Parishes: Wilshamstead

Pages 325-328

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

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Winessamestede (xi cent.); Wilsamsted (xiii cent.).

The area of this parish is 3,151 acres, of which 1,615 are arable land, 815¼ permanent grass and 198¼ woods and plantations. (fn. 1) The woods known as Wilshamstead Wood, St. Macute's Wood (commonly called 'Snakes') and Rough Hill Spinney lie in the south of the parish, where the ground reaches 288 ft. From here it gradually falls away to the north to less than 100 ft. above ordnance datum.

The soil, which is loam with a subsoil of clay, is better in the east, where turnips are grown, than in the west, where wheat, peas, beans and barley are the chief crops.

The village, built on level ground 126 ft. above ordnance datum, presents a curious aspect, as it stretches across nearly the whole width of the parish. The main portion is in the west on the road from Bedford to Luton. Here in a shady churchyard stands the church of All Saints, whose tower fell on Sunday 11 April 1742, being probably shaken by the ringing of bells.

Most of the cottages are quite modern, though there are a few examples of thatch. At the west end of the village to the north of the road is an early 17th-century uninhabited brick farm-house, while on the opposite side of the road is a modern saw-mill. Beyond this is the part called Duck End, north of which, on the Bedford and Luton road, is a brick kiln.

The rest of the village extends along the road connecting the high road from Bedford to Luton with that from Bedford to Shefford. It consists of the hamlets of Chapel End, where are the Manor Farm, the Infants' School and Wesleyan chapel, Littleworth on the borders of the parish, where St. Paul's Mission Church was opened in 1906, and continues to Herring's Green in the parish of Eastcotts. South of Littleworth and reached by a lane which loses itself in the fields is Wilshamstead Cotton End Manor Farm.

William Samuel Richardson, Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1736, son of a vicar of Wilshamstead, was born here. He is principally known as the editor and reviser of Godwin's work De Praesulibus Angliae Commentarii. He was a strong Tory and a stern disciplinarian. (fn. 2)

There was born here also in 1829 another celebrated person, who is famous for the leading part he took in Colonial politics. William Morgan, who was the son of a farmer, started life as a grocer's assistant in Wilshamstead. He made a large fortune at the Bendigo diggings in 1851, and by this means was enabled to turn his business into one of the wealthiest mercantile houses in the colony. His chief fame, however, is derived from his five years' Premiership of South Australia (1877–81), at the end of which time he returned to England and in 1883 was created K.C.M.G., but died the same year, before he could return to the colony, and is buried in his native place. (fn. 3)


There were two manors in this parish at the time of the Domesday Survey. WILSHAMSTEAD MANOR, slightly the larger, was held by the Abbess of Elstow of the Countess Judith, (fn. 4) the soke belonging to Kempston; tradition says that the latter had founded and endowed the convent as an act of reparation for the betrayal of her husband. (fn. 5) It was assessed at 3 hides and was worth £7 6s. (fn. 6) The manor, like the remainder of the Countess Judith's lands, was held as of the honour of Huntingdon. (fn. 7) After the Dissolution the manor was created part of the honour of Ampthill, (fn. 8) and the overlordship remained in the hands of the Crown. The Abbess of Elstow continued to hold till the Dissolution, (fn. 9) a view of frank pledge, free warren and the vill (fn. 10) being confirmed to her in 1287. In 1539 the last abbess leased the manor to Mr. Holcrofte, (fn. 11) but in the same year the abbey lands were surrendered to the Crown. (fn. 12) At that time it was worth £19 0s. 5d. in temporalities. (fn. 13)

By 1562 the manor had been granted by the Crown to Robert Newdigate, who conveyed it possibly in trust to his brother John. (fn. 14) In 1563 Robert sold the property to John Warner and Thomas Norwood. (fn. 15) John Warner died in 1565 childless, (fn. 16) and the manor reverted to Thomas Norwood, his nephew and son of the joint feoffee of the manor. (fn. 17) Thomas Norwood still held the manor in 1584, (fn. 18) and four years later it was settled on his son John for life, with remainder to John's second son Edmund, (fn. 19) who held in 1605. (fn. 20)

