A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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The parish of Biddenham, about a mile and a-half distant from Bedford in a westerly direction, contains 1,585¾ acres, of which 798½ are arable land, 606¾ permanent grass and 4 woods and plantations. (fn. 1) The soil in the northern part of the parish is a strong clay inclining to loam, the remainder of the parish is gravel. Much excellent building-stone is found. The chief crops are turnips, wheat, barley and peas. In the neighbourhood of the Ouse, which forms the northern, southern and western boundary of the parish, the land lies low and is liable to floods.
The main road enters Biddenham from Bedford in the east, and, following a north-westerly direction, passes by Bromham Bridge across the Ouse, and so on to Bromham parish. The village of Biddenham, lying in the centre of the parish, is very picturesque, with the church of St. James in a western district known as Church End.
In a field leading from the church to the village is a late 17th-century half-timbered pigeon-house, plastered on the outside. It is square, with a hipped tile roof, from the upper part of which project four gabled dormers, their ridges meeting at the apex, which is crowned with an ornamental finial.
About 1870 a curious custom was observed in this parish, which is thus described: On September 22nd, shortly before noon, a little procession of villagers convey a white rabbit decorated with scarlet ribbons through the village, singing a hymn in honour of St. Agatha. …All the unmarried young women who meet the procession extend the first two fingers of the left hand, pointing towards the rabbit, and say:—
Gustin, Gustin lacks a bier !
Maidens, maidens, bury him here. (fn. 2)
Palaeolithic implements have been found in Biddenham. (fn. 3)
The following place-names have been found in documents relating to this parish: Martinesholm, Kingsmead in the 13th century, Cunditfield, Kyngsmead, Ibondsmead, Whytyng in the 16th. (fn. 4)
At the time of the Domesday Survey BIDDENHAM MANOR, containing 4 hides 1½ virgates, was held by William Spec in chief, having as tenants Ralph and Serlo de Ros. (fn. 5) William Spec's overlordship subsequently followed the same descent as the barony of Trailly, (fn. 6) but in the 13th century the whole vill of Biddenham appears to have become attached to the honour of Gloucester, thus interposing an intermediary lordship between the Traillys and the Crown. The first mention that has been found of Biddenham as belonging to the honour of Gloucester occurs in 1278, when Gilbert de Clare claimed view of frankpledge and all regal rights in Biddenham, (fn. 7) which was declared to have been withdrawn from Willey Hundred by Richard de Clare his father (who died in 1262). (fn. 8) In 1373 Eleanor Trailly held by knight service of Ralph Earl of Stafford, who also owned two courts leet in Biddenham in right of his wife Margaret, daughter of Margaret, co-heir of Gilbert de Clare, who died in 1314. (fn. 9) Thomas Earl of Stafford, his grandson, died seised of the same rights of overlordship in 1392, (fn. 10) and the last reference which has been found regarding the exercise of this paramountcy is in 1460, when his grandson Humphrey, created Earl of Buckingham, died in possession of them. (fn. 11) Probably on the attainder of his grandson and heir Henry in 1483 they reverted to the Crown.
The mesne lords of Biddenham Manor at the Survey were Ralph and Serlo de Ros, the latter of whom also held of Hugh de Beauchamp in this parish. (fn. 12) From this family the manor appears to have passed some time in the 12th century to the Passelowes, of whom the first mention has been found in 1203, when Thomas Passelowe quitclaimed land in Biddenham to Thomas son of Sewale. (fn. 13) Gilbert son of Simon Passelowe held two fees in Biddenham of the Trailly honour in the 13th century, (fn. 14) and William Passelowe held the advowson in 1252. (fn. 15) In 1278 Ralph Passelowe held 1 carucate of land by the service of one knight's fee in Biddenham, (fn. 16) and was succeeded before 1302 by his son William, who was still holding in 1316, (fn. 17) and in 1337 conveyed his lands in Biddenham to Nicholas Fermband. (fn. 18) By 1346 the property had passed to John Fermband, who is there declared to hold the fee in Biddenham which had formerly belonged to William Passelowe. (fn. 19) In 1367 John Woodville, holding the manor with his wife Katherine, possibly a daughter of John Fermband, received a charter of free warren in his demesne lands of Biddenham. (fn. 20) Thomas Woodville, their descendant, was holding by knight's service in 1428, (fn. 21) and from this date onwards the manor appears to have followed the same descent as that of Bromham (q.v.), passing, as in the case of that manor, by marriage to the Dyves in the 15th century, and from them, by sale, to the Trevors in the 18th century. The ownership is at present vested in the trustees of the late Edward Wingfield. (fn. 22)
