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Bedfordshire

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BEDFORDSHIRE (abbreviated Beds.), a south midland county of England, bounded north-east by Huntingdonshire, east by Cambridgeshire, south-east by Hertfordshire, west by Buck inghamshire, and north-west by Northamptonshire. It is among the smaller English counties, having an area of 466.•4sq.m. It lies principally in the middle part of the Ouse basin, which, enter ing in the north-west traverses the rich vale of Bedford in a very winding course to reach the north-east of the county near St. Neots. A small part of the main Chiltern chain is included in the south, but most of the county is lowland and forms part of the Wash drainage system. In the south the headwaters of the Lea (Thames basin) fall within the county, and in the north a few tributaries of the Nen.

Geological Formations.

The main features are controlled by geological formations dipping to the south-east and outcropping in a general south-west to north-east direction. The Middle Oolites predominate in the north of the county, the Oxford Clay occupying the low country around Bedford. The Great Oolite is exposed by the Great Ouse above the town, with alternating limestones and clays, seen in quarries. The Cornbrash is repre sented by eft. of limestone, but the Kellaways Rock, with its masses ("doggers") of cemented sand, is well exposed near Bed ford. Next the Lower Greensand forms an elevated tract running from Potton through Ampthill to Woburn and Leighton Buzzard, where the sand is dug for various purposes. Above this comes the Gault Clay, occupying the broad vale of the Ivel and extend ing to the chalk. This rises abruptly from the lowland, to bare heights over 600ft., high in the Dunshill Moors and the Chiltern Hills above Dunstable. At the base of the chalk is the Chalk Marl ; above this is the hard Totternhoe Stone, a well-marked feature. The Lower Chalk next above is capped similarly by hard chalk as at Royston and elsewhere. The upper Chalk-with Flints occurs near the south-eastern boundary. Patches of glacial boulder clay and gravel overlie the rocks. Fossil, rhinoceros, mammoth, etc., with palaeolithic implements, have been found in most parts in the valley gravels of the Ouse Basin. Occupation of the area during later prehistoric periods was slight. The small area of chalkland within the county is sufficient explanation for this. On the chalk hills are a number of earthworks probably dating for the most part from the Early Iron Age. The Late Celtic settlements, judging from the remains, extended over a restricted area which coincided with the Lower Greensand and Gault from Leighton Buzzard to Potton, good corn-growing country. Roman settlements, too, were thickest here. At Dun stable (Durocobrivae) was a posting-station on Watling Street, at the crossing of the Icknield Street. Another road ran approxi mately north through Stotford, Biggleswade, and Sandy to God manchester. Bedford and Shelford were stations at fords across the Ouse and Ivel respectively.

Origin of County.

In contradistinction to the southern shires in general (see BERKSHIRE) Bedfordshire is not a prehistoric unit, for early man avoided the swampy and forested lowlands. In Saxon times, however, the valleyward movement of population advanced far, and with better means of cultivation and forest clearing the rich agricultural valleys were centres of attraction. The river and valley routes, moreover, guided penetration and influenced settlement. Most of the midland counties date from the conquest of Mercia from the Danes in the 9th and loth cen turies. This reconquest proceeded by the valleys, and thus Bed fordshire took shape after the struggles of King Edward (q 19 921) . The first mention of the county named from the town comes in 1 o 16, when King Canute laid waste the whole shire. The Domesday survey reveals an almost complete substitution of Norman for English holders. In the Civil War of Stephen's reign the county suffered severely. Again the county was thrown into the Barons' War, when Bedford Castle was the scene of three sieges before it was demolished by the king's orders in 1 2 24. The Peasants' Revolt (1377-81) affected some settlements, e.g., Dun stable, to a slight degree.

In the Civil War of the 17th century the county was one of the foremost in opposing the king. Clarendon observes that Charles had no visible party or fixed quarter in the county. Bed fordshire had received considerable numbers of Protestant refu gees from the Continent and was becoming one of the historic centres of dissent. In this connection one should note that Elstow is famous as the home of John Bunyan.

