The borough of Bedford: Advowsons

Pages 29-31

A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.

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The church of St. Paul belonged to secular canons, certainly before the Conquest, and is mentioned in the Survey as having been unjustly defrauded of 1 hide of land in Bedford. (fn. 1) On the foundation of Newnham Priory St. Paul's formed part of the endowment, and so remained till the Dissolution. (fn. 2) The advowson was retained by the Crown until 1587–8, (fn. 3) when it was bought up by Edward Downing, a well-known fishing grantee. (fn. 4) He appears to have sold it almost immediately to Nicholas Luke, who presented in 1605. (fn. 5) He died in 1614, when the advowson passed to his son Oliver Luke, (fn. 6) remaining in the Luke family certainly till 1671. (fn. 7) Between this date and 1689 it passed to George Carteret Baron Hawnes, who then presented. (fn. 8) The Carterets retained the advowson until the middle of the 19th century. (fn. 9) The Rev. W. G. Fitzgerald owned the advowson in 1865, and it passed c. 1880 to the Bishop of Ely, who exercises the right of presentation at the present day. (fn. 10) The rectory of St. Paul's followed the same descent as the advowson until 1617, when Sir Oliver Luke, kt., transferred it to Nicholas Spencer and others. (fn. 11) By them it was alienated, in 1623, to John Godfrey alias Cooper, (fn. 12) by whom it was retained till 1655. He then conveyed it to Thomas Christie, (fn. 13) a descendant of whom, bearing the same name, gave the great tithes in 1697 to the vicar of St. Paul's and his successors, charged with a rent to the almshouses built by him. (fn. 14)

The church of St. Cuthbert was granted to Dunstable Priory some time during the early 13th century by Abel son of Roland. (fn. 15) At the Dissolution the rectory of St. Cuthbert was worth £6, (fn. 16) from which the prior drew a small pension. (fn. 17) The advowson then became Crown property, and has so remained, the right of presentation being exercised at the present day by the Lord Chancellor. (fn. 18)

In 1200 the church of St. Mary was claimed by the Bishop of Lincoln and the Prior of Dunstable respectively, the former producing a charter of William I, with confirmations by Henry I and Henry II, and the latter a charter of Henry I confirmed by Henry II. (fn. 19) The matter was settled by the bishop retaining the advowson, whilst granting the prior a yearly pension of 20s. from the church. (fn. 20) This tax, which was paid in 1291, (fn. 21) was remitted by the prior to the bishops in 1334. (fn. 22) The advowson has since been retained by the Bishop of Lincoln, (fn. 23) who at present exercises two turns, Balliol College, Oxford, having exercised one turn (fn. 24) since the middle of the last century.

The church of St. Peter, Merton, was granted some time early in the 13th century to Merton Priory (co. Surrey), whose prior presented in 1220. (fn. 25) The rectory was worth £12 at the Dissolution, when it became the property (fn. 26) of the Crown, with whom the right of presentation has since remained. (fn. 27)

The parish church of St. John was early consolidated with the hospital whose history down to the Dissolution has already been traced. (fn. 28) Prior to that time the right of presenting the master, who was also rector of the parish church of St. John, had been the property of the mayor and burgesses, but during the 16th and 17th centuries numerous disputes arose, their rights being frequently contested by persons claiming houses and lands belonging to the hospital under grants from the Crown. The mayor and corporation were, however, always successful. (fn. 29) Of late years the advowson has passed away from the mayor and corporation, and is now vested in the trustees of F. Aldridge Clark.

The church of St. Peter, Dunstable, was granted in 1218 by Ralph Clerk, Julia his wife and Columba her sister to Dunstable Priory. (fn. 30) In 1291 the prior had a pension of 6s. 8d. in the church, (fn. 31) and in 1334 received a licence to alienate this pension together with the advowson of the church to the Bishop of Lincoln. (fn. 32) The church was then declared to be worth 6 marks. Before the Dissolution it had been annexed to St. Mary's parish in the same town, (fn. 33) and in 1545 the parishioners were permitted by Sir Edward North, chancellor of augmentations, to pull down St. Peter's, on condition of their using such materials as were not wanted for the repairs of St. Mary's (to which they had lately added a new aisle) in mending the streets and repairing the bridge. (fn. 34) The church formerly stood on a void place directly opposite St. Mary's, the site being in 1802 the property of Mr. Sheppard, landlord of the Royal Oak. (fn. 35)

First mention has been found of the church of All Saints or All Hallows, Bedford, in 1291, when the Prior of Newnham had a pension of 12s. there. (fn. 36) In 1406 William de Cotherstoke and others received licence to grant William Hert, parson of the church of All Saints, a messuage in the town for a house for himself and his successors. (fn. 37) It appears to have belonged to Newnham, and was situated on the north side of the river. (fn. 38) It followed the same descent as St. Paul's after the Dissolution, but no reference has been found to the advowson later than 1614, (fn. 39) nor the rectory after 1655. (fn. 40) Lysons and other writers make no reference to this parish, which possibly, as in the case of St. Mary and St. Peter, Dunstable, became absorbed in the larger and adjacent parish of St. Paul's.