At the Survey of 1086 the canons of St. Paul's, Bedford, held in all 4 virgates in Biddenham, which later became known as BIDDENHAM or NEWNHAM MANOR. Of this property 3 virgates were held by Osmund the Canon and 1 by Ansfrid. Of Osmund's share 1 virgate had previously been held by Leviet the priest, and 2 virgates had been granted to the Church by Ralph Taillebois: Ansfrid's virgate, formerly the property of Marwen, had been similarly granted. (fn. 23) In 1166 these secular canons were succeeded by the Augustinian priory of Newnham, founded by Simon de Beauchamp, a transference of all their endowments being made at the same time. (fn. 24) During the 12th and 13th centuries various additional grants were made by the Beauchamps and Passelowes to Newnham, whose property in Biddenham was valued at £3 in the Taxatio of 1291. (fn. 25) In 1386–7 the priory obtained a charter of free warren in their demesne lands of Biddenham. (fn. 26) At the Dissolution the temporalities of Newnham in this parish were valued at £9 8s. 8d., (fn. 27) and were granted in 1540 to John Gostwick, (fn. 28) who in the same year sold them to William Boteler and Anne his wife. (fn. 29) The family of Butler appears to have been long resident in this parish, the name of Thomas Boteler of Biddenham occurring in a charter dated 1313, (fn. 30) whilst towards the end of the 14th century Thomas Boteler of Biddenham, a branch of the same family, acquired, by his marriage with Grace daughter and heir of Alan de Kirton, Kirtons, a 'capital messuage' in Biddenham, which became the residence of the family for several generations. (fn. 31)
William Boteler, who acquired Biddenham Manor, as it is henceforward called, died in 1554–5, when his son William succeeded to the estate, (fn. 32) on whose death in 1601 the manor passed to his son Thomas Boteler. (fn. 33) He was knighted by James I, and died in 1625, leaving five sons and three daughters, of whom William Boteler, the eldest son, acquired this manor. (fn. 34) He died in 1671, and appears to have left three daughters as co-heirs. Of these daughters, reference has been found to the shares of Helen wife of Sir Pynsent Chernock and Mary wife of William Farrer, and the former in 1708 and again in 1709 conveyed her third of Biddenham by fine to William Farrer. (fn. 35) In 1735 Thomas Russell owned one-third of this manor, (fn. 36) and two years later another portion was held by William Townsend and his wife. (fn. 37) Between this date and 1758 the whole property, including the advowson, appears to have been transferred to Robert Lord Trevor, who owned the larger manor here, and it is henceforward to be found attached to what is known as the Bromham estate. (fn. 38)
Ford End, or Kirtons, which was the residence of the Botelers from the 15th century, (fn. 39) is situated about half a mile to the south-east of the river. It consists of two rectangular blocks now used as cottages. They are of little architectural interest, the walls being built of coursed rubble washed over, with square, unmoulded openings for the doors and windows. The chimney stacks are brick and the roofs are of tiles. The buildings have undergone many changes, being in the middle of the last century used as a workhouse, and it is impossible to tell the date of the original house or on what plan it was built.
A third holder of land in Biddenham at the time of the Survey was Hugh de Beauchamp, who held 1 hide, having as tenant Serlo de Ros. (fn. 40) This land had formerly belonged to Alsi, a man of Queen Edith. The barons of Bedford continued to own feudal rights in Biddenham certainly down to the 15th century, but this property never attained the status of a manor. (fn. 41)
The Domesday tenant, Serlo de Ros, appears to have been followed by the Passelowes, as in Biddenham Manor (q.v.), for Gilbert Passelowe held 1 hide of the barony of Bedford at the time of the Testa, (fn. 42) but no subsequent mention has been found of the estate, which probably became absorbed in the larger manor owned by the Passelowes in this parish.