The county produced no great religious houses like those of Hertfordshire or Northamptonshire. The Augustinian Dunstable Priory remains only as a fragment of the parish church. Judith, niece of William the Conqueror, established the Benedictine nun nery of Elstow, of which the imperfect church remains. There are portions also of the Gilbertine Chicksands Priory and of a Cistercian foundation at Old Warden. There is some Norman or pre-Norman work (as at Clapham) surviving in some churches, but the predominant styles are Decorated and Perpendicular.

Industries and Communications.

Bedfordshire has always been a prominent agricultural rather than manufacturing county. From the 13th to the 15th century sheep farming flourished, Bedfordshire wool being in request and plentiful. Tradition says that the straw-plait industry owes its introduction to James I., who transferred to Luton the colony of Lorraine plaiters whom Mary Queen of Scots had settled in Scotland. Similarly the lace industry is associated with Catherine of Aragon. As late as the 19th century the lace makers kept "Cattern's Day" as the holiday of their craft. The Flemings, expelled by Alva's persecution (1569), brought the manufacture of Flemish lace to Cranfield, whence it spread to surrounding districts. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and consequent French migration, gave further impetus to the industry.

The main L.N.E.R. line traverses the east of the county, through Biggleswade. The London to Bedford line is under control of the L.M.S.; and the Bletchley and Cambridge line (L.M.S.R.) crosses these lines at Sandy and Bedford respectively. The Lon don and Bletchley (L.M.S.R.) line serves Leighton Buzzard in the south-west and branches thence to Dunstable and Luton. A branch of the L.M.S.R. connects Bedford with the L.N.E.R. at Hitchin.

It is known that in 1926 about 83% of the total area of 301,829 acres (excluding water surfaces) was under crops or grasses. In addition there were 4,339 acres of rough grazing. The chief crop is wheat, for which the soil in the vale of Bedford is specially suited ; while on the sandy loam of the Ivel valley, in the neighbourhood of Biggleswade, market-gardening is exten sively carried on, the crops going, with much dairy produce, prin cipally to London. The manufacture of agricultural machinery and implements employs a large number of hands at Bedford and Luton. Luton, however, is specially noted for the manufacture of straw hats. Straw-plaiting was once extensively carried on in this neighbourhood by women and girls in their cottage homes. Another local industry surviving is the manufacture of pillow-lace. Many of the lace designs are French; Mechlin and Maltese pat terns are also copied.

Administration.

Bedfordshire is divided into nine hundreds, Barford, Biggleswade, Clifton, Flitt, Manshead, Redbornestoke, Stodden, Willey, and Wiscamtree, and the liberty, half hundred, or borough of Bedford. In the nth century there were three additional half hundreds, viz., Stanburge, Buchelai, and Weneslai, which had by the 14th century become parts of the hundreds of Manshead, Willey, and Biggleswade respectively. Until one sheriff did duty for Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, the shire court of the former being held at Bedford. The county is in the midland circuit and assizes are held at Bedford. It has one court of quarter-sessions and eight petty sessional divisions. The boroughs of Bedford, Dunstable, and Luton have separate commissions of the peace, and Bedford a separate court of quarter-sessions. There are 133 civil parishes. Bedfordshire forms an archdeaconry in the diocese of Ely, having been transferred from the Lincoln diocese in 1837. There are 125 ecclesiastical parishes and parts of six others.

The area of the administrative county is 302,942 acres, with a population of 220,474 in 1931. The municipal boroughs, with populations (1931) are: Bedford (40,S73), Dunstable (8,972), and Luton (68,526); the urban districts Ampthill (2,167), Biggles wade (5,844), Kempston, adjoining Bedford on the south-west and Leighton Buzzard (7,o31). Other towns (with 1921 populations) are Potton (2,087), Shefford (849), Woburn (1,062). There are three parliamentary divisions, the Bedford, Luton, and Mid Division. Bedford (q.v.) was a parliamentary borough until 1918.

Collections, Historical, Genealogical, and Topographical, for Bedfordshire (1812-16, and also 1812-36) ; Visita tion of Bedford, 1566, 1582, and 1634, in Harleian Society's Publica tions, vol. xiv. (1884) ; and Illustrated Bedfordshire (Nottingham, 1895). See also Bedfordshire Notes and Queries, ed. F. A. Blades; Transactions of the Bedfordshire Natural History and Field Club, and Victoria County History (19o4)•

bedford, county, luton, chalk and biggleswade