In 1608 Edmund Norwood made a settlement of the manor on Edmund Bagshaw and Francis Clerke. (fn. 21) Its history is here somewhat obscure. The next mention that has been found occurs in 1628, when Edward Ditchfield as trustee for the Corporation of London received a grant of the manor of Wilshamstead, said to be then in the tenure of Lady Elizabeth Radcliffe, and late belonging to Elstow. (fn. 22) From him it passed to Henry Lord Mordaunt, whose daughters Elizabeth, Margaret and Anne compounded for their estates in 1649. (fn. 23) John Manley of Wilshamstead was then declared to have purchased two-thirds of the estate, of which quiet possession was confirmed to him at this date. (fn. 24) By 1669–70 a further alienation of this manor had taken place, it being then owned by Thomas Beech, who with his son made a settlement of it by fine on William Bedell. (fn. 25)

In 1764 it was the property of Robert third Earl Granville, (fn. 26) who died without issue in 1776. (fn. 27) His nephew Henry Frederick Thynne (afterwards Carteret) succeeded under the will of his uncle to the Carteret estates. (fn. 28) Thus he held this manor still in 1795, (fn. 29) and it remained in his family till 1849, (fn. 30) when John third Lord Carteret died childless; the barony became extinct, (fn. 31) but the manor remained in the possession of the family and is at present held by Mr. A. C. Thynne.

The second manor which is mentioned in the Domesday Survey is that of WESTCOTES or COTYS. At that date it was assessed at 3 hides all but 1 virgate, and was held by Nigel de Albini. (fn. 32) It followed the same descent through the Albinis, St. Amands, Braybrookes and Beauchamps as Millbrook (q.v.) until the 15th century. (fn. 33) The history diverges circa 1428, when Elizabeth Beauchamp transferred Millbrook to Sir John Cornwall, retaining Westcotes. It was, however, forfeited to the Crown by her second husband Sir Roger Tocotes, and was granted by Richard III in 1483–4 to John Grey, (fn. 34) from whose family it had passed by 1609 to Henry Lord Mordaunt, who died seised of the manor at this date. (fn. 35) It appears to have remained in this family till 1649–51, (fn. 36) following here the same descent as the principal manor in this parish. In 1741 it had become the property of James Baker, who with John Eldridge made a settlement of 'West Cotton' Manor at this date. (fn. 37) Thomas Baker, a representative of this family, held the manor in 1800, (fn. 38) and sold it about this time to Samuel Whitbread, (fn. 39) whose representative Mr. Samuel Whitbread is now lord of the manor.

Domesday also records that a virgate in Westcote was held both in 1066 and 1087 by one Ordwig, a king's man. (fn. 40)


The church of ALL SAINTS consists of a chancel 29 ft. 6 in. by 16 ft. with a north vestry, a nave 48 ft. by 19 ft. 3 in., a north aisle 7 ft. 3 in. wide, south aisle 9 ft. 9 in. wide and a west tower 13 ft. 6 in. square, all measurements being internal.

Wilshamstead Church from the South-east

The south arcade of the nave, of clumsily wrought 14th-century detail, is the oldest part of the building, and the walls of the south aisle are probably contemporary, the head of the south door belonging to c. 1340. The north arcade, with capitals of unusual character, is probably early 15th-century work, and the chancel, south porch and tower are modern. There is an entry in the registers that the old tower fell down on 11 April 1742, and in order to provide money towards its re-erection, at a cost of £474 12s., three of the bells were sold. The walling is of ironstone rubble, and the ashlar work of oolite and chalk.

The north arcade of the nave is built of clunch in three bays of two hollow-chamfered orders, in large stones, with quatrefoiled shafts and moulded capitals, of which the lower halves are bell-shaped and the upper irregularly octagonal. The south arcade, of oolite, is in four bays of two chamfered orders on quatrefoiled shafts with rolls in the angles and simple moulded bell capitals, and with corbels in the responds, under which are coarsely-carved heads. The western half of the west arch has been rebuilt. The clearstory windows, four on each side, are each of two trefoiled lights under a four-centred head.