The Bishop of Lincoln was also a tenant in Biddenham in 1086. Ernuin the priest held 1 hide and 1 virgate of him, which included a mill worth 25s. (fn. 43) One further mention is found of this property in the Hundred Rolls (1278–9), when the mother church of Lincoln is declared to hold 5 virgates in Biddenham of the gift of William I. (fn. 44)
In 1086 four burgesses of Bedford held land in Biddenham of which no further mention has been found. (fn. 45)
Abbot Baldwin of St. Edmunds also held half a hide, having as tenant Ordui, who was one of the four Bedford burgesses mentioned above, and who was declared by the men of the hundred court to have unjustly disseised Ulmar the priest. (fn. 46)
Two mills are mentioned in this parish at the Survey of 1086, one of which was worth 10s. and attached to the manor of William Spec. (fn. 47) It is mentioned in 1278 as still attached to the manor. (fn. 48) William Butler owned a windmill in 1601 as part of Newnham or Biddenham Manor, (fn. 49) to which was also attached the right to hold a court leet and view of frankpledge. (fn. 50)
The right of free fishery in the River Ouse belonged to Biddenham Manor from the 13th century onwards. (fn. 51)
Caldwell Priory owned land in Biddenham as early as 1219, in which year Robert son of Margaret conveyed land to the prior. (fn. 52) In 1278–9 the prior held half a virgate here, (fn. 53) and at the Dissolution his temporalities were worth 49s. 2d. (fn. 54) John Gostwick, who also acquired the Newnham Manor (q.v.) in this parish, received a grant of these lands in 1540, and they thus became merged in the larger property. (fn. 55)
In 1278–9 the Abbot of Warden owned 25 acres of meadow in Biddenham, (fn. 56) which in 1539, valued at 12s., were granted to John Gostwick, and thus became joined to Newnham Manor (q.v.) in this parish. (fn. 57)
William Passelowe made a grant of 1 virgate of land in Biddenham to Harrold Priory during the 13th century. (fn. 58) At the Dissolution this land was worth 18s. 2d. (fn. 59) and was granted to John Gostwick in 1540. (fn. 60)
The church of ST. JAMES, consisting of chancel, nave, north and south aisles and west tower, appears to have had an aisleless nave and chancel in the 12th century, the chancel arch and some of the nave walling with a blocked window in the outer wall being of this date. The chancel as it appears at present seems to date from the 14th century. The west tower was added in the 13th century and the south aisle and porch in the 15th; the north aisle was built near the beginning of the 16th century by one of the Boteler family. The walls are plastered externally and a good deal overgrown with ivy. The east window of the chancel has been restored, and consists of three trefoiled lights in two chamfered orders with modern net tracery under a pointed head. In the south wall of the chancel are two 15th-century windows of two cinquefoiled lights with tracery under four-centred heads; in the easternmost the jambs are carried down and the lower sill acts as a sedile. There is a similar window in the opposite wall of the chancel, and another much restored in the east end of the south aisle. On the south side of the chancel between the two windows is a plain chamfered door with a pointed head. There is a 15th-century cinquefoiled piscina, of which, however, the cusping has been broken away, on the south side of the chancel. The chancel arch, which has been restored, has a plain round head cut square through the wall and built of small stones; it may be of fairly early 12th-century date. On either side of it is a squint, now glazed, that on the south side having a four-centred head, but that through the north respond is rectangular. The arcade between the nave and north aisle is only of two bays, the arches being fourcentred and of two double-ogee orders separated by a casement; they spring from a pier, composed of four half-round shafts attached to a square with chamfered angles with moulded semi-octagonal capitals and bases, and on the nave side a label with grotesque stops.
The east end of this aisle has been closed in by a 16th-century screen in six bays, each of two lights, of Renaissance character, to form a small vestry, fitted with panelling of the same date as the screen. An entrance to it has been cut through the east respond of the nave arcade. The east window of the aisle has three cinquefoiled lights under a two-centred drop arch, and in the north wall are two similar windows. The detail, though late, is very good and well worked, and the gargoyles on the outside are very spirited. Near the west end of the north wall is the north door, with moulded jambs in two orders, the inner four-centred and the outer square with a square label. In the west end is a window like the rest, but of two lights instead of three.
The south aisle is of only one bay, the arch separating it from the nave being four-centred and of two chamfered orders, the inner springing from shafts with moulded semi-octagonal capitals and rounded bases. In the south wall is a restored window of three cinquefoiled lights, with new mullions and tracery, the jamb section being like that of the windows in the side walls of the chancel, and on the sill is a sundial. To the east of this window is a piscina with pointed head. To the west is the south porch, dating from the 15th century, with a parvise over, entered by a door in the west wall of the aisle. Both the aisle and porch walls are finished with an embattled parapet, and in the west wall of the latter is a square-headed window of two cinquefoiled lights in two chamfered orders; the inner doorway is quite plain with a round head under which a little stonework of flatter curve has been inserted, and the outer arch is in two chamfered orders with a pointed head and label, over which is a cinquefoiled window with square head and label lighting the parvise: the wood ceiling of the porch dates from the 15th century, and is divided into four panels with moulded wall-plates and crosspieces and a foliate boss at their intersection. In the south wall of the nave to the west of the porch is a window of two cinquefoiled lights in two chamfered orders under a four-centred head, the mullions and tracery having been restored.
