A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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The parish of Steppingley contains 1,308 acres, of which 500 are arable land, 358 permanent grass and 70 wood. (fn. 1) In the south of the parish the ground is high, reaching an altitude of 383 ft. above ordnance datum, but beyond the village, to the north and east, the land gradually slopes, falling to 224 ft. in the extreme north-east of the parish. The soil is principally sand, and produces crops of wheat, barley, clover and turnips.
The village stands on high ground, stretching across the centre of the parish, and is small and compact in appearance. The church, rebuilt in 1860 by the Duke of Bedford and the rector, is a building of local sandstone, occupying a commanding position in the centre of the village. The old church was described in 1849 in the Gentleman's Magazine as 'the smallest in the county of Bedford. It has a low tower not rising above the neighbouring hayricks.' (fn. 2) Northeast of the church are the school buildings, built in the same style as the church.
At the bottom of the hill at the east end of the village a lane leads past a few half-timber and brick cottages to Park Farm, a building erected in 1861, round which are traces of an extensive moat. Several model cottages have been built by the Duke of Bedford at either end of the village.
North of the main road to the east of the church is the Methodist chapel, and on the same side, but separated from it by the road leading to the church, is the 'French Horn,' an inn of some antiquity, although refaced with a modern front, while in the yard adjoining on the east is a large old thatched barn now belonging to the inn, but claimed by local tradition as the old tithe barn.
About half a mile to the south-west of Steppingley is the Warren, formerly a small farm-house, now occupied by a gamekeeper. It stands among the large game-preserves of Priestley and Flitwick Plantations and Steppingley Wood, belonging to the Duke of Bedford.
The following place-names have been found in documents relating to this parish:—Angel's Croft formerly belonged to the church, and was granted for the maintenance of an obit, as was also a close of pasture called Bythell (fn. 3); Wellcroft, Makyns, Lampaths Furlong and Gorlrede Furlong are names which occur in a survey of the 16th century. (fn. 4)
Part of the parish was inclosed under an Act passed in 1836. (fn. 5)
In 1086 William Spech held STEPPINGLEY MANOR, assessed at 5 hides. (fn. 6) It remained with William Spech's other lands appurtenant to the barony of Warden (q.v.) until it was granted to Warden Abbey in the 14th century. (fn. 7) After the Dissolution it was annexed in 1542 to the honour of Ampthill, of which it was afterwards held. (fn. 8)
The undertenant in 1086 was William son of Rainald, (fn. 9) but for the next 130 years there is no mention of this estate. In the 13th century it reappears in the possession of William son of Richard, to whom in 1219 Gilbert son of William de Den alienated land in this parish. (fn. 10) William was succeeded by Walter de Steppingley, who was in possession in 1284 (fn. 11) and whose son John held the manor in 1316. (fn. 12) John left a widow Nichola and daughter and heir Maud, the former of whom married William Mordaunt and the latter William the son of William Mordaunt, to whom she brought the manor in marriage. (fn. 13) After her death it was claimed by Henry son of a brother of John de Steppingley, (fn. 14) from whom it appears to have passed to Woburn Abbey, which held it till the Dissolution. (fn. 15) In the 17th century the office of steward of the manor was held by the Bruces, Earls of Elgin and Ailesbury, chief stewards of the honour of Ampthill. (fn. 16) In 1677 Charles II granted a ninety-nine years' lease of Steppingley to Robert Bruce first Earl of Ailesbury. (fn. 17) A lease was obtained in 1771 by John Duke of Bedford, (fn. 18) who held Dunstable (q.v.) on the same terms, both manors reverting to the Crown in 1839. (fn. 19)
An estate in Steppingley which was known after the Dissolution as STEPPINGLEY MANOR was held in the 14th century of Emery de St. Amand, who himself held of Lord Mowbray. (fn. 20)
