Category Archives: Biddenham past

Remembrance Sunday – 13th November 2016

A Remembrance Day Service was held at the War Memorial on Sunday 13th November at 10.50am

The Service was led by David Maguire,

Joseph Mummery played the trumpet,
John Daniels lowered the flag and
Pat McKeown and Peter Chase laid the wreaths.

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“They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn,
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them”

Land north of Bromham Road

You may have noticed on the developers’ sign boards erected on Bromham Road, and more recently on the new section of bypass, that the development has an overall name of Kings Field.

This has been chosen to remember an event that took place on Thursday, 22 October 1914 when King George V came to review the Highland Troops then stationed in Bedford and around, including Biddenham.

The review took place in Bromham Road, the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 23 October reported ‘in the  large field beyond the Midland Railway, and lying between the Golf Course and the Bromham-road, opposite the first Biddenham turn’, that is, where houses are currently being constructed as the new development takes shape.

‘As a matter of fact’ the report continued, ‘the troops occupied both this field and the Golf Course beyond, but the march past took place in the first field’. ‘The Gordon Brigade, probably owing to the proximity of their billets to the review ground, were the first on the scene. They marched up in the neighbourhood by 9 o’clock, and took up their positions on the Golf Links. The Scottish Horse, from the country, were also fairly early arrivals. The Seaforth and Cameron Brigades started to arrive about 10 a.m., and also went to the Golf Links, and the following troops arrived in the following order:- R.G.A., R.F.A. (Golf Links), Argyll Brigade, A.S.C., R.E., and R.A.M.C. Some of the units arrived with bands playing, and in some the men were singing and whistling, but generally speaking there was an air of seriousness’.

‘During the arrival of the troops the reserve regiment of the Beds. Yeomanry marched up to their training ground – a field off the Biddenham-road, and their smart appearance, despite the absence of uniform in many cases, was favourably commented upon. When the King left they were formed up down the Biddenham-road, but owing to the crowd they had no opportunity of seeing His Majesty’.

On arrival after 11.30 am ‘the royal car passed straight up the road to the second field where His Majesty was received by the general officers, and forthwith he inspected the Scottish Horse, the Artillery Regiments, the Gordons, the Camerons, the Seaforths, and other troops parading in that part of the ground’.

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‘At 11.50 a.m. His Majesty and his retinue entered the first large field at the corner diagonally remote from the gate opposite the Biddenham-lane and began his inspection of the troops on that side, walking along the front ranks from west to east’. The King then moved across the field towards the gate and the march past began, each section headed by a band of pipers. Rain began to fall and fell more heavily as the King eventually left to reach the railway station by 1.30 pm.

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There is much more in the newspaper report of the event which is now marked by the name given to the development taking place almost 102 years later.

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Restoration … or is it?

Biddenhamites jealously guard their heritage. So we were very excited when we heard, within hours of posting ‘Destruction and desecration’, that work had already been undertaken to restore the Coffin Path.

We rushed down to see. Hmmm. We couldn’t really spot the difference.

We do hope that there is more to be done yet to restore the paths, because can what has been done so far conceivably be acceptable as complying with the obligations of the Rights of Way Act 1990?

You may spot a hazy, vague impression of the paths in some distance shots but as you progress through the field, still trying to avoid spraining an ankle or two, of paths there appears to be nothing.

Apparently, barley has been sown in the field, and the good news is if the barley grows over where the paths should be we are entitled to cut it back. We’d better warn the DIY stores there could be a run on scythes later in the year?

Let’s hope the Borough Council will tell us there is still more restoration work to be done to bring the Coffin Path and footpath 10 back into obvious being and at appropriate widths. We don’t want another ‘dovecote moment’.

This whole saga does bring out the importance of communication. Had villagers known in advance that work was due to be done affecting a right of way, particularly in such a sensitive area and on a path so significant to the village’s heritage, there could perhaps have been proper discussion and agreed action before the event. We have heard there was some discussion between the Borough Council and the Estate last December. If that is the case was any effort made to communicate with Biddenham?

So in the meantime keep on trampling and look out those recipes that make good use of barley.

Destruction and desecration

Villagers were up in arms this week about the landowner’s “scorched earth” attack on the field to the west of the village pond which wiped out a substantial stretch of the ancient Coffin Path.