The tower arch is a two-centred drop arch in two chamfered orders, the inner springing from 13th-century moulded capitals. The tower is crowned by an embattled parapet with gargoyles at the angles, at the east angles are clasping buttresses, and at the west diagonal buttresses in three stages. The belfry stage dates from the 15th century and the windows in all four sides are alike, consisting of two cinquefoiled lights. There is a similar modern window low down on the west side and between it and the belfry window a modern quatrefoiled circle. On the exterior on the north side is a modern stone staircase, leading up to a door into the tower, and on the south side are a small blocked pointed doorway and a widely splayed 13th-century lancet, also blocked, and not visible on the outer face of the wall.
All the roofs but that of the south porch are modern; the font, to the west of the south door, dates from the 15th century and is octagonal with traceried panels on an octagonal stem. In the vestry is an ancient iron-bound chest of oak, and in the tower a piece of Flemish tapestry dating from the middle of the 16th century.
On the north wall of the chancel near the east end is a marble monument with Corinthian columns and canopy, to William Boteler, 1601, son and heir of William Boteler, son and heir of Sir William Boteler, builder of the north aisle, and to Ursula his second wife, 1621, with kneeling effigies above those of their three daughters and two sons. The arms are Quarterly (I) Gules a fesse checky argent and sable between six crosslets or (Boteler); (2) Gules crusilly or an inescutcheon vair (Molesworth); (3) Argent a fesse gules and in chief a cheveron gules (Kirton); (4) Gules a cheveron between three peacocks in their pride argent (Peacock).
Another monument on this wall is to Alice daughter of the above William Boteler and wife of Edward Osborne, 1615, with an acrostic epitaph in English. Her husband's quartered coat has been incorrectly painted.
In the floor of the vestry at the east end of the north aisle is a slab with three small brass effigies, a man and his wife in long robes, and another man; under the first two a Latin inscription to William Faldo and Agnes his wife, and under the other a Latin inscription to John Faldo. Also a slab with brasses of two figures in shrouds without date or inscription. There is a brass on the north wall to Helen daughter of George Nodes and wife of William Boteler, 1639. On the south wall of the tower is a brass with Latin inscription to John Aylyff.
There are six bells; the first five by Emmerton of Wootton, 1787. The tenor was formerly of the same casting, the ring of six having been made from an old ring of five, but was recast by Taylor in 1896.
The plate consists of a communion cup and cover paten of 1569 engraved with a boar's head and the initials 'W. B.,' a flagon of 1689, 'The Gift of Francis Reeve, gent. who Dyed July ye 30th 1689,' and a large plated standing paten engraved 'Biddenham Parish 1846.' There are also two pewter plates each with the date 1707 below a shield bearing a bend between two frets, and over it 'T. S.'
The first mention that has been found of Biddenham Church occurs in 1252, when the advowson belonged to William Passelowe. (fn. 61) By 1278 it had passed to John de Kyrkeby, who held it as part of the honour of Gloucester, to which the greater part of this parish belonged. (fn. 62) John de Kyrkeby, who was Bishop of Ely, died in 1290, when his brother William became heir to the advowson of Biddenham. The church was valued in the Taxatio of 1291 at £4 6s. 8d. (fn. 63) William died seised of the church in 1302, leaving as co-heirs four sisters, of whom Mabel Grimbaud appears to have received the advowson of Biddenham, for in 1314 she relinquished her claim to it in favour of Christina widow of William de Kyrkeby. (fn. 64)
In the following year Christina alienated the advowson in mortmain to the Abbess of Waterbeach (Cambridgeshire), who received at the same time a licence to appropriate the church. (fn. 65) About the year 1349 the Countess of Pembroke removed the nuns from Waterbeach to Denny, which convent continued to hold the advowson until the Dissolution. (fn. 66) The advowson and rectory were then granted in 1539 to Edward Elrington, (fn. 67) who sold them almost immediately to William Boteler, (fn. 68) and their history is henceforward identical with Biddenham or Newnham Manor (q.v.) in the same parish, the right of presentation being now exercised by Mr. Trevor Wingfield. (fn. 69)
There was a chantry in Biddenham Parish Church prior to the Dissolution, which was founded by William Boteler for masses to be sung at the altar of St. William. Its value at the time of its suppression was £6, of which 12s. was due to the king for tithes. (fn. 70)
An ancient payment of £5 a year out of an estate formerly belonging to the Boteler family applied towards the purchase of a bull for providing beef for the poor on St. Thomas's Day was redeemed by the transfer of £200 consols to the official trustees.
In 1706 Elizabeth Boteler by will directed £200 to be laid out in the purchase of land for the poor. The trust estate consists of 8 acres or thereabouts of copyhold land in Cranfield let at £12 a year.
The income of the several charities, together with a sum of £1 a year paid by the Grocers' Company, London, under will of Sir William Boteler, dated in 1529, are now applied together in the purchase of an ox, which is cut up and duly distributed among the cottagers.