Friday, July 22, 2011


Welcome to Hidden Bedford's QR Code Tour of Bedford's Oldest Streets.

The information here is drawn from several sources including:

Alan Crawley and Ian Freeman. Bedford's Oldest Streets Parts 1 and 2. Bedfordshire Archaeology vol.18 pp.99-108 and vol.19 pp.30-39

The Story of Bedford, Joyce Godber (Luton, 1978)
History of Bedfordshire Joyce Godber (Luton, 1969)

We have also referred to several historic maps of the town. These include John Speed's Map of 1610, Jeffrey's Map of 1765 and Brayley's map of 1807. These maps are help at the Bedfordshire and Luton Archive and Record Service (BLARS)

The Newnham Priory Rental, also held at BLARS is a document from 1506/07 that lists many of the properties and streets in Bedford at that time.

Many of the street names used today were settled upon by the Improvement Commission in 1835. The Improvment Commissioners were a group of men (unelected) who were given powers by an Act of Parliament in 1803 and made various improvements to the Town Bridge and the lanes around St. Paul's Square, as well as paving and lighting in the town centre. They set themselves the task of formally listing Bedford's streets in 1835. In 1839 the powers held by this unelected group passed to the Bedford Corporation.

There is a useful list of Historic documents relating to the history of the town and borough on the BLARS website.

You can view and download all of the information easily on Google docs.

Enjoy the tour!

1. St. Peters Green, Broadway and Tavistock Street.

The Entrance to the Northern Burh
The reason that Tavistock Street, Foster Hill Road, St. Peter's Street and Dame Alice Street converge at this point is that this would have been the entrance to Bedford's Northern Burh. A burh is a fortified town. Bedford would have been walled, and there was a gate at this point.

We don’t know exactly when the burh’s were built, but we do know that:

"Bedford had certainly become a place of importance by AD 885, when it was used as a key point on the Danelaw boundary and there was definitely a town there by AD 914. In that year Earl Thurcytel and other Danish leaders went from Bedford to Buckingham to submit to King Edward there.’(Crawley and Freeman)

So the burh’s possibly came into existence some time before AD 885. Before the burh's were formed, these roads would have gone directly to the ancient crossing point at the river.

Offal Lane
The street's of Bedford have nearly all had several names in their long history. The first map of Bedford was made in 1610 by John Speed. Speed’s map only shows the north corner of St. Peters Green with the start of Offal Lane (now The Broadway) at the very top. By 1765 it is included as far as the present junction with Wellington Street. Tavistock Street as we know it would have been a route into Bedford.

Offal Lane was so called as this was the place where Bedford's inhabitants dumped their rubbish and offal on the outskirts of town. During the 18th Century the name was briefly changed to Offa Street - a name with quite different associations - it refers to King Offa, a great Mercian King who was rumoured to be buried in Bedford.

St. Peter's Green
The streets and fields of Bedford were documented very precisely in a document made in 1506-7 at Newnham Piory. It records that near St. Peter's a now disappeared lane 'Cucking-stool Lane' ran northwards towards a pond 'where scolds or witches might be ducked'.

Foster Hill Road
Foster Hill Road is in line with the ancient river crossing point, and was originally a continuation of the High Street with only a slight deviation at St Peter's. It was known as Clapham Park Way in the Middle Ages, and as Little Berry Lane by the 1765 map though many paths had more than one name so these could be alternative names. A footpath still carries the old line as far as Clapham Park although the modem road finishes at the Cemetery.
De Parys Avenue
De Parys Avenue is a relatively new addition. The broad avenue cuts through farmland bought from St. John’s Hospital in the early 1880s, and it was named after the founder of the Hospital, Robert de Parys. This was part of a whole raft of quintessentially Victorian town improvements initiated at the same time that included the laying of Bedford Park, the extension of the Embankment, and the construction of the Suspension Bridge. Where De Parys Avenue joins the confluence of roads once stood a large house, last occupied by a French noble, the Vicomte Visme. It is possible that this is the house that can be seen in the background of this watercolour by Edward Hull.

St. Peter's Green, Edward Hull, 1858

2. Lime Street

The earliest recorded name for Lime Street is Lime Kiln Lane or Gee’s Lane.
It was later known as Queen’s Head Lane, Duck’s Lane or Lime Kiln Lane.

Brayley's Map, 1807, detail.

Lime Street is of course named after the lime kiln that was in St Loyes Street, opposite the west end of Lime Street. The kiln is shown on the Speed Map of 1610. Lime kilns were used mainly to make mortar for building, there is another lime kiln still visible in Bedford on Castle Lane.

John Speed's Map, 1610, detail.

Jeffery's Map of 1765 refers to "Queen's Head or Duck Lane". This was possibly confusion caused as Harpur Street was once known as Duck’s Lane and this name continued onto St. Loyes but not onto Lime Street. The Queen's Head Inn that gave its name to the street in the 18th century must have disappeared before 1751 as there is no mention of it in the list of Bedford Inn's and Ale Houses recorded in the Quarter Sessions role of that date.

3. Harpur Street

Harpur Street has previously been known as Duck Lane, Aldermanbury, Sheps Chepping, Angell Street and White Horse Lane.

The street has usually been in two halves with Duck Lane north of Silver Street and Sheps Chepping to the south, and then later on White Horse Lane was north of Silver Street and Angel Street below.

Shep Chepping
John Speeds Map of 1610 has it listed as both Sheps Chepping and Duck Lane. Sheps Chepping means Sheep Market. Crawley and Freeman’s research suggests that the Sheep Market must have been ‘in the lower section of the street between St Paul's Square and Midland Road, on the eastern side where no buildings are illustrated.’

