A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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The parish of Houghton Regis, to the north of Dunstable, contains about 4,390 acres, of which some 3,162¼ are arable land and 843¾ permanent grass. (fn. 1) The soil is loam and chalk, and the subsoil chalk with clay in parts. The principal crops are wheat, barley, beans and peas.
Houghton, owing to the fact of its being Crown property, early became known as 'saelig Houghton' (fn. 2) or 'fortunate Houghton,' and later as Houghton Regis or King's Houghton, to distinguish it from the parish of Houghton Conquest in Redbornestoke Hundred. At the time of the Domesday Survey a great part of what is now Dunstable was included in Houghton parish. At the present day the northern part of Dunstable extends into Houghton parish and is known as Upper Houghton Regis, and includes the two railway stations, as well as a Wesleyan chapel off the Watling Street and a mission church in Union Street served from Dunstable parish church.
The village of Houghton Regis is in the main uninteresting, though a few old timbered cottages and barns are still standing among the modern red brick houses. At the east end there is a large green, on the south side of which is Houghton Hall, the seat of the Brandreth family since the 17th century. It is a low red brick building and a fine example of late 17th-century architecture, standing in extensive and beautiful grounds. The staircase hall is a good specimen of the type of work prevalent at that period. The principal rooms are wainscoted. Some tapestry panels are still in situ. The joinery throughout is in excellent preservation. The exterior has been robbed of its original appearance by alterations made about fifty years ago. On the north side of the green is the site of the old manor-house, where there is a stone dovecote in a ruinous condition, about 26 ft. by 17 ft. outside measurement, standing about 15 ft. high.
The church, with the vicarage, lies away from the green on the outskirts of the village, at the junction of the roads from Dunstable and Streatley. In Houghton village are also Baptist, Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist chapels. At the west end of the straight village street a path leads across a field to the rising ground on which the mill, still in use, is placed. The path continues to the hamlet of Puddlehill, on Watling Street. Its ancient name was Pudele (fn. 3) or Podele. (fn. 4) It is also known as Chalk Hill. Here is a small Wesleyan chapel. From here a road leads south-west to Sewell, another hamlet, which is the subject of a separate entry in Domesday Book. (fn. 5) It now consists of five or six farms near the Dunstable branch of the London and North-Western railway, and is very picturesque.
The little hamlet of Thorn (la Thorne, Thornbury) (fn. 6) lies half a mile north of Puddlehill.
Bidwell is a picturesque hamlet lying to the north-west of Houghton village and separated from it by a hill. It is said to take its name from a holy well dedicated to St. Bridget that formerly existed there, (fn. 7) though local tradition does not corroborate this.
Calcutt Farm, about half a mile north of Bidwell, is surrounded by a moat. The house itself appears to be mainly of late 17th or early 18th-century date. There is a good semicircular-headed doorway of gauged brickwork.
When Henry I founded Dunstable he gave in compensation to the men of Houghton a wood called Buckwood. (fn. 8) Though the lords of the vill claimed rights of free warren over it, John de Sewelle in 1295 established a right to hunt there, (fn. 9) and it is recorded that the Prior of Dunstable ferreted rabbits there in 1292. (fn. 10) Buckwood, being close to a high road, came under the Statute of Winchester of 1285, and part of it was cut down. (fn. 11) It remained an outlying part of the parish until 1897, when it was detached and included in the county of Hertford.
Palæolithic and neolithic remains have been found in the parish, and close by Sewell is a fine camp known as Maiden Bower. (fn. 12) From this camp the course of early trackways can still be traced. (fn. 13)
Roman coins and fragments of Roman pottery have been found at Thorn and elsewhere in the parish. (fn. 14) Two famous Roman roads, the Icknield Way and Watling Street, traverse the parish. Watling Street ran straight over Chalk Hill, and in the coaching days the ascent was found so steep (seven or eight horses being required to accomplish it) that in 1782 a new and circuitous road was made to avoid the worst part. In 1837, however, the Roman road was excavated and the present deep cutting made, the road of 1782 being abandoned. (fn. 15) Though completely disused and grass-grown, the track can easily be traced. In the 14th century mention is found of roads in this parish called Sagwey, (fn. 16) Carterweys (fn. 17) and Fancote path, (fn. 18) and in the 15th century 'le thefwey' (fn. 19) and 'Lutenwey.' (fn. 20)
The men of Houghton claimed to be exempt from tolls in Dunstable market. (fn. 21)
The inhabitants of Houghton Regis were for long employed in straw-plaiting. In 1689 they, with others of neighbouring villages, petitioned against the Bill that made it compulsory to wear woollen hats, pointing out that the straw-plaiters would be ruined, and that the farmers also would suffer, as they now obtained good prices for their straw, and English wool not being suitable for the making of hats, they would not be in any way compensated. (fn. 22) This industry does not appear to be thriving at the present day.
