A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The parish of Totternhoe covers an area of 2,321 acres, of which 1,342½ acres are arable land, producing crops of wheat, barley, beans and turnips, 347½ acres of permanent grass and 16 acres of woods and plantations. (fn. 1) The soil and subsoil are chalk.
In the north, at Stanbridge Ford station on the Dunstable branch of the London and North-Western railway, which here cuts across the parish, the land is 300 ft. above the ordnance datum, rising to 400 ft. in the centre where the village lies. South-east of the village the rise becomes more marked and ends in the Dunstable Downs at a height of 700 ft. to 800 ft.
The village, which consists of three separate portions, lies along the road to Stanbridge. The lowest part, known as Church End, contains the church, which stands in a shady churchyard, one or two farms and the recreation ground allotted when the common lands were inclosed in 1886. (fn. 2) The houses are principally modern, though there are several thatched and half-timber cottages.
The group of houses half a mile to the north-west constitutes Middle End. Here the farms stand in pretty orchads running down to the small stream which higher up turns the wheel of Doolittle Mill. On the south side of the road is the 'Cross Keys,' an old half-timber hotel covered with thatch.
On the north side of the road the ground rises sharply, the road on either side being well wooded. Opposite the 'Cross Keys' is a considerable hill known as the 'Castle,' the slopes of which are covered with gorse, while halfway up is a belt of young beech trees. On the summit are extensive earthworks with a mound at the north end, from which a fine view of the surrounding country is obtained. (fn. 3)
North of the Castle a small by-road branches off the main highway to the east, to the Totternhoe lime kilns, which stand to the south of the railway, and obtain their limestone from the adjoining hills. The road continues east, losing itself in a cart track, which wanders uphill in a winding course to the mediaeval stone quarries. The ground here is very undulating—being no doubt old workings—and the hillside has been undermined for a considerable distance, but the excavations cannot be seen now owing to a fall in the ground.
Totternhoe stone has been quarried from very early times. It is a species of limestone which in this parish attains a maximum development of 22 ft. Stone probably from these beds was used in the Saxon work of some of the Hertfordshire churches as at Walkern, and from the end of the 12th century its employment in architecture in that county, in Bedfordshire (especially the southern part) and in Buckinghamshire was universal. Totternhoe stone weathered badly, as is exemplified by the west front of Dunstable Priory, and was more suitable for interior work.
One of the earliest quarries of which mention has been found is that of Eglemunt, which in 1169 provided stone for building the king's houses at Windsor. (fn. 4) This quarry was in the fields north of Totternhoe, and is mentioned again in a charter of 1360. (fn. 5) The Abbot of St. Albans also owned quarries here, one of which is mentioned in 1375. (fn. 6) Abbot Whethamstede (1420–40) purchased two more from William Hunt and Thomas Jakes for £12 and £8 respectively. (fn. 7) Ashridge College, Buckinghamshire, also owned a quarry here called 'Totternall Quary,' which was granted to Thomas Egerton Earl of Ellesmere in 1607, (fn. 8) and remained in his family during the 17th century. (fn. 9) In 1762 the pit or quarry known as 'Tatternole' was sold on a 986 years' lease by the executors of Thomas Johnson. (fn. 10) During the 19th century the quarries were worked by a company, the Inclosure Act of 1886 preserving the rights of holders of allotments to materials from the quarries. (fn. 11) During the last decade of the last century the quarries ceased working, owing to lack of demand for this stone.
The rifle butts, with a range of 900 yds., are on the Hertfordshire border of the county, east of the Icknield Way, which crosses this parish. North of the markers' huts are several chalk pits and the Five Knolls tumuli. The latter, visible for many miles round, mark the site of a burial-ground of the Bronze Age, (fn. 12) and prehistoric hut-dwellings have also been discovered near the church. (fn. 13) Roman coins were found on the summit of the Dunstable Downs in Totternhoe in 1769. (fn. 14)
South of the Downs is an isolated portion of Totternhoe parish, containing Landpark Wood and part of Whipsnade Heath. On the extreme southern boundary is Shortgrave Manor Farm, partly in Whipsnade, marking the site of an ancient manor formerly belonging to Woburn Abbey.
The following place-names in this parish are found in 14th-century documents: Ernendedane, Erthendane, Pascombe (still preserved in Pascombe Pit), Rockesyornehull; and in 15th-century documents: Langrave Hedys, Popyhulle, Shortemillewaye.
