Biddenham History Society – Women’s Suffrage Movement

It is a hundred years since some women were given the right to vote, so we decided to mark this event by inviting Bob Ricketts, who many may know from the Bedford Architectural, Archaeological and Local History Society and the Historical Association to come to talk about the women’s suffrage movement in Bedfordshire. Bob started by testing our knowledge about women’s suffrage both nationally and locally and then detailed the progress women had made in terms of economic status and representation by the early twentieth century but not in terms of being able to vote in parliamentary elections. Women were well represented in teaching, though they had to resign on marriage and in the post office, a considerable employer, and they could help administer the Poor Law and be active in local  government. It was the right to elect MPs and sit in Parliament that was lacking.

Bob showed that the suffrage movement had its roots in the North of England during the nineteenth century. However, it was well established in Bedford by the early twentieth century, and the women who supported the suffrage came from teaching such as Amy Walmsley and Margaret Stansfeld, and medicine such as Dora Mason.
The meetings that they held were not uneventful. Bob described one meeting at which Dora Mason was the speaker, where unruly youths from the town caused trouble. Dora had to retreat into Bank Buildings (near the Swan Hotel) and then make her escape from the roof wearing the long skirted fashion of the time! In the period 1909 – 1913, Bedford was not an easy town in which to hold meetings. The women frequently faced insults and garbage being thrown at them by local youths.

Bob’s researches have shown that the suffrage movement in Bedford was largely based on the suffragists, the followers of Millicent Fawcett, who believed in making their point by non-violent means. The Duchess of Bedford lent them her support. There were not many suffragettes, the members of Emmeline Pankhurst’s WSPU (The
Women’s Social and Political Union) who advocated more violent tactics. However, Christabel, Emmeline’s daughter, did come and speak in Bedford.

Bob did not have any information about the suffrage movement and Biddenham. He did say that the suffragists often became early members of the Women’s Institute. Biddenham had a Women’s  Institute in 1922, which was early in the movement’s history, so it would be worth doing some research into these early members of the WI to see if they had a link with the suffrage movement.

Bob’s talk was very stimulating and has opened up other areas for research. It should also inspire us to visit the Women in Bedfordshire Exhibition which is at the Higgins until September.

The next meeting of the Biddenham History Society will be on Monday, July 2nd . We will meet at the Church Barn at 2.30pm and then have a walk to the War Memorial to reflect on Biddenham one hundred years ago, in 1918. We will then return to the Barn for refreshments. I hope you will be able to join us.

Kathy Fricker

Biddenham History Society – The Bletchley Park Trust

When we came to the meeting on January 22nd , 2018 to listen to a talk by Jonathan Byrne, the Oral History Officer at the Bletchley Park Trust, we knew that in Biddenham we were living near the scene of important code breaking work during the Second World War. We learnt more about this work from Jonathan and we found out that several people who came to the talk had connections with war time Bletchley.

By the early 1990s, Bletchley Park had fallen into disrepair and there was a threat that it would be turned into a housing estate. However, a new Trust Board was formed at the beginning of 2000 and since then 28 acres of the historic site have been acquired, there has been renovation of the wartime code breaking huts and the Trust’s Oral
History project, which Jonathan is in charge of, has provided a rich and vital archive of veterans’ memories.

Jonathan described the difficulties in tracing the thousands of people who worked at Bletchley. There are over 12,000 people on the Roll of Honour and since 2009, they or their relatives can apply for a badge to commemorate their service. Three quarters of the people who worked at Bletchley were women, which because of marriage and
name change can make checking and tracing personnel more difficult. The allocation of jobs in a stereotyped way has made matters easier, especially if only initials for someone who worked at Bletchley have been provided. Jonathan can then decide whether the initials can belong to a man or a woman by the nature of the job.