The advowson of Holy Trinity, a modern ecclesiastical parish formed from St. Paul's in 1860, is in the gift of the vicar of St. Paul's, Bedford.

St. Leonard, formed in 1889, is in the gift of the rector of St. Mary's, Bedford.

St. Martin, formed in 1896, is in the gift of the Bishop of Ely.

About the year 1331 certain men of the town of Bedford built an oratory on the bridge over the Ouse, known as St. Thomas' Chapel. A chaplain was appointed who was to act as keeper of the oratory and bridge, and to receive alms from passengers for the repair of the bridge. (fn. 41) The right of appointment of such chaplain was claimed by the mayor and townsmen, and this right being violated by the sheriff, who in 1332 appointed John de Derby in the king's name and ejected the chaplain elected by the borough, led to disorderly scenes, in which Nicholas de Astewood, mayor of the town, and others assembled by ringing of the town bell and assaulted the king's nominee. (fn. 42) In 1336 the justices were commissioned to make inquiry as to the foundation and endowment of the chapel, whether it was built on the king's soil and all the circumstances of the case. (fn. 43) The town's candidate, John de Bodenho, is found petitioning Parliament in 1338 stating that the oratory was built by the good people of Bedford over (hors de) water belonging to Lord Moubray with his permission, and that neither the king nor his ancestors ever had any part in it, for those who built it were still alive. (fn. 44) The men of Bedford complained in the same year that the case of the election, which had already lasted five years, was still pending, and the bridge meanwhile falling into decay. (fn. 45) The dispute was still unsettled in 1344. (fn. 46) It would appear to have been settled in the king's favour, however, for during the remainder of the century the appointments are made to 'the king's free chapel of St. Thomas.' (fn. 47) A chaplain was appointed in 1432, (fn. 48) but no further mention has been found of the chapel, and the absence of any entry on the chantry certificates seems to indicate that it had been allowed to fall into decay before the Dissolution.

The chantry of Corpus Christi, also called Joye's Chantry, was founded in the parish of St. Paul by William Joye and others to find a priest to sing mass daily and say dirges for the souls of Henry VII, Elizabeth his queen, and the founders. (fn. 49) The clear value of the chantry at its dissolution was £8 7s. 4½d. (fn. 50); its lands lay in the parishes of both St. Peter and St. Paul, and it was served by the chantry priests, the vicar and the Trinity priest. (fn. 51) In 1612–13 the lands belonging to this chantry were granted to Francis Philipps and others. (fn. 52)

The chantry of the Brotherhood of the Holy Trinity was also in the parish of St. Paul. Their lands, which were of the clear value of £8 13s. 1d., were given by the Mayor, bailiff and burgesses of Bedford to the use of the chaplain who sang mass in the parish church, 'but the said priest hath no perpetuity, but is removable by the mayor and town of Bedford.' (fn. 53) The lands attached to this chantry were also granted by patent in 1612 to Francis Philipps and others. (fn. 54)

The chantry of St. Cuthbert was founded in 1320 by Peter Wymund and Robert de Ashby, chaplains, to provide a chaplain to say mass daily for their souls and those of all Christians in the church of St. Cuthbert, Bedford. It was endowed with five messuages, six gardens, 24 acres of land and 8s. rent in Bedford, worth in all 73s. 4d. (fn. 55) At the dissolution of the chantry this original endowment is quoted, and the note added, 'of which messuages the priest lacketh two, and of the said 24 acres of land he lacketh one'; the yearly value was then 53s. 2d. (fn. 56) In 1590 these lands, amongst many others, were leased for twenty-one years to Richard Threkeston and John Wells, having previously been leased to the Mayor and burgesses of Bedford. (fn. 57)

Bedford has a Bunyan Meeting House, founded in 1650. The present edifice was built in 1849, and replaced one erected in 1707. It seats 1,100 persons, and has bronze doors, modelled by Frederick Thrupp with ten subjects from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, which were presented to the chapel by the Duke of Bedford in 1868. (fn. 58) The Howard Congregational Chapel, founded by John Howard the philanthropist and others in 1772, was enlarged in 1849. The Mill Street Baptist Chapel was founded in 1793 and enlarged in 1869. Other Nonconformist places of worship in Bedford include four Wesleyan chapels, a Catholic Apostolic church, three Primitive Methodist chapels, three Moravian chapels (the earliest established in 1745), one Theistic church, one Zion chapel, a Christadelphian church, and a Salvation Army hall.