Two manors are mentioned in Totternhoe at Domesday, assessed together at 25 hides. TOTTERNHOE MANOR, the principal, belonged to Walter de Wahull, and was rated at 15 hides. (fn. 15)
The overlordship is afterwards found attached to the Wahull barony, (fn. 16) and so remained until 1235, when William de Cantlowe, acting as the king's seneschal, granted the mesne lord freedom from suit at the shire and hundred courts, and sheriff's aids for his lifetime, so converting the manor into a liberty. (fn. 17) This act led to some confusion in the overlordship, and in 1284 the feudal assessors are found declaring that, whereas Totternhoe was formerly attached to the Wahull barony, they could not now ascertain of whom it was held. (fn. 18) It was afterwards held of the Crown in chief by knight service. John de Eglemond, (fn. 19) to whom feudal service was due in 1346, appears to have received a grant of the overlordship, but it has been found impossible to identify him, and the manor is henceforward held directly of the Crown. (fn. 20)
At the time of the Domesday Survey this manor was held as tenant in fee by Osbert, (fn. 21) and by the beginning of the 13th century had passed to Roger de Welton. (fn. 22) William son of Roger de Welton obtained a grant of free warren here in 1257, (fn. 23) and was followed by his son Roger. To the latter is probably due the alienation which took place shortly after this date to the Cantlowes. Millicent de Montalt, co-heir of George de Cantlowe, who died in 1273, was holding the manor in 1276, and, from the date of its acquisition by Millicent, Totternhoe Manor shares the history of her manor in Eaton Bray (fn. 24) (q.v.), and together with that manor was owned by William Beckford in 1801, (fn. 25) but the greater part of the parish is now in the possession of Earl Brownlow, who is also lord of the manor.
William de Welton, who was lord of the manor of Totternhoe in 1257, had two sons, to the younger of whom, Alelmus, (fn. 26) passed land in this parish later known as 'ALIAMS FEE.' Roger de Welton his brother acknowledged his right to this property in 1273, (fn. 27) possibly at the time of the alienation of his own inheritance to the Cantlowes. In 1287 Alelmus claimed free warren in Totternhoe by a charter of Henry III, (fn. 28) and held this estate till 1298, when in return for £233 he transferred his messuages and lands and rents and services due therefrom in Totternhoe to Millicent de Montalt, (fn. 29) who held the larger manor (q.v.). Unlike it, however, Aliams Fee remained attached to the barony of Wahull, (fn. 30) of which it was held until 1426, (fn. 31) also until the same date retaining a separate identity, being described as a view of frankpledge and 60 acres of land in Totternhoe formerly called Aliams Fee, worth yearly 30s. (fn. 32)
A second manor of TOTTERNHOE was held in 1086 by William the Chamberlain and comprised 6 hides 3 virgates. (fn. 33) Nothing further has been found of William's manor in this parish, and it can only be surmised that as the manor of Totternhoe, already dealt with, comprised the greater part of the parish, this less estate must have become absorbed in the larger, possibly by a later grant from the Crown on escheat.
In the early part of the 13th century William de Landas held an estate in this parish by knight service, which was described as a messuage and a carucate of land. In 1234 it was released by his son Nicholas to William de Eltesden in return for an annual rent of 12 marks of silver. (fn. 34)
Nicholas de Landas died before 1241, in which year his widow Valentina also quitclaimed her right in this property to William on condition that 4 marks were reserved to her out of the estate during her lifetime. (fn. 35)
William de Eltesden is returned as part owner of one knight's fee in Totternhoe in the Testa de Nevill, (fn. 36) and before 1247 he was succeeded by his son John, who in that year was defendant with the Prior of Dunstable in an action brought by William Russel and Hawise his wife to regain a carucate of land in Totternhoe and Whipsnade. (fn. 37) In 1257 John de Eltesden mortgaged his land of Totternhoe 'sub Duna' and 'super Duna' to Thomas Inge for 16 marks. (fn. 38) In the same year he sold part of his arable land and a grove on the Downs to Dunstable Priory, for which he was paid 35 marks and released from his mortgage to Thomas Inge. (fn. 39) The necessity for raising money, however, seems to have remained, and shortly afterwards the 'sub Duna' property was purchased from John by the former mortgagee, together with the rents and homages of his tenants there. (fn. 40)
Thomas was succeeded by William Inge, who was seised of this estate in 1302, (fn. 41) and died leaving as co-heir a daughter Joan. (fn. 42) She afterwards married Eudo la Zouche, who died in Paris in 1326. (fn. 43) Their son William inherited this Totternhoe estate from his mother, and in 1352 from William la Zouche, his paternal grandfather, he inherited the larger manor of Totternhoe. (fn. 44) From this date the two properties have been amalgamated and held as one manor.