The walls of the north aisle appear to have been rebuilt; they have an embattled parapet and a chamfered plinth, and there are two windows of two lights and one of three lights, all cinquefoiled, under fourcentered heads. The north doorway is modern and has a four-centred head. In this aisle is a 15th-century piscina recess with a four-centred head and a wooden shelf showing traces of colour.

The south aisle has a 14th-century piscina with a trefoiled head, and beneath it is part of a 13th-century coffin-lid. In the east wall is a modern two-light window; in the south wall are a 15th-century window of three cinquefoiled lights under a depressed arch and two 15th-century windows of two cinquefoiled lights, only the western of the two having old tracery; a similar window at the west end is modern. The doorway is in part of 14th-century work, with a pointed arch of two orders, the outer hollow-chamfered, the inner wave-moulded, and with a moulded label, but the greater part of it is modern.

The tower is entirely modern, in two stages with an embattled parapet and chamfered plinth, and is built of ironstone rubble. In 1742 the ancient tower fell and was replaced by a temporary one, built mainly of wood. The present tower was built in 1852.

The nave has a good low-pitched 15th-century roof, with figures, probably of apostles, on the jack legs; all hold scrolls, but their symbols are lost On the intermediates are figures of angels, and there are carved bosses at the intersections of the purlins. The south aisle roof is also of the 15th century. At the east end of the north aisle is a brass half-figure of a priest in mass vestments, c. 1450, and an inscription, 'Orate pro [anima] d[omini] Will[elm]i Carbrok Capellani cui' aĩe [prop]iciet' deus et pro a[nimabus] parentum patrum soror' omniu' benefactor' suor' et omniũ fideliũ defunctor'.' At the south-east of the nave is a wall tablet of alabaster and Purbeck marble to William Tompson, 1596.

There is one large bell by Emerton of Wootton, 1783, and a small priest's bell dated 1826.

The plate consists of a cup and paten cover, date mark 1626, a paten with date mark 1723, and a modern flagon.

The registers previous to 1812 are in four books: (1) all entries 1594 to 1659; (2) the same, 1664 to 1703; (3) the same, 1707 to 1812, the marriages ceasing in 1753; and (4) marriages 1754 to 1812.


The church of Wilshamstead was the property of Elstow Abbey from the 13th century till its dissolution in 1539, (fn. 41) at which time it was worth £25 13s. 9¾d. (fn. 42)

In 1541 a grant of the rectory was made to Edmund Harvey, (fn. 43) whose daughter married Sir Humphrey Radcliffe, (fn. 44) the latter receiving a confirmatory grant of the rectory, church and advowson of Wilshamstead in 1553. (fn. 45) Sir Edward Radcliffe presented in 1605. (fn. 46) In 1649 James Risley of High Holborn presented the advowson of this church to Sidney-Sussex College, Cambridge, (fn. 47) who exercised the right of patronage as late as 1782, (fn. 48) between which date and 1793 it passed to Lord Carteret, (fn. 49) who owned Wilshamstead Manor (q.v.), with which it henceforward descended, the present owner being Mr. A. C. Thynne.

Wilshamstead rectory follows the same descent as the advowson till c. 1630, when it had passed from the Radcliffes to William Thompson, who with his wife Elizabeth alienated it to Eustace Needham and Francis Taverner at this date. (fn. 50) George Needham, Maurice Needham and Jeremiah Needham made a settlement of Wilshamstead Rectory in 1679, (fn. 51) and Jeremiah Godfrey a further settlement in 1757. (fn. 52) By 1796 it had passed to Lord Carteret, who already owned the advowson. (fn. 53)

At the dissolution of the chantries a bead roll and an obit were endowed with 13 acres of land, valued in all at 7s. (fn. 54)


The school, church and Poor's Estate is regulated by a scheme of the Charity Commissioners of 13 September 1895, and comprises the following charities, namely:—

1. Richard Wells, will, 3 November 1686, trust property, 11 a. 1 r. 12 p., acquired in 1810 on the inclosure;

2. William Edwards, will, 1724, consisting of a rent-charge issuing out of an estate in Wilshamstead;

3. William Thompson, will, 20 September 1596, being rent-charges of £4 out of land called Cross Meadow and £1 out of a messuage and 2 acres; and

4. Mary Beech, will, 28 July 1716, trust fund, £18 12s. 10d. consols, with the official trustees, who also hold (1910) a sum of £106 3s. 7d. consols belonging to the Church Branch, representing accumulations of income.