Aldermanbury would have been the official residence of the ‘earl’ in Saxon times. There are references to this being used for the part of Harpur Street near St Loyes during the 13th Century, although it is likely to have been used much earlier.

White Horse Inn
The White Horse Inn that gave the street its name from the 17th Century until 1929 was at the corner of the street where Marks & Spencer’s is now. The Inn was demolished to make way for the new store.

The White Horse Inn 1928

The back of The White Horse Inn c. 1929

The Inn was demolished in 1929 and it is possible that this work had begun when the above photograph was taken.

Harpur Street
The street was named Harpur Street in 1835 by the ‘Improvement Commission’, which had the job of deciding on an official name from all the different names streets had been known as over the centuries. At that time the street only ran from Horne Lane to Lime Street with the section from Lime Street to Dame Alice Street being called Harpur Place. The extension to must have happened after the 1835 Improvement Commission.

4. Silver Street

Gaol Lane
Silver Street was listed as Silver Street on John Speeds map of 1610. However it has also been known as Gaol Lane and Little Silver Street. It was called Gaol Lane because the County Gaol stood on the junction of Silver Street and the High Street. 

‘The old County Gaol stood on the northern corner with the High Street until it was moved to its present location in 1801. There had been a Gaol in the street since the 12th century and is mentioned in the Harrold Priory Cartulary several times up until the 15th century.’
The County Gaol stood at the corner of Silver Street and the High Street then, from at least the 12th Century up until 1801 when the new prison was opened at its present site on St. Loyes - possibly as many as 600 years. Little wonder then, that John Howard found the conditions to be unacceptable when he made the first of many visits in 1773. It was this first visit that spurred him on to assess conditions in prisons across England. In 1777 he published State of the Prisons before extending his enquiry to Europe and eventually Russia, where he died in 1790.

An excerpt from the Introduction to State of the Prisons, John Howard

Jeffrey's map of 1765 shows it as Goal Lane -
the spellings were interchangeable at that time.

Silver Street
According to the research by Crawley and Freeman it is unlikely (although it is possible) that Silver Street was so named because of the number of Silversmiths on the street.

Silver Street comes from a very much earlier time. 'Silver Streets' occur as principle streets in many Saxon towns (Anglo-Saxon towns in southern England). Silver Street could be the 'street of the Silversmiths', but in the absence of early forms of the name this should not be assumed. Silver Street in Reading, for example, was 'Sivekare Stret' in 1311, the street of the Sievemakers. We also find Silver Streets in villages such as Great Barford and Stevington, where it is unlikely there would have been a Silver smith’.

5. Midland Road

Midland Road was previously called Well Street, as marked on John Speeds map.
The well was situated in the street near the south end of Allhallows and until the 19th century this marked the western edge of town. From here Forth Street continued to the hamlet of Forth or Ford End.

Midland Road was named after the railway, which opened in 1857. (St. Johns Station and the Bedford Bletchley line opened a few years earlier in 1846) The name Midland Road seemed to creep quite slowly down the street. By 1871 the name Midland Road only applied to the section from River Street up to the station. It wasn’t until 1884 that the whole street was named Midland Road.

For a short time around 1866 the section between River Street and Prebend Street was named Trumpington Road after a medieval meadow that previously occupied the space between the road and river.

The arrival of the railway brought great expansion and industry to Bedford. The station at Midland Road initially had lines to Cambridge and Hitchen, this was extended to St. Pancras in 1868. Charles Dickens reported in 1867 that he was compelled to leave the train at Bedford because of the 'reckless fury of the driving and the violent rocking of the carriages.' Another traveller, James Howard, jumped to the defence of the line 'the Midland line runs as smoothy as any I have ever journeyed by.'

6. St Paul’s Square and the Lanes.

Records tell us that there was at least one church in Saxon Bedford. It is most likely that this church was St. Paul’s Church as this is well embedded in the layout of the Northern burh. St. Paul's Church suffered greatly throughout the various seiges of Bedford Castle - the stone from the church was often used in the repair of the castle. When the siege was finally over in 1224 some of the stone from the castle was returned and used to repair the church.

St Paul's’ was always central to the town and the area around it has always been used as a market. However, the market was not based on an open square but a series of narrow lanes.

The map below, taken from Brayley’s map of 1807, shows the layout of some of those lanes

The names of the lanes included Butcher Row, Gooseditch Lane, Pig Market, Fish Market, Vine Street, Vine Corner, Stone House Lane, Pudding Lane and possibly Girdlers Lane.

Stonehouse lane is possibly named after a stone house that was the town prison before it was situated 1589 when the prison was moved to the town bridge.
Pudding Lane ran south from the Poultry Market to the river. Just as with Pudding Lane in London, it was the route by which the "puddings" i.e. the intestines etc. from animal carcases were taken down to the river for disposal.

Crawley and Freeman mention that: ‘the removal of this unpleasant debris was always a problem and the Black Book of Bedford, issued at the end of the 16th century, laid down strict rules that the butchers of that time must "carry their intrayle and garbages daylye the same day the beast be kylled into Offalle Lane"

Butcher Row was also known as 'the Shambles' - a more famous Shambles still exists in York. It was a word often used for butchers shops or open air meat markets -'probably from the Anglo-Saxon Fleshammels (literally 'flesh-shelves'), the word for the shelves that butchers used to display their meat'

It was in the early 19th Century that the square began to be opened up, and the name ‘St Paul’s Square’ was confirmed by the 1835 Improvement Commission.

Figure 3: St Paul's Square pre 1910

Figure 4: St Paul's Square at unveiling of John Howard Statue 28th March 1894

Figure 5: St Paul's Square 1894 – 5