William de Watford held lands in Totternhoe from which he owed knight service in 1346. (fn. 45) The same property was held by Giles de Watford in 1428, (fn. 46) and his descendants remained in Totternhoe during the next century. (fn. 47)
In 1518 an estate described as TOTTERNHOE MANOR was released by Ralph Watford and his son Ralph to Thomas Pygott, serjeant-at-law. (fn. 48) On the death of Thomas in 1521 it passed to his son William, then aged twenty-four. (fn. 49) It was held by Robert Pygott in 1575, (fn. 50) and he, who died in 1587, left it by settlement to a son Francis. (fn. 51) It was purchased from the latter in 1595 by Richard Moore, (fn. 52) who in turn alienated it to Oliver Style in 1614. (fn. 53) Five years later it had again changed hands and was held by John Buckmaster. (fn. 54) In 1623 it was purchased of him by Samuel Dagnoll, (fn. 55) from whom it was acquired in 1630 by Ambrose Aldridge. (fn. 56) The following year it appears in the hands of George Barber alias Grigge and Alice his wife, (fn. 57) who warranted the manor to William Welch against the heirs of Henry Fuller.
The subsequent history of this manor during the next hundred years is lost, but in the beginning of the 18th century it reappears in the hands of John Mead, a wealthy London grocer. (fn. 58) It has since followed the same descent as the rectory (q.v.) and is at present in the possession of Earl Brownlow.
In the early 14th century a considerable property in Totternhoe and Whipsnade, extended at three messuages and 106 acres of land, was held by Nicholas de Bovedon and: Sarah his wife. (fn. 59) By a settlement of 1315 this passed at their deaths to their son John, (fn. 60) who inherited before 1332. He released his whole estate in Whipsnade, Eaton Bray and Totternhoe to Walter de Woburn, (fn. 61) who is returned as holding part of the Totternhoe fee in 1346. (fn. 62)
Before 1428 it had passed to William atte Wood, who then paid feudal dues from his lands in Totternhoe formerly held by Walter de Woburn. (fn. 63) No further trace of this estate has been found.
The early history of the church is entirely destroyed by the late mediaeval alterations. The chancel and west tower seem earlier than the rest of the building, and belong to the 14th and 15th centuries respectively; the nave arcades overlap the chancel arch and are separated by straight joints from the tower, as are the west walls of both aisles, and the whole of the nave and aisles dates from early in the 16th century, the arcades copying the detail of the tower arch. The Ashwell rebus occurs on the aisle roofs and the respond of the north arcade.
Externally the chancel and vestry to the north of it are entirely covered with modern cement, but the rest of the church within and without is faced with ashlar masonry. All the walls have embattled parapets, except those of the vestry, which are plain.
The east window of the chancel is of three cinquefoiled lights of 15th-century character inserted in 14th-century jambs; the north-east and south-east windows are of the 14th century, of two cinquefoiled lights, and there is a contemporary trefoiled piscina. In the north wall is a door to the vestry, which has a 15th-century east window of three cinquefoiled lights in two chamfered orders, and a three-light north window of three cinquefoiled lights with a square head. On the south side of the chancel is a plain doorway, and to the west of it is a blocked window. The 15th-century chancel arch, which springs from responds with moulded capitals, is in two orders, the outer a hollow chamfer and the inner a double ogee.
The nave arcades are of four bays, in two moulded orders, and spring from octagonal shafts with moulded capitals and bases; on the capital of the east respond of the north arcade is an angel bearing a shield, on which is an ash tree rising from a well, a rebus of Ashwell, which also occurs on the roof of the south aisle. Both clearstories contain four square-headed windows of three plain lights, and the embattled parapets over them and on the aisles bear crocketed pinnacles. The east parapet of the nave is ornamented with sunk tracery filled in with flint, like East Anglian work. The windows of the aisles are of the latest Gothic character, for the most part with uncusped tracery.