In pursuance of the scheme the sum of £7 17s. was applied in 1909 in money prizes to children in elementary school, £13 1s. 11d. for church purposes, and £7 10s. 5d. distributed in coals to fifteen poor persons.

The school. (fn. 55)

The official trustees also hold a sum of £120 consols in trust for Dr. James Johnson's charity, founded by will, 19 May 1703, representing a legacy of £100 to Sidney-Sussex College, Cambridge, which is regulated by a scheme of the Charity Commissioners, 1 August 1905, the dividends of £3 a year being laid out in the purchase of Bibles and religious books and literature for children.

The Wesleyan Methodist chapel, comprised in an indenture of 1814, is regulated by scheme of Charity Commissioners, 1871.


  • 1. Statistics from Bd. of Agric. (1905).
  • 2. Dict. Nat. Biog. xlviii, 251.
  • 3. Information supplied by Mr. A. H. Wingfield.
  • 4. V.C.H. Beds. i, 257a.
  • 5. Ibid. 353.
  • 6. Ibid. 257a.
  • 7. Testa de Nevill (Rec. Com.), 243.
  • 8. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xvii, g. 28 (21).
  • 9. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 188.
  • 10. Feud. Aids, i, 31, 36; Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 12.
  • 11. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), 325.
  • 12. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iii, 412.
  • 13. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 188.
  • 14. Com. Pleas D. Enr. East. 4 Eliz.
  • 15. Feet of F. Beds. East. 5 Eliz.; Pat. 5 Eliz. pt. vii; Memo. R. (L.T.R.) Hil. 6 Eliz. m. 18.
  • 16. Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. 2), cxli, 46.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. Pat. 27 Eliz. pt. xvii.
  • 19. Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. 2), ccxvii, 117.
  • 20. Feet of F. Beds. Trin. 3 Jas. I.
  • 21. Ibid. Mich. 6 Jas. I.
  • 22. Pat. 4 Chas. I, pt. xxxv.
  • 23. Cal. Com. for Comp. iii, 2082.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Feet of F. Beds. Hil. 21 & 22 Chas. II.
  • 26. Recov. R. Hil. 5 Geo. III, rot. 54.
  • 27. G.E.C. Peerage, ii, 170.
  • 28. Ibid.
  • 29. Recov. R. Mich. 36 Geo. III, rot. 145.
  • 30. Lysons, Mag. Brit. i (1), 150; Loc. Act, 49 Geo. III, cap. 181.
  • 31. G.E.C. Peerage, ii, 171.
  • 32. V.C.H. Beds. i, 243b.
  • 33. For general references see Millbrook.
  • 34. Pat. 1 Ric. III, pt. ii.
  • 35. Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. 2), cccix, 200.
  • 36. Feet of F. Beds. Mich. 1651.
  • 37. Ibid. Hil. 14 Geo. II; Recov. R. Hil. 14 Geo. II.
  • 38. Ibid. Trin. 40 Geo. III.
  • 39. Lysons, Mag. Brit. i (1), 170.
  • 40. a V.C.H. Beds. i, 265a.
  • 41. V.C.H. Beds. i, 357.
  • 42. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 188.
  • 43. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xvi, p. 728.
  • 44. Beds. N. and Q. i, 126.
  • 45. Pat. 7 Edw. VI, pt. ii.
  • 46. Beds. N. and Q. i, 8.
  • 47. Doc. of Univ. of Cambridge, iii, 593.
  • 48. Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.).
  • 49. Ibid.
  • 50. Feet of F. Beds. Mich. 6 Chas. I.
  • 51. Ibid. East. 31 Chas. II.
  • 52. Ibid. Trin. 30 & 31 Geo. II.
  • 53. Recov. R. Mich. 36 Geo. III.
  • 54. Brown, Chant. Cert. Beds.
  • 55. See article on 'Schools,' V.C.H. Beds. ii, 185, n. 83.