Parish and local councillors were inundated with calls for action from concerned villagers outraged at the destruction and desecration of the village’s heritage. In the meantime, at the risk of sprained ankles, villagers continued to walk the line the path had for centuries followed.

Whilst there is a statutory right for the occupier of land to plough or otherwise disturb a right of way under the Rights of Way Act 1990, the occupier must thereafter make good the surface to not less than its minimum width and indicate the line of the path.

Villagers were heartened to hear on Friday that following representations to the Borough Council the landowner had been instructed to fulfil those obligations for the Coffin Path (footpath 13). Similar action needs also to be taken to restore the section of footpath 10 which has been destroyed.

And, of course, villagers must remain vigilant in the event the  landowner may prevaricate or may mount another attack on these paths or other paths in the future. The landowner has been asked to contact the Borough Council if they intended to cultivate any more Public Rights of Way in the area in order that they can be advised of locations and widths. 

Watch out too for the Conservation Area report due to be issued for consultation  sometime this year, which will be an opportunity once more to stress the importance of the preservation of the Coffin Path as part of the village’s heritage, and hopefully that can then be enshrined in conservation requirements to be observed in the future.

The Great Storm of 1916

Storms have names now and in recent months have been battering the United Kingdom with monotonous regularity.

One hundred years ago an anonymous storm raged over the country on 27 and 28 March 1916, the ‘Great Blizzard’ said the Bedfordshire Times and Independent in its headline. ‘Gusty Boreas had his fling on Monday night and Tuesday’, readers were informed, ‘and wrought havoc over all the country.’

The reporter was even moved to quote Virgil ‘Ac venti, velut agmine facto, qua data porta runt, et terras turbine perflant’* which you don’t come across too often today in weather reports.

According to the paper ‘Biddenham felt the full force of the gale. Many houses were flooded out, and about 150 large elm and fir trees were blown down. Telegraph wires lay in all directions along the Bedford Road. The watercourse has overflowed its banks, and inundated a large area near Queen’s Park schools, and the allotment holders in Cox Pits expected a big flood.’

Villager Albert Church, a schoolboy in 1916, recalled the aftermath of the storm in his 1979 memoirs. Soldiers billeted in the village at the time (who would have been from the 68th (2nd Welsh) Division)  provided manpower and horses to cut up and shift the fallen trees, work which took days. The children were sent home from school after one of two elm trees next to the school blew down, just missing the school playground. Nothing could get in or out of the village by road and farmers had to go through fields with their pony and float to get the milk to market. Albert said how lucky villagers were to have a shop and a baker in the village.

(Soldiers from the Division helped clear up the debris left by the storm in other Bedfordshire villages, and may have helped too in Bedford itself.)

The newspaper lamented the lack of night-time illumination in the town ‘Belated wayfarers were almost blinded by the blizzard on Monday night, and the weather was then pronounced, by those who experienced it, the worst they had ever experienced, but it might have been a little more endurable in the streets of Bedford if the lamps had been lighted as they might very well have been for all the risk there was of air-raid, where no air-craft could have lived for ten minutes.’

If Monday night had been bad, Tuesday was worse. From two o’clock on Tuesday afternoon the rain, which had taken over from Monday’s snow, turned into another snowstorm which ‘developed into a hurricane of well nigh unparalleled violence in this country’ and although the snowstorm subsided by six o’clock the ‘boisterous wind’ continued until about nine. ‘An alarming experience was the crash of falling trees on the Embankment and in St Peter’s.’

As well as the felling of trees and telegraph poles and wires, there was widespread damage to buildings, and ‘One driver of a M.R. van tells the story of how the blast caught him and his horse and van on the Embankment, and when it had done with them he found his horse trotting in the opposite direction!’

Rail travel was affected with snowdrifts of four feet deep reported between Bedford and Northampton and up to ten feet deep at the side of the track.

‘At quite an early hour’ the newspaper said ‘large numbers of wood-pickers, not woodpeckers, arrived in Newnham Lane, and prams, mail-carts, bags and baskets were soon filled with twigs and heavier portions of the fallen trees.’ “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any wood” the reporter commented.

The newspaper reported extensively on the damage and deaths across Bedfordshire from the storm. This was, however, not the first storm of 1916 for the newspaper added that ‘Tuesday afternoon’s storm laid low even trees which the violent hurricane of New Year’s Day had spared.’