Part of the glebe land is occupied by allotment gardens, which have proved a considerable success. The inclosure award for Houghton Regis was given in 1802. (fn. 23)
The following place-names have been found in this parish: 'le vonte,' Bochamforlong, Poleynnescrouch (xiii cent.); 'Theringsdene,' Tetlowe, le Redebrade, Twame, Lenethezemere, Letus, le Oteden, Lytarehul, Otehul (xiv cent.).
In 1086 Houghton was a royal manor, and was assessed at 10 hides. Its annual yield was £10 of weighed money, half a day's provisions of grain, honey and other things pertaining to the king's farm, 65s. for small dues and a pack-horse, the same amount for customary payments of dogs, and 2 oz. of gold for the queen; whilst Ivo Tallebosc, when sheriff, imposed an additional £3 of weighed money and 20s. blanch silver, together with 1 oz. of gold for the sheriff. (fn. 24) It remained Crown property until Henry I granted it to Hugh de Gurney. (fn. 25) The latter held it as one knight's fee of his barony of Gurney (fn. 26); but Henry I had previously granted lands and rights of common in Houghton to his newly-founded priory of St. Peter at Dunstable, (fn. 27) and a constant struggle was henceforward waged between the prior and the lords of the vill concerning their respective rights. The amount due from the manor to the king was £40 a year, and the course of the struggle may be traced from the entries on the Pipe Rolls concerning this payment. Thus Hugh de Gurney's lands having escheated to the Crown, Andrew Botetort, temporarily holding the vill, paid the whole £40 in 1156–7 (fn. 28); but the next year, and until 1189, the Prior and convent of Dunstable paid £17 of this, (fn. 29) the remaining £23 being paid from 1173 to 1189 by Hugh de Gurney, junior, (fn. 30) who had recovered seisin of his father's lands. From 1190 to 1202 the whole amount was paid by Hugh. (fn. 31) In 1203, however, the king restored to the monastery their rights in Houghton, (fn. 32) and for the next three years they paid the £40 jointly with the lord of the vill. (fn. 33) In 1206, however, they were again despoiled, (fn. 34) and the quarrel dragged on through the 13th century. (fn. 35) From 1203 to 1205 the manor appears to have been in the hands of Almaric Count of Evreux, (fn. 36) who had married Millicent daughter of Hugh de Gurney. (fn. 37) By 1206 Hugh de Gurney had resumed possession, and held the manor till his death. (fn. 38) His heir was his son Hugh, a minor, and during the latter's minority the manor was in the custody of William de Cantlowe. (fn. 39) In 1222, however, the heir attained his majority. (fn. 40) On his sister Milicent marrying as her second husband William de Cantlowe, his former guardian, Hugh gave her a portion of Houghton Manor valued at £30; the remainder, comprising some 13 virgates valued at £8 0s. 10d., he gave to Richard de Weavile. (fn. 41) Of this smaller portion no further mention is found later than 1284–6, when it was held by Henry de Weavile. (fn. 42) The larger portion until the year 1566 followed the same descent as the manor of Eaton Bray (q.v.).
