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Biggleswade in 1835

BIGGLESWADE, a market-town in the hundred of the same name, in the county of Bedford, forty-one miles N.N.W. of London, and nine miles E.S.E. from Bedford. It is situated on the great road to York, near the river Ivel, over which there is here a stone bridge. The river has been rendered navigable to the town, by which means the town and neighbourhood are supplied with coals, timber, and oats. Leland described Biggleswade as having 'a good market and 2 faires.' It has still a good market, particularly in corn, which is one of the largest in England, held on Wednesdays ; and its fairs are now five, namely, February 14, Saturday in Easter week, Whit-Monday, August 2, and November 8. It does not appear under what charter the market is held, but it is probable that it was granted to some of the bishops of Lincoln, to which see the manor was annexed by Henry I in 1132.

The manor was surrendered by Bishop Holbeach to Edward VI in 1527. It is now held by lease under the crown, the king being lord of the manor.The town is within the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who hold a petty session for the hundreds of Biggleswade, Clifton, and Wixamtree. The continual passage of travellers through Biggleswade, the expenditure of the strangers who resort to its market and fairs, and the ready sale which the town thus obtains for its own productions, have combined to extend the population and prosperity of the place.

The parish, which includes the hamlets of and Stratton and Holme, contained, in 1831, 606 houses, with a population of 3,226 persons, of whom 1,662 were females.

In the year 1785 the town sustained great damage by a fire, which raged for some hours with great fury. Not less than150 houses were consumed, besides corn-chambers, malt-houses, &c., all in the centre of the town around the market-place. The damage was estimated at £24,000. The town is, however, indebted to this calamity for its present improved appearance, as the houses have been mostly rebuilt with brick in the modern style.

The parish church, which is a handsome Gothic structure, was built in 1230. It was formerly collegiate, and several ancient wooden stalls were remaining till 1832, when the church was thoroughly repaired and re-arranged, partly by the assistance of the Incorporated Society for Repairing Churches. The living is a discharged vicarage, in the diocese of Lincoln, worth £300 per annum. The living is a peculiar, belonging to the prebendary of Biggleswade, in Lincoln cathedral.

Speed mentions that there was here a college dedicated to the Holy Trinity, valued at £7 at the Dissolution ; but as he says it was founded in the church of St. Andrew here, Tanner thinks that what Speed calls a college was only a chantry belonging to the guild of the Holy Trinity.

There are several good inns ; and a small manufactory for white thread lace and edging, which affords employment to females. A flour-mill, worked by steam, has also been lately erected.Sir John Cotton bequeathed, for charitable uses, the sum of £1,800, which was received in the year 1752. It was to be laid out in the purchase of freehold lands and hereditaments, and this parish was to enjoy the benefit of three-ninths of the rents.

One of these parts was to augment the living, the other two to be paid to a master, to be chosen by the lord of the manor of Stratton, for teaching twelve poor children of the parish the English tongue, writing and arithmetic, and instructing them in the principles of the Christian religion according to the Church of England. When the Charity Commissioners made their report in 1821, the property was ]et for £162 per annum, though supposed to be really worth £300. The two-ninths applicable to the purpose last specified amounted to £36 a-year, which was appropriated as directed by the benefactor. The children are all boys, nominated by the lord of the manor of Stratton. They are received into the school as soon as they are able to learn to write, and remain four or five years, unless the parents remove them. The parents provide books. The number of pupils is duly kept up, and there are numerous applications for admission. The disadvantageous lease expired in 1827, and the commissioners recommended that in consideration of the great increase which the master’s salary would receive under a new lease, the trustees should make a corresponding increase in the number of children admitted to the benefit of the charity. The master had usually from fifteen to twenty pay scholars, and also instructed the boys belonging to the charity of Edward Peake, who, in 1755, bequeathed a tenement, and a rent-charge of £13 a-year for the instruction of eight poor boys. Four charitable bequests for the use of the poor of this parish produce altogether £27, 17 shillings, 3 pence per annum.

At Stratton, a short distance south-east of Biggleswade, as a ploughman was ploughing the land rather deep in 1770, he discovered a yellow earthen pot, containing 300 gold coins (rose nobles) of Henry VI. They were a little larger than a half-crown piece, but, being very thin, were not equal by twenty grains to the weight of a guinea.


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