In its next edition, on 7 April, the newspaper printed several photographs of the damage, taken on the morning of 28 March. The featured picture above shows wood-picking children in Newnham Lane out to ‘keep the home fires burning’ and the picture below shows four fallen poplars on the Embankment:

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*Translations have moved with the times:

‘The winds, as in a formed battalion, rush forth at every vent, and scour over the lands in giddy whirls’ or if you prefer:

‘And the wind, just as when a battle line has been made, where any door was given, they rush and blow over the land in a whirlwind’ or, if you can remember your Latin, try your own!

Biddenham Turn Estate

Fear not – this isn’t a new proposal to create an estate off Biddenham Turn!

In the late 1950s a development was planned – the Biddenham Turn Estate – and subsequently constructed. We know it now as Darlow Drive and Elger Close.

An illustrated brochure was published and the cover and some pages are reproduced below. It’s fascinating to compare the aerial photographs with that part of the village as we see it today. And can you spot the steam train? A real blast from the past.

Room for the troops in Biddenham

One hundred years ago a farm barn in Biddenham was converted into a new canteen and recreation room for the troops of the Great War, and its formal opening on Friday, 17 December 1915 was reported in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 24 December. When the war was over, the transformation of the former barn continued becoming eventually the Biddenham village hall villagers know and cherish today.

As the paper informed its readers, on Friday, 17 December a concert was held in the New Canteen and Recreation Room in Biddenham which was formally opened by Colonel C J Markham, Commanding the 205th Infantry Brigade (the 2nd Welsh Border Brigade and part of the 68th (2nd Welsh) Division). ‘In introducing Colonel Markham, Major Carpenter, Organising Secretary, referred to the generosity of the Trustees of the Biddenham estate, and Mrs Wingfield in the provision and alteration of the building, and the liberality of the tenant, Mr J Evans, who had given up possession of the building without compensation. The Organising Committee consisted of Captain Addie, Mrs Addie, Mrs Carpenter, Mrs Whitworth, Mrs Randall, Mr Herring (Secretary), and Mr Ingram (cashier), and several ladies offered their services as helpers. Gifts in kind had been received from Mr Whitworth (a piano), Mrs Carpenter, Miss Collie, Mrs Markham, Miss Howard, Mrs Spencer, Miss Street, Mrs Randall, etc, while the Bedford Borough Recreation Committee, through Mr Machin, placed at the disposal of the Local Committee many essentials in the way of furniture.

Colonel Markham said the canteen would be highly appreciated by the troops billeted at Biddenham.

An interesting programme was arranged by Miss Norman, those taking part including Miss Turner (Bedford), Lieutenant Markham (5th Northumberland Fusiliers), Misses Spencer, Miss Helen Norman, Mrs Piercy, Miss Joan de Roboek, and Private Knight. The canteen is open to all soldiers between 12 noon and 1.0 pm, and 4.0 pm to 9.0 pm on weekdays, and from 3.0 pm to 9.0 pm on Sundays. Concerts will be given, and sing-songs organised by Messrs Chibnall and King.’

Biddenham village hall, some 100 years after it was converted from a straw barn to be opened as a canteen and recreation room for soldiers billeted in the village
Biddenham village hall, some 100 years after it was converted from a straw barn to be opened as a canteen and recreation room for soldiers billeted in the village

(With thanks to the website ‘When the Welsh came to Bedford’ from which this post was reproduced)

When the Welsh came to Bedford

There are Biddenham connections from the time of the Great War in a new website launched this week, When the Welsh came to Bedford, a website about the Welsh troops who spent time in Bedford during the Great War.

We may yet discover more connections, but look out now for:

  • Mr H Trustram Eve, in the page about a Christmas treat for the Welsh troops; later, as Sir Herbert, he was the moving spirit behind the restoration in 1932 of the dovecote that stood by the village pond until its demolition in 1966, a sad loss of a unique part of the village’s heritage;
  • the Biddenham ladies behind Jam Day in support of the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) hospital in Ampthill Road; and
  • Warren Burrows, a Welsh soldier based at the Howbury Camp, who married a Biddenham girl, May Mason, in August 1916 (scroll down the alphabetical list to find him); he returned to the village after the war, raised a family and remained in the village, living variously in The Green, Day’s Lane, Main Road and latterly Church End, until his death in 1961.
Soldiers of the 1/5th Battalion, Welsh Regiment, in Bedford in June 1915
Soldiers of the 1/5th Battalion, Welsh Regiment, in Bedford in June 1915