In 1566 the descent of the manor of Houghton parted from Eaton, being sold by Sir Edward Bray to Lewis Montgomery and Jane his wife. (fn. 43) A further alienation took place before 1575, in which year William Lord Sandys (the husband of Catherine, cousin and heir of Sir Edward Bray) together with Thomas Bawde and Jane his wife placed the manor in the hands of trustees, (fn. 44) preparatory to a sale to Miles Sandys, (fn. 45) who, though bearing the same name, was no relation to Lord William. He was a member of the Inner Temple, and on his death in 1553–4 (fn. 46) was succeeded by his widow Mary, who survived her son Sir Edwin Sandys, (fn. 47) and was in turn succeeded by her grandson William. The latter alienated the manor in 1615 to Anthony Sawrey of the Middle Temple, (fn. 48) from whom it passed to John Egerton first Earl of Bridgewater, better known as Lord Chancellor Ellesmere. (fn. 49) His son John Earl of Bridgewater sold the property in 1653–4 to Henry Brandreth. (fn. 50) The manor remained in the hands of the Brandreth family until 1750, (fn. 51) when Henry Brandreth sold it to the Duke of Bedford. (fn. 52) It remained the property of the Dukes of Bedford until the close of the last century, when it was purchased by Mr. H. C. G. Brandreth. Mrs. Brandreth is now the lady of the manor.
Mention is found in 1324 of a 'manor' of THORNBURY in this parish, then the property of William la Zouche. (fn. 53) It followed the same descent as the main manor of Houghton (fn. 54) (q.v.), but no further mention of it is found after 1471. (fn. 55)
The property which later became known as the 'manor' of SEWELL has its origin in the 3 hides in Sewell which were in the time of the Confessor in the tenure of Walgrave, a man of Queen Edith, and then formed a part of Odecroft Hundred. (fn. 56) These 3 hides were later added to the royal manor of Houghton by Ralph Tallebosc. (fn. 57) There is no evidence of a separate 'manor' of Sewell until the 16th century. The lords of Houghton had their gallows at Sewell, (fn. 58) and in one of the several compromises made between Hugh de Gurney and the Prior of Dunstable (fn. 59) the former gave a hide of land in Sewell to the prior, (fn. 60) whereupon the prior claimed a view of frankpledge there in 1330. (fn. 61)
The chief tenants of the lords of Houghton in Sewell were the family taking its name from the place. Their name frequently occurs in documents relating to land in the parish, (fn. 62) and they appear to have been of considerable importance in the county. In 1302–3 John de Sewell was one of the jurors for the assessment of the hundred of Manshead on the raising of an aid for the marriage of the king's daughter. (fn. 63) Nicholas de Sewell, a son of the above, a few years later was slain at Dunstable by John le Mareschal. (fn. 64) Another member of the family, Adam de Sewell, was presented to the church of Houghton in 1329, (fn. 65) and in a return of the gentry of Bedfordshire in 1433 there appear the names of John (fn. 66) and Henry Sewell as residents in Sewell. (fn. 67) Henry Sewell's sister and heir married Edmund Dyve. (fn. 68) From them the Sewell property passed to William Dyve, who in 1515 endowed a chantry. (fn. 69) Sir John Dyve (the relationship is uncertain) became seised of this property in 1530. (fn. 70) He died in 1536, and in a document drawn up after his death Sewell is for the first time termed 'a manor.' (fn. 71) He left it to his wife for her life, with reversion to his son William. The latter, however, died in the next year, (fn. 72) and, his mother dying a few months later, the property passed to William's son Lewis, (fn. 73) who held it until his death in 1592. (fn. 74) His eldest son John did not long survive him, and his second son, Sir Lewis Dyve, a leader of the Royalist party in Bedfordshire, succeeded and sold the manor to his father-in-law, Sir John Strangeways, in 1642. (fn. 75) A sum of £3 11s. 2d. was due yearly from the manor to the lord of Houghton Manor, and at the time of the sale money was owing for this rent, a matter which was afterwards the subject of petition. (fn. 76) Sewell Manor was confiscated by the Parliament, and bought from them by Dame Joan Fenner, (fn. 77) who sold it to Henry Brandreth in 1658. (fn. 78) On the Restoration Sir Lewis Dyve suffered a recovery of the manor. (fn. 79) He appears to have made some compromise with Henry Brandreth, and the same year, acting together, they placed the manor in the hands of John Fisher and Henry Parr. (fn. 80) It would appear to have been leased for the next twenty years by Richard Eccles, (fn. 81) a member of a family long resident at Sewell, (fn. 82) but before the end of the century Nehemiah Brandreth, son of Henry Brandreth, had resumed possession. (fn. 83) The further history of this manor is the same as that of the main manor of Houghton (q.v.).
