Advertised as : ‘Cracking Tales and dark Deeds in Old Biggleswade’ this walk was led by Jane Croot of Biggleswade History Society on Wednesday, 2 July 2014.
Having a busy life means less blogging – but here I am again! Recklessly writing children’s stories about my alter ego – a witch called Gwubbins, has meant slowing up on other projects. However, history will not be kept down and I could not resist a foray into the town of Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, England, for a walkabout with the Biggleswade History Society.
My connection to Biggleswade is through my grandparents who were the last of seven generations to live thereabouts. The walk was well attended and I felt at home with fellow enthusiasts as we listened to the stories Jane told about the infamous Shortmead Street, one of the oldest streets in Biggleswade.
Beginning by the modern bridge at the Dan Albone carpark, Jane related the story of a waggon that crashed into the River Ivel from the old (probably wooden) bridge that had been nearby in July 1787. Although I knew this story, she brought the incident alive and I knew that this walk and talk was going to be fun. Next she led us to the site of the old Sun Inn and explained how it would have looked and what this establishment would have meant to the coaches passing through and the employment opportunities that it gave the local people.
As we passed down Shortmead Street we were shown where the wharves for the canal goods once stood with old buildings and lost ale houses, although the Coach and Horses is still present. Jane gave an idea of where the wealthy lived and where the poor struggled. She indicated where Anchor Yard would have been, and there was no illusion, the home of my ancestors would have been rough and overcrowded. No wonder the expanding family moved out of the town, returning to the surrounding villages of Langford and Clifton.
The bell ringers were having a practice so that Jane was nearly drowned out at the grave yard of St Andrews Church, where we were shown two distinct gravestones, one of the founder of Battersea Dogs home, the other a grim reminder of an inspector of bridges who crossed to the wrong railway line one day, consequently losing his head. The papers of the day claimed he left over thirty children and there was speculation that he may have had a family at every station, as Jane had researched his records and he was never at home with his wife on census day.
The gory story of the body snatchers was retold at the other side of the graveyard and we learned that a dead body had no value, so when the thieves were caught, they were only fined, and this was probably paid off by the London School of Medicine who were often desperate for bodies to practice on…..
We learned of horse thieves who were hung, stocking stealers who brawled in the pub yard and serious rioting which was quelled with copious amounts of beer. I can honestly say that I felt well and truly connected to the Biggleswade of my ancestors for about two hours that evening.
Many stories survive despite there being no local paper until late in the 1800s. This History Society has an excellent website and a passion for the town of Biggleswade. Sharing time with this group gave me an excellent insight into the past, and like all great experiences, I made new friends.