Since 2011, nearly 400 people who worked at Bletchley have been interviewed in locations all over the world, most in their own homes. Skype has been useful for interviewing veterans in Australia. To help him, Jonathan relies on a team of volunteers, one of whom lives in Biddenham and came to the talk. He sends the veteran who has agreed to be interviewed, usually as a result of a visit to Bletchley, a questionnaire to prompt memory. He said that the replies are usually very detailed and precise. They include information about selection for Bletchley, lodgings, the work undertaken and leisure activities (some of the young women would cycle a long way for a concert or the chance to sing or join in drama). Sometimes a family member sits in with the interviewee to prompt memory, though Jonathan finds that peoples’ long term memory is usually very good. The main problems he finds are modesty – veterans understate the value of the work they did – and sometimes sadness and emotion as friends and colleagues are remembered fondly, who have since died.

Some of the recordings of the interviews can be heard at Bletchley Park and they highlight the broad range of roles people were fulfilling from code breakers to machine operators and clerical staff. Jonathan would like more veterans who provided support services like meals for those working at Bletchley to come forward. Every interview recorded contributes essential and valuable information which is helping to build a complete account of what happened at Bletchley Park. To add to the picture, Jonathan now wants to interview people who lived in the Bletchley area during World War Two and whose family perhaps provided a billet for someone who worked at the park. If you know someone who would like to be interviewed, do get in touch with Jonathan at Bletchley Park 01908 – 272685

The next meeting of the History Society will be on Monday, April 16th , 2018 at 8pm in the Church Barn. Bob Ricketts will talk about the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Bedfordshire to mark the centenary of some women getting the vote in 1918. I hope you will be able to come. Programme cards for 2018 – 2019 will be available.

Kathy Fricker

If you require a hard copy of this report to print, please click here.


Biddenham History Society – The Roman Villa complex at Manton Lane

On Monday, November 20th , Steven Cockings and Elizabeth Sayer from the Bedford Roman Villa Project gave a fascinating and very well illustrated presentation about their work to the History SocietyWe learnt that Biddenham was the powerhouse of agriculture in Roman Britain in the mid-fourth century AD. The rich soil and the proximity to the River Ouse for transport made it the centre for growing spelt which was distributed to the Roman garrisons on the Rhine and throughout Britain including those on Hadrian’s Wall, using flat bottomed boats.

The wealth generated by the grain trade was reflected in the relatively dense settlement and the Roman Villa complex at Manton Lane that Steven and Elizabeth have been working on since 2011. They pointed out that as late as 2010 it was possible to write that there were no known Roman villas in Bedfordshire, only farmsteads. However, that was to change in 2011, when work started to build a disability ramp at Edith Cavell School on Manton Lane. A utilities trench uncovered a section of Roman wall. This find made further exploration of the site and of the land across the road in Manton Lane desirable and this was undertaken in 2013 and 2016. Funding was provided by donations from individuals and Bedford Borough Council, and Mike Luke of Albion Archaeology provided expert professional help and guidance.

The objects found revealed a wealthy settlement in a south facing location and near to a natural spring with links to mainland Europe. For instance, a piece of pottery was discovered that came from Trier in Germany. High status items were found such as pieces of elaborate freestyle stucco plasterwork of a type that has not been found elsewhere in Roman Britain and rarely outside Italy. A fragment of window glass, high in iron, manganese and titanium can be traced back to sand found in Egypt. It would have been used probably in a bath house from about 350AD. The print of a small shoe or boot discovered on a tile was also a high status item.

Steven and Elizabeth depicted a wealthy complex that was thriving in the mid-fourth century AD. Steven would like to think that the Emperor Constantine might have been a visitor as he would have had luxury accommodation, and that the Eusebius named on the beautiful gold ring found in 1980 in the Biddenham Loop, had a connection with the villa. Sadly, the life there came to an end in 392AD when Steven said, the Romans  themselves systematically destroyed the villa for political and economic reasons. This is why only small pieces of glass and stucco survive. Some of the stone may have been used to build St Peter’s Church in Bedford. Steven and Elizabeth would like to find out more about this fascinating complex at Manton Lane and they did discover some more walls in the Spring of this year. We hope their project will continue to yield interesting information about our past.

The next meeting of the Society will be on Monday, January 22nd , 2018 at 8pm in the Church Barn.  Jonathan Byrne, the Oral History Officer at the Bletchley Park Trust will talk about the work of the Bletchley Park Trust. We hope you will be able to come as the mysteries of Bletchley Park in the Second World War are now being revealed!