The manor of CALDECOTE has its origin in the land in Houghton granted to Dunstable Priory by Henry I. (fn. 84) The grant by Henry I was confirmed by King John, (fn. 85) and in 1323 the canons were granted rights of free warren in their demesne lands in Houghton. (fn. 86) The lords of Houghton were particularly incensed at the prior's claiming royal rights in Houghton, and Eudo la Zouche in 1274 pulled down the prior's gallows at 'Eddesuthe' (fn. 87) and broke open his gaol at Caldecote. (fn. 88) But in the main the judgements of the courts were in the prior's favour, and his claim to a view of frankpledge in Houghton in 1330 was admitted on the payment of a fine. (fn. 89)
Henry VIII granted Caldecote Manor to Urian Brereton and his wife Joan, widow of Edmund Lord Bray, in 1541. (fn. 90) Queen Elizabeth made a grant of the manor in 1560 to Thomas Reve and George Evelyn, (fn. 91) which does not appear to have taken effect, for in 1579 a further grant was made to Edward Downing and John Walker. (fn. 92) By 1590 it had come into the hands of John Pare, who that year alienated it to Francis Bevell. (fn. 93) It is next found in the hands of the Medgate family, two members of which, Joseph and Thomas, levied a fine of it in 1613, (fn. 94) while Thomas, twenty-six years later, alienated it to John Smith. (fn. 95) The latter transferred it in 1654 to his son John, (fn. 96) who sold it to John Lawrence in 1661. (fn. 97) Lawrence in turn conveyed it three years later to Andrew Campion, clerk, (fn. 98) and he to John Hockley in 1666. (fn. 99) No further detailed descent can be given for this manor. In 1732 and 1733 it was in the hands of Justus Gerhard and Ann his wife, (fn. 100) while the last mention of it that has been found is in 1822, when it was in the hands of Richard Gilpin, (fn. 101) whose descendant, Mr. P. P. Gilpin, still holds lands in the neighbourhood.
The church of ALL SAINTS consists of a chancel 40 ft. 6 in. by 19 ft., a nave 59 ft. 6 in. by 19 ft. 5 in., a south aisle 9 ft. 5 in. wide, extended westward to form an organ chamber, with a modern south porch, a north aisle 9 ft. 3 in. wide, extended westward to form a vestry, and a west tower 15 ft. by 15 ft. 11 in. The chancel, nave and aisles were built early in the 14th century, and the chancel arch and nave arcades of this date remain, with the internal jambs of several windows of the nave; the west tower was added in the 15th century, but the rest of the walls of the church have been entirely rebuilt and new windows inserted.
The east window of the chancel has five cinquefoiled lights with tracery. On the north side are two square-headed windows, of two and three lights respectively, and on the south three two-light windows. All have modern tracery, but jambs and rear arches are 14th-century work, except the western jambs of the north-east and south-east windows, which were widened in the 15th century. There are modern north and south doorways, and the southwest window has a transom in its lower lights. A vestry formerly existed at the north-east, and under the north-west window are two lockers for books. At the south-east is a rebuilt piscina recess and east of the south doorway a holy water stoup.
The nave arcades are in five bays; the arches are like the chancel arch, with the addition of moulded labels, and springing from octagonal shafts with similar capitals and bases, and on the eastern pier of the south arcade is a stone bracket. The clearstories on both sides are modern, each having four squareheaded windows of three cinquefoiled lights.
In the east end of the north aisle is a window of three trefoiled lights and jamb shafts with moulded capitals and bases. The north wall of the aisle is divided by buttresses into five bays, in the second and fourth of which are similar windows, and in the eastern bay is a square-headed window of three cinquefoiled lights. In the third bay is a modern doorway, and in the western bay, lighting the vestry, is a single trefoiled light and one like it in the west wall. The vestry is separated from the north aisle by a wall.