  • 1. V.C.H. Beds. i, 221. Cf. also 'Religious Houses.'
  • 2. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 187.
  • 3. Beds. N. and Q. ii, 193.
  • 4. Pat. 30 Eliz. pt. xv.
  • 5. Beds. N. and Q. iii, 7.
  • 6. Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. 2), cccxliii, 177.
  • 7. Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.).
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Ibid.; Lysons, Mag. Brit. i (1), 52.
  • 10. Clergy Lists.
  • 11. Feet of F. Beds. Trin. 15 Jas. I.
  • 12. Ibid. Mich. 21 Jas. I.
  • 13. Ibid. East. 1655.
  • 14. Lysons, Mag. Brit. i (1), 52.
  • 15. Harl. MS. 1885, fol. 193.
  • 16. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 199, 207.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.), &c. In 1642–3 the inhabitants of St. Cuthbert's parish petitioned against Mr. Thorne, parson of St. Mary's, who some years since had engrossed into his hands the rectory of St. Cuthbert over the head of the incumbent. He had since taken the profits of both benefices, but wilfully neglected the cure of petitioners' souls, having kept only one drunken curate to officiate in both churches. The parishioners prayed that Mr. Thorne be compelled to afford a sufficient maintenance out of the profits of the rectory to Mr. Houlden, a godly and painful minister (Beds. N. and Q. i, 148).
  • 19. Selden Soc. Publ. Select Civil Pleas, i, 16; Abbrev. Plac. (Rec. Com.), 27.
  • 20. Harl. MS. 1885, fol. 22 d.
  • 21. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 34b.
  • 22. Cal. Pat. 1330–4, p. 567; Inq. a.q.d. file 230, no. 8.
  • 23. Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.).
  • 24. Crockford, Clerical Dir. 1908.
  • 25. Cott. MSS. Cleop. C vii. A 13th-century grant of land in the parish of St. Peter de Merton is found in the Newnham Cartulary (Harl. MS. 3656, fol. 84 d.). Bishop Wells Institutions (Alcuin Soc.) Dunstable presented to the church in 1226.
  • 26. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 191.
  • 27. Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.).
  • 28. V.C.H. Beds. i, 396.
  • 29. Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.).
  • 30. Feet of F. Beds. 2 Hen. III, no. 2; Harl. MS. 1885, fol. 193. Julia and Columba were to have alternate presentations with the prior during their lifetime.
  • 31. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 34b.
  • 32. Cal. Pat. 1330–4, p. 567; Inq. a.q.d. file 231, no. 7.
  • 33. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 191.
  • 34. Lysons, Mag. Brit. i (1), 52.
  • 35. Add. MS. 9408, fol. 4.
  • 36. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 34b.
  • 37. Cal. Pat. 1405–8, p. 273; Inq. a.q.d. file 438, no. 20.
  • 38. Pat. 13 Eliz. pt. viii, m. 2. The situation is gathered from the reference to the water-mills on the opposite (i.e. south) side of the river and also from Speed's map and references in the Bushmead Cartulary.
  • 39. Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. 2), cccxliii, 177.
  • 40. Feet of F. Beds. East. 1655. Its site is marked in Speed's map of 1611.
  • 41. Cal. Pat. 1330 4, p. 148.
  • 42. Ibid. pp. 304, 351.
  • 43. a Ibid. 1334–8, p. 361.
  • 44. b Parl. R. ii, 100.
  • 45. Cal. Pat. 1334 8, p. 361.
  • 46. Ibid. 1343–5, p. 404.
  • 47. Ibid. 1381–5, pp. 96, 122, 240; 1388–92, pp. 42, 311; 1391–6, p. 277.
  • 48. Ibid. 1429–36, p. 226.
  • 49. Chant. Cert. (Beds.), 4, no. 24.
  • 50. Ibid.; Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 191.
  • 51. Ibid.
  • 52. Pat. 10 Jas. I, pt. ii.
  • 53. Chant. Cert. (Beds.), 4, no. 21.
  • 54. Pat. 10 Jas. I, pt. ii.
  • 55. Cal. Pat. 1317–21, p. 439; Rentals and Surv. portf. 24, no. 13.
  • 56. Chant. Cert. (Beds.), 4, no. 24.
  • 57. Pat. 32 Eliz. pt. iv, m. 17.
  • 58. Dict. Nat. Biog.