BIGGLESWADE: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1791.
"BIGGLESWADE, Is situated on a level surface of the country; 45 miles from London, 11 from Bedford, 11 from St. Neot's, 20 from St. Ive's, and 24 from Cambridge. The soil around, and almost throughout the county, resembles a fine reddish gravel, yet very rich and desirable land for the growth of wheat and other grain, which its neighbouring counties produce. The air is allowed to be very pure, and the springs, which lie near the surface of the earth, very salubrious.
Here was a terrible fire on June 16, 1785, which raged with astonishing fury, and in a few hours laid about 150 dwelling-houses in ashes, besides several malt-houses, corn-chambers, &c. all in the center of the town, around the market-place. The loss was estimated at 24,000l. Most of the houses are rebuilt with brick and tile, and in a more modern taste: but, the loss which the town experienced by the fire, it has not in general recovered; for it occasioned several substantial and independent inhabitants to quit the place, nor have they yet returned. However, it is thought the town, as it respects the trade, is increasing, and has been so ever since the civil war in 1745. At the time this article was in the press, (namely, on the 25th of February, 1792,) a smart shock of an earthquake was felt at this place, about half past eight in the morning, which threw down some old houses; but happily no lives were lost. It lasted several seconds, and considerably alarmed the inhabitants. The shock was felt Northward at Doncaster, and extended towards the sea-coast of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. In June, 1770, a ploughman dug up here a pot of gold coins, of King Edward VI. Here also is an inconsiderable manufactory of white thread-lace and edgings; which are made in some parts of this county in large quantities.
A navigable river comes to this place, but no further, called the Ivell; it joins the Bedford-river, called the Ouse, at Tempsford, and thence runs to Lynn Regis. It serves principally to bring up coals, timber, oats, and mechandise, from Lynn, to supply this and the neighbouring towns and villages, which it does with great convenience, being so situated in the centre, as to check and receive checks from the neigbouring towns. The freights and tolls are high.
Here is a market on Wednesday, which is one of the greatest in England, for barley, peas, and horse-corn, which is brought on teams, and pitched on the market for sale. There are four fairs annually, viz. February 13, Saturday in Easter-week, August 2, and November 8; the first for horses, the last for sheep, and the other two for toys; here is also a statute annually for hiring servants, about three weeks before Michaelmas. The church is a strong ancient edifice, built in the year 1230. The parish of Biggleswade includes two small hamlets, viz. Stratton and Holme; the inhabitants of each being free tenants of this church, by reason of its being a peculiar vicarage. There are not more than three or four in England that are peculiar vicarage. There are not more than three or four in England that are peculiar. This living, some say, is in the gift of the king; others, the bishop of Lincoln, in whose diocese it is; but, it is generally said to be in the gift of the prebends. It is a vicarage, and worth about 150l. per annum. No one can lock up a pew in this church; all are free. The inhabitants are to repair or rebuild it, when necessary. The lord of the manor of Biggleswade is the king; and, his deputy, the Right Hon. Lord Spencer; and, the lord of the manor of Stratton, C. Barnett, Esq.
Here also is a Baptist meeting-house, and two charity-schools. The inhabitants of this town and the two adjoining hamlets are computed to be about 1700. The old North road, from London to Edinburgh, passes through this town. The post comes in every morning, except Monday, about 9 o'clock: and goesout every evening, except Saturday, at 6. There is no mail-coach. Six stage-coaches pass through this town upwards, and the same downwards, every day, for Lincoln, Newcastle, Stamford, Leeds, Rockingham, and York. Fares inside, some 12s. and some 15s. and half price outside, to London. A regular stage-waggon sets out from hence every Friday morning, to the Cross-Keys, St. John's-street, Smithfield, London; and returns every Monday morning. Twenty-eight stage-waggons also pass through, up and down, every week.
Here are several very good inns for the accommodation of travellers; the first is the Sun, kept by William Knight, which stands at the back of the town; the accommodations at this inn are said to be equal to most on this road, between London and York. The Swan, by R. Saunders; the Crown, by W. Grigg; the Rose, by W. Race; and, the Foundation, late J. Scarborough.