The south aisle is divided by buttresses into three bays, in the second of which is the south doorway, which appears to date from the 14th century, but has been restored; it is in three moulded orders with a pointed head. There is a modern porch over it, on each side of which is a window like that in the east end of the opposite aisle, and the east window of this aisle also has three trefoiled lights, but set in a pointed head with tracery. In the eastern bay are two square-headed windows of three cinquefoiled lights, and in the interior is a 14th-century trefoiled piscina with the points of the cusps chamfered off. The western bay of this aisle serves as the organ chamber, divided from the aisle by an arch like those of the nave arcades and lighted from the west by a modern round cusped opening.
The tower arch dates from the 15th century, but has been repaired; it is in two moulded orders, separated by a casement, with a label on the nave side. The tower dates from the 15th century and is of three stages, with an embattled parapet and pairs of two-light belfry windows. In the north wall of the second story is a narrow single light and another in the west wall. Over the west door is a window of three cinquefoiled lights, of which only the outer order of the arch is old. On each side of this window is a cinquefoiled canopied niche, much decayed. At the south-west angle is a staircase turret with an embattled parapet and a modern door at the base. On the east side of the tower the weather mould of the 14th-century nave roof remains, with a doorway to the space over its ceiling.
The nave roof is of the 15th century, but has been largely restored; it is of low pitch, with moulded timbers in five bays, having angels bearing shields on the intermediates, and in the eastern bay four ribbed panels forming a ceiling over the rood. The aisle roofs are also of this date, but plain, and the chancel roof is modern. At the chancel arch is a 15th-century wooden screen, with four bays on each side of a wide central opening.
The font belongs to a late 12th-century type, of which there are several examples in Buckinghamshire, as at Aylesbury and Weston Turville; the bowl is circular and the base square, taking the form of a large inverted scalloped capital.
In the chancel floor is a brass, the upper part of a priest, and a matrix for another figure, with an inscription to John Waleys, once vicar, and to William Waleys, his relative. The date of the brass is about the end of the 15th century. There is also another brass of a priest, with an inscription to Sir William Walley, vicar, 1506.
In the south wall of the south aisle is a 15thcentury recessed tomb beneath an ogee canopy, the tomb being panelled with quatrefoiled circles and shields charged with a cheveron between three butterflies. Above is a horizontal embattled cornice and traceried cusping to the spandrels. On the tomb is an effigy, said to be that of Sir John Sewell, in hawberk and jupon, on which his arms are blazoned, and a bascinet with a camail.
There are six bells: the treble by John Briant, Hertford, 1815; the second also by John Briant, 1816; the third by Newcombe, 1616, recast in 1899 by Taylor; the fourth by John Briant, Hertford, 1811; the fifth by John Dier, 1580, recast in 1899 by Taylor; and the tenor by Anthony Chandler, 1673.
The registers previous to 1813 are in six books:— (1) all entries 1538 to 1678; (2) the same 1704 to 1767, marriages to 1754; (3) marriages 1754 to 1795; (4) baptisms and burials 1768 to 1807; (5) marriages 1795 to 1807; (6) marriages 1807 to 1812.
The church of Houghton Regis was held in 1086 by William the Chamberlain, (fn. 102) as was also Luton Church (q.v.). The early history of these two churches is very similar, but Cobbe in his History of Luton Church suggests that Houghton was given to Earl Robert of Gloucester by Henry I, (fn. 103) whilst Luton was not given him until 1136. (fn. 104) Earl William, son of Earl Robert, granted Houghton Church in 1153 to St. Albans Abbey. (fn. 105) The monks assigned it with other property to the cellarer of the abbey, that he might out of the profits attend to the repairing of the building, commissariat and duties of hospitality. (fn. 106) Henry II early in his reign seized the church, but gave it back to the monastery almost immediately, (fn. 107) and it was confirmed to them by Richard I, (fn. 108) John, (fn. 109) Henry III, (fn. 110) and Edward I. (fn. 111) The advowson remained in the hands of the abbey until the Dissolution. Elizabeth granted it for a term of years to Edward Wingate, (fn. 112) while James I made a grant of it to Thomas Marbury and Richard Cartwright. (fn. 113) From them it passed to Thomas Lord Brackley; the occasion is unknown, but possibly the fact of Richard Cartwright being a relative of Lord Brackley's wife and a protégé of Lord Brackley himself (fn. 114) may have some bearing on the point. Lord Brackley died seised of it in 1617, (fn. 115) and was succeeded by his son John first Earl of Bridgewater, who alienated the advowson to Henry Brandreth in 1653. (fn. 116) Henceforward the descent of the advowson is the same as that of the manor of Houghton (q.v.).