Holding under the St. Amands were the Knights Templars, to whom in 1239 Richard de Steppingley granted 1 virgate of land. (fn. 21) On the suppression of this order by Edward II, Steppingley, with their other possessions in England, was bestowed on the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, who claimed in 1350 to hold a view of frankpledge here by a charter of Edward II. (fn. 22) This estate was retained by the Hospital until the Dissolution, (fn. 23) and was granted to Sir Richard Longe with the Preceptory of Shingay in 1540. (fn. 24) It passed with Eversholt Rectory Manor (q.v.) through the families of Russell, Morrison and Sandys, from the latter of whom it was purchased in 1839 by the Duke of Bedford, ancestor of the present duke, now lord of the manor. (fn. 25)
Another manor in Steppingley, known as WATKINS MANOR, was held in the 16th century of New College, Oxford, (fn. 26) from which it was afterwards purchased by the Crown and annexed to the honour of Ampthill. (fn. 27) This property originated in one messuage and 6 virgates of land granted in the 14th century by Walter de Steppingley to Henry Watkin, whose son Henry succeeded him. (fn. 28) Nothing further is heard of this estate until 1512, when on the death of William Jurdon it passed by settlement to George Hynton, (fn. 29) who was succeeded in 1538 by his son Thomas, then four years of age. (fn. 30) The latter in 1560 settled the manor on himself and heirs, (fn. 31) but sold it in 1562 to John Style, one of the trustees, (fn. 32) whose son Thomas was in possession in 1586 and 1604, the last date at which the manor is mentioned, (fn. 33) although the connexion of the Style family with this parish continued during the 17th century. (fn. 34)
There is no mention of STEPPINGLEY PARK until the reign of Henry VIII, when it was Crown property, part of the honour of Ampthill. (fn. 35) As it extended into Priestley in the parish of Flitwick it was known also as Priestley Park, of which Sir Francis Bryan was made keeper in 1543. (fn. 36) In 1628 it was granted to George Johnson and others, (fn. 37) and passed from them to the Abbot family, of whom Maurice Abbot was holding in 1642. (fn. 38) Members of this family were sheriffs of the county in 1681 and 1722, (fn. 39) and in 1731 Robert Abbot was owner of the Park. (fn. 40) There is a farm of Steppingley Park at the present day, in the occupation of Thomas and Joseph Phillips.
In 1219 Gilbert son of William de Den alienated a mill in Steppingley to William son of Richard. (fn. 41) In 1233 Agnes de Lidlington obtained a grant of mills for her life, (fn. 42) and in 1679 Joseph Walker held a water-mill here. (fn. 43)
The church of ST. LAWRENCE is a modern building, and consists of a chancel 26 ft. by 15 ft., a nave 40 ft. by 19 ft., north aisle 10 ft. wide, and tower 10 ft. square. In the vestry, which is on the north side of the chancel, is a relic of the old church—a crocketed 15th-century niche, with broken tracery—inserted in the north wall.
The advowson of Steppingley was granted by Richard de Steppingley to Dunstable Priory in the late 12th century. (fn. 44) At the Dissolution Steppingley Church, valued at £6 7s. 2d., (fn. 45) was surrendered to the Crown, by whom it was retained until 1677, (fn. 46) when it was leased to Robert Bruce Earl of Ailesbury for ninety-nine years. (fn. 47) In 1710 the patronage of Steppingley was held by Honora Bruce, (fn. 48) and in 1745 it was exercised by the Duke of Bedford. (fn. 49) The advowson remained in the Russell family until 1836, when it reverted to the Crown, and is now in the gift of the Lord Chancellor. (fn. 50)
The official trustees also hold a sum of £42 16s. 4d. consols arising from sale in 1877 of land granted by inclosure award, and known as the Constable's Allotment. The dividend, amounting to £1 1s. 4d., is under a scheme, 21 May 1878, made applicable in aid of the funds of any clothing, coal or sick club.
The Well Estate Charity.
By an award under the Inclosure Act, 1836, 4 acres were granted for the maintenance of the town well and towards the support of the village school. In 1873 the land was sold, and proceeds invested in £434 3s. 10d. consols with the official trustees, producing £10 16s. 8d. a year, of which one moiety (£5 8s. 4d.) is applied towards maintenance and repair of the town well and the other moiety is being accumulated as an educational foundation pending the establishment of a scheme by the Board of Education.