K Fricker

Biddenham History Society – Visit to King’s Close

The afternoon of Friday, 7th July 2017 was an excellent afternoon for many of us. We started with a delicious First Friday lunch in the Village Hall at 12.30pm. Thank you to Liz Watson and Judith O’Quinn and all your helpers. Some of the helpers managed to clear up in record time, so that we could all assemble at King’s Close at 2.30pm and meet Helen and Jeremy Humphreys. They welcomed us to their beautiful Arts and Crafts house, designed by Mackay Hugh Baillie-Scott in 1907. They have been working hard to restore many of the Arts and Crafts features since buying the property about 3 years ago.

kings-close-garden-pictureOne of the key principles in Baillie-Scott’s design was that the garden should be linked to the house – serving as an extra room – so vistas from the house to the garden were very important. Helen and Jeremy have restored the brick path that leads from the front gate to the gravel area in front of the front door. The brick path continues at the back of the house and leads the eye to the orchard at the bottom of the garden.

At the front, borders, edged with box in the shape of the Union Jack, have been restored, and the yew by the front gate has been cut back so the gate can be opened. There is a lovely walk along the brick path, past the box hedges with seasonal planting, to the front door. A beautiful climbing rose sets off the front of the house and the Tudor style beams and front door.

Before going to the back garden, Helen and Jeremy very kindly let us look at their living room which still has the original twentieth century paneling. Helen showed us the settle by the window that was designed by Baillie-Scott and the wooden doors with the original door furniture that can be used to divide the room from the rest of the house.

Seeing the room also gave a vista of the back garden. Jeremy and Helen have worked very hard in this area, reinstating the brick path down the middle and removing ivy and conifers. The pink roses climbing over the original metal arches looked stunning as the main feature leading the eye down the garden. Helen and Jeremy have been busy planting the borders that edge the path with lavender and lilies, which were coming into flower and attracting the bees.

The final room at the bottom of the garden was the orchard and meadow area. The trees were already laden with fruit. On a hot summer day, it was a lovely place to rest and admire the views to the house. We were indeed in another beautiful room.

Thank you once again Helen and Jeremy for your kindness in allowing us to come and see your lovely garden. We now have a better appreciation of what the Arts and Crafts architects were seeking to achieve and wish Helen and Jeremy every success in what they describe as their ‘work in progress’.

The next meeting of the Society is on Monday 20th November, 2017 at 8pm in the Church Barn when Steven Cockings, the Chairman of the Bedford Roman Villa Project will talk about the Roman Villa complex at Manton Lane, which may well have been linked to evidence of Roman settlement in Biddenham. I hope you will be able to come.

Kathy Fricker

Heritage plaque commemorates Biddenham’s historic coffin Path

The Biddenham Society has commissioned and installed the village’s first historic green plaque to commemorate and identify the C16th Coffin Path which runs from Gold Lane to St James’ Church, forming an important part of the Biddenham Heritage Trail which was opened in 2015.

The book The Village of Biddenham through the ages, describes The Coffin Path, or Causeway, as historically being a vital amenity for the village as it was the shortest way for relatives of the working class to carry the coffin of the deceased to the churchyard for burial.  The path and gates were kept at a width of six feet to allow a coffin with a man on either side to pass through comfortably. In the C18th the Botelers left £2 per annum with the vicar to ensure regular maintenance was carried out to keep the path to the requisite width.

Unfortunately, in 2016 successive ploughing by the land owner destroyed a large part of it, since when the route has relied on villagers and other walkers marking it out with their feet. Meanwhile, with the support of the society and other local groups, the parish council continues to engage in dialogue with the land owner to seek reassurances that this important part of our heritage will be properly preserved in the future – and at six feet wide, not just the width of a tractor wheel!

The plaque is mounted on the north wall of Dawn Cottage at the Gold Lane end of the path, and we thank Peggy Groves for agreeing to have it on her property.  The Biddenham Society is also grateful to the Biddenham History Society and the Biddenham Show Committee for their sponsorship of this project.