The descent of the rectory is the same as that of the advowson until 1651, when the Earl of Bridgewater alienated it to William Bowyer. (fn. 117) The latter, who was created a baronet in 1660, (fn. 118) transferred the rectory in 1678 to Geoffrey Elwes, (fn. 119) who in turn sold it to Alice Smyth in 1691–2. (fn. 120) It was acquired by Mr. H. C. G. Brandreth and Mrs. Brandreth now holds the patronage.
The endowment of the church (half a hide) was valued in 1086 at 12s. (fn. 121) In 1291 the value of the church was £16 13s. 4d., (fn. 122) while at the Dissolution the vicarage was valued at £11 13s. 4d. (fn. 123) and the rectory at £41. (fn. 124)
On the strength of the rectory of Houghton being the property of St. Albans, the bailiff of William la Zouche, lord of the manor of Houghton, in the latter part of the 14th century claimed 'glove silver' in August from the abbot, also a dinner on the day of the great 'bederip,' and meat called 'wakemeat' for the man who watched over the lord's corn on August nights. But after the case had been heard in London Lord Zouche withdrew his claims in 1392. (fn. 125)
Abbot John Moote (1396–1401) built a grange at Houghton on a stone foundation, having around it a strong earthen wall. (fn. 126)
In 1656 representations were made to Cromwell that Houghton Regis, a parish that comprised four villages and many hundred souls, had not had a preaching minister for a hundred years, the reason being that the vicarage was only endowed with the small tithes, to be collected from 200 persons, and hardly paying the labour of collecting. Previously it had been arranged that Dunstable should have two ministers and an augmentation of £100, and an alteration was made whereby £50 of this was given to Houghton. (fn. 127)
The Chantries Commission reported the existence of a very rich chantry bequest in Houghton Regis, made by William Dyve, citizen and mercer of London, consisting of lands and tenements of the yearly value of £20 12s. 2d. (fn. 128) The greater part of the property so granted was in Houghton and Sewell, but it also included the King's Head and Swan Inns in Dunstable. Certain other money had also been given for the help of poor people when a fifteenth was granted to the king. (fn. 129) Out of this endowment two priests had to be found, one to serve a chapel at Sewell and the other a chapel in Houghton. The chaplain received a pension of £6 for his chanting, (fn. 130) and a further £1 6s. 8d. for teaching six poor children. Dyve put the lands of the endowment in the hands of trustees for a period of ninety-nine years, at the end of which time, if the king refused to grant a licence for them to be held in mortmain for ever, they should be sold within six or seven years, and the money divided into three parts—one part to be spent on ornaments for the church, one part on the mending of a highway called Pynders Hill and on poor folk's marriages in Houghton, and the remaining part to the Abbess of Syon. (fn. 131) The lands of this chantry bequest were granted to William Smythe and his son William in 1548. (fn. 132) The site of the chantry chapel in Houghton is to the east of the church, close by where the road from Chalton runs into the green.
The commissioners of 1547 further reported that lands to the annual value of 23s. 2d. had been granted for a lamp in the church, and 2s. for an obit. (fn. 133)
The school founded by will of Thomas Whitehead, 1654. (fn. 134) The official trustees hold a sum of £2,127 7s. 2d. consols, arising from investment of proceeds of sale in 1877 and of certain accumulations. The annual dividends, amounting to £53 3s. 8d., are applied as part of the general income of the National school.
In 1664 William Strange, by will, charged his lands in Houghton with an annuity of £10 for the use of the aged poor frequenting divine service. The property subject to the charge is known as Brewer's Hill Farm, awarded in 1802, under the Inclosure Act, in lieu of the lands originally charged. The annuity is received from Mr. Thomas John Cook, the owner, and is applied on St. Thomas's Day in gifts of money varying from 2s. to 4s. 6d. each recipient.