The principal entrance is by the south door, through a 15th-century porch, crowned with an embattled parapet and having diagonal buttresses at the angles. In each side is a square-headed two-light window, and the outer arch is four-centred with a square label and a quatrefoiled panel in each spandrel. The east window of the south aisle is of four cinquefoiled lights, with tracery in a low four-centred head widened to the utmost width of the aisle. At the east end of this aisle is a piscina with a four-centred head and stone shelf, and between the two easternmost windows of the south wall is a blocked four-centred doorway; in the floor near are some 15th-century inlaid glazed tiles of single and four-tile patterns.
The tower arch is in two chamfered orders, the inner of which springs from a moulded capital. The tower is divided into three stages; in each face of the top story are windows of two trefoiled lights with a quatrefoil over, and in the ground story is a square-headed west doorway, and over it a two-light window. On the south face of the middle story is a small chamfered light, and there is a rectangular stair turret at the south-east angle.
The roofs of the nave and aisles, which are low-pitched, are moulded and carved with leaf scrolls; that of the nave is in eight bays, with bosses at the intersections of the timbers, carved with a wounded heart, a cross of St. George, a pomegranate, &c. The Ashwell rebus in the aisles is already noted; in some cases there is a bend gules over the well, and on several shields are single letters. In the chancel screen some 15th-century tracery is re-used. At the west end of the north aisle is a modern font. The old 15th-century font is in the churchyard.
On the floor of the chancel is a brass, 'an effigy of a cleric,' and the inscription 'Pray for the soule of John Warwekhyll sũtyme vicar of this churche, whyche decessed the XX day of October ye yer of or Lord mlvc xxiiii, on whose soule Jhũ have mercy.'
Near the east end of the south aisle in the floor on a small brass plate is the epitaph 'Hic jacet fr. Thoģ Greve, qõdā plor isti' loci, cui' Ĥ đpiciet' deus,' (fn. 64) and at the opposite end of this aisle are a slab with a matrix of a brass and a 13th-century coffin-lid. Some of the pewing, which has been stained and varnished, belongs to the 16th century, and has linen panels of a late type, and in the vestry is an oak chest on which is carved DC RW/1677; in the chancel is a 17th-century chair.
The registers previous to 1813 are in seven books, but the earlier ones are in considerable disorder: (1) baptisms 1559 to 1652 and some loose sheets of others, marriages 1559 to 1641 and some loose sheets about 1663, burials 1559 to 1588 and some in 1670; (2) burials 1653 to 1664; (3) baptisms 1673 to 1726 and marriages 1674 to 1726; (4) burials 1700 to 1745; (5) baptisms and burials 1727 to 1781; (6) marriages 1754 to 1812; (7) baptisms and burials 1781 to 1812.
The church of Totternhoe was granted to Dunstable Priory by Walter de Wahull (fn. 65) (c. 1160–90), (fn. 66) and the vicarage ordained in 1220. (fn. 67) At that date the whole church was worth 12 marks and the vicarage 5 marks. The latter consisted of all the altarages of the church, a rent of 10d. out of the land of Richard Godwer, and a manse, with half the tithes of hay from the whole parish. (fn. 68) In 1291 the church of Totternhoe was worth £4 13s. 4d. (fn. 69) The Prior of Dunstable held the advowson and rectory until the Dissolution, at which date the vicarage was worth £10, including £4 6s. 8d. allowed by the priory as augmentation. (fn. 70)
Part of the tithes were leased by the Crown to Robert Paschall in 1540, but they were acquired from him by John Mitchell and John Saunders, who obtained the whole right in all tithes and glebe land pertaining to the rectory and the advowson by royal grant in 1553. (fn. 71) The church remained in the Mitchell family for more than 100 years, (fn. 72) but at the beginning of the 18th century it had passed to John Lamb, (fn. 73) and from him to Henry Lamb, who sold both rectory and advowson to William Mead in 1718. (fn. 74) His daughter and heir married John Wilkes, Alderman of London, (fn. 75) the politician who obtained notoriety by his publications in the North Briton, who held the advowson and rectory in 1782. (fn. 76) His daughter was in possession in 1801, (fn. 77) but died in 1802, (fn. 78) and in the following year a presentation was made to the vicarage by the bishop by lapse. (fn. 79) Before 1813 the rectory and advowson were acquired by the Earl of Bridgewater. (fn. 80) He died in 1823, (fn. 81) and his widow remained seised until her death (fn. 82) in 1849, when the Bridgewater estates passed to John William Spencer, second Earl Brownlow. (fn. 83) He died in 1867, and was succeeded by his brother Adelbert Wellington Brownlow, (fn. 84) who is the present patron of the vicarage and impropriator of the rectorial tithes.