The Village of Biddenham Through The Ages

book-the-village-of-biddenham-through-the-ages-bmpA number of people have recently showed interest in the history of Biddenham. So this is a perfect opportunity for people to be aware that there is a book available for purchase.

Three Biddenham History Society members , Katherine Fricker, Mary McKeown and Diana Toyn have written a very detailed and comprehensive book about the village of Biddenham. A book review by Bob Ricketts  is available for further information

Note in advance before purchase, there is no mention of FAM Webster in the book.

Publisher: Bedfordshire Bugle, 2012.
ISBN 9780955135620. 394 pages Price £20.
Available from Mary McKeown on 01234 267678
Postage & packing £4, or collect from author

A famous and distinguished Biddenham resident

With the imminent Biddenham Historical society meeting at Kings Close, Biddenham on the 7th July 2017. There has been a lot of interest from the village about the house from a historical perspective.

F.A.M. Webster was a resident in this house during the 1920’s and 30’s. A biographical account has kindly been submitted by Bob Phillips who is an athletics writer, broadcaster and historian who for 17 years was a member of the BBC Radio athletics commentary team.

Michael Webster has also kindly submitted some old pictures of the house taken in 1920’s.







If any one has any further comments or points of interest about the house please submit in the comments section below:-

Biddenham History Society – The Troops Bedford Welcomed

About 30 people braved the cold evening on January 23rd and were rewarded with two interesting presentations. Peter Applewhite started by giving us the result of his researches into the years 1917 and 1918. Last year, he told us about the Welsh soldiers, some of whom were billeted in Biddenham in 1916. After they left, we have no written record of soldiers being billeted in Biddenham, but the 62nd division and 72nd division were stationed in Bedford briefly in 1917 and 1918 before being sent to France or to do coastal defence duties on the East Anglian coast. The divisions contained soldiers from a variety of regiments such as the Lincolnshires and the Somersets. Peter had researched the local papers very thoroughly and showed how the people of Bedford made the troops very welcome, providing them with hospitality and musical entertainment. He also showed photographs of the areas of combat that the soldiers went to – the scenes of the area around Cambrai at the end of 1917 were very poignant as the frozen mud and rutted tracks in the snow showed how the time in Bedford earlier in the year had been a pleasant interlude for the soldiers before going out to the horror of the Western Front. Peter ended by showing us a table for the casualties from these divisions and the photographs of two of the young soldiers one aged 23 and one aged 20, who were killed. He accompanied the photographs with the Last Post – a moving ending to his researches. Thank you, Peter, for all that you have presented to the Biddenham History Society over the past two years.

Matt Edgeworth then reported on the square metre pit dig that he helped us with in August, 2016. A group of us dug two tests pits in the garden of Pat and Mary McKeown’s house in Church End. As Matt pointed out, there was some competition between those who were digging. Pat and Mary’s grandchildren dug to the greater depth with the energy of youth! Those of us who were older, dug less deeply, but were more fortunate in our finds. There were many shards of pottery, glass and iron – including part of an old door hinge. The star find was a clay pipe, which we managed to piece together from the bowl and stem. Most of the finds were from recent centuries: Matt thought that medieval remains had been obscured when the garden was developed or they were too deep in the ground to be found easily. Matt’s photographs of the day were a welcome tonic of warmth and sunshine in cold, grey January. As he said, those who took part had a most enjoyable day, added to which was Pat and Mary’s kind hospitality. We buried a time capsule in one of the test pits before we filled them in. We included a coin and some paper which we all signed. We would like to think that some archaeologists will find it in 100 years time, though they will have to look hard for the spot to dig as Mary and Pat assured everyone that their garden was restored immaculately when the dig was inished! Thank you once again to Matt for all his help and good advice and his patience with us amateurs.

The new programme cards for the History Society 2017 – 2018 are now available from Kathy Fricker and the programme is on the village website. The next meeting is on Monday, April 24th at 8pm in the Church Barn when David Watson will talk about his house 17, Biddenham Turn. I hope you will be able to come.
Kathy Fricker