chancel is a very good example of geometrical tracery, but mutilated in the middle light for the insertion of modern glass; on either side of it are contemporary cinquefoiled image niches. At the north-west of the chancel is a modern window in the position of a low side window, and from a set-off in the north wall it appears that there was a mediaeval vestry where the modern vestry now stands. In the south wall is a cinquefoiled 14th-century piscina having an old wooden shelf, and near it a two-light 14th-century window; further west is a single cinquefoiled light divided by a transom into two portions, of which the lower, now blocked, was a low side window. In the upper light is a roundel of 14th-century glass charged with two leopards sable. An organ is set in a small modern recess between the south windows. The chancel arch, c. 1320, is of two chamfered orders, with moulded capitals and bases.
The clearstory has three two-light windows, and the north arcade and clearstory are a copy of those on the south. The north door has a round arch of one order moulded with a large roll on which are beak heads, and round it is a label carved with billets.
The south aisle, which is built of cobble stones, has a two-light east window like that on the south of the chancel; in the south wall is a 16th-century window of three uncusped lights under a square head, and to the west of the doorway a single restored 14th-century trefoiled light having a sundial cut on one of the jamb stones; the west window is modern. There is a 14th-century trefoiled piscina, and the doorway is of the 14th century continuously moulded. The porch is half timbered with a moulded barge-board continuing round the gable end at the same level as the sides, above which the tympanum projects over the doorway. The spandrels of the outer arch are carved with foliage.
The tower is in three stages with an embattled parapet and buttresses at each angle terminating above the middle stage. There is a moulded west doorway and a two-light window over it, and the belfry windows are of two trefoiled lights. The staircase is in the south-west angle, and the tower opens to the nave by an arch of two orders with moulded capitals and bases.
The nave roof is of the 15th century, with carved bosses, and some early 16th-century linen panels are worked up into the 17th-century pulpit. The back pew of the south aisle also has linen panels, and there is some 16th-century panelling near the chancel arch on the north and south sides of the chancel.
There are five bells: the treble inscribed 'God save our King 1637,' and recast by Taylor of Loughborough; the second by John Clarke, 1608; the third with 'God save our King,' by John Keene; and the fourth and tenor by Miles Graye, 1633 and 1654.
The registers previous to 1812 are in five books. The first contains all entries 1661 to 1710, with a gap in the baptisms between 1679 and 1681 inclusive, and in the burials from 1678 to 1680 inclusive; the second has the same from 1733 to 1788, marriages ceasing in 1762; the third baptisms and burials 1788 to 1812; the fourth marriages 1755 to 1798; and the fifth marriages 1799 to 1812.
The church of Flitwick was bestowed on Dunstable Priory by Philip de Sanvill before the reign of Richard I, (fn. 95) and follows the same descent as the manor belonging to the priory (q.v.). It was assessed at £4 6s. 8d. in 1291, (fn. 96) and c. 1535 the vicarage was worth £7 17s. (fn. 97) Unlike the manor, the advowson was not leased to Robert Hewet and escheated to the Crown at the Dissolution, but was granted with the manor to Thomas Cecil and Philip Boulde in 1552. (fn. 98) Its history is afterwards identical with the manor, and in the division of the latter into moieties it became attached to that part acquired by the Earl of Upper Ossory in 1773 (fn. 99) and passed with it to the Duke of Bedford. (fn. 100) It was afterwards purchased by the Brooks family, lords of the other moiety of the manor, and is at the present day vested in Miss Catherine Brooks.
In 1353 Edmund de Bolestrode founded in the manor of Priestley a chapel (fn. 101) which was alienated by his son Edmund to William de Stokes and others in 1373, (fn. 102) but there is no further mention of it.
The vicarage of Flitwick was included in the thirty years' lease to Robert Hewet in 1537, (fn. 103) and has since followed the same descent as the manor. The tithes were commuted at the inclosure of the parish in 1806. (fn. 104)
The town lands now consist of 9 a. 1 r. 24 p. at Denel End, acquired under an inclosure award of 23 March 1808 in lieu of other lands of unknown origin held by the parish. The land is let at £21 10s. a year, which, under schemes of the Charity Commissioners, 1892 and 1897, is made applicable as to one moiety for providing fuel for the poor and as to the other moiety in apprenticing and to contributing to cost of outfit of any person under twenty-one, when entering some trade, occupation or going into service.
Under the award above referred to land containing 10 a. 3 r. 2 p., being part of East End Moor, was also allotted for the benefit of the poor. The rent of £6 a year is applied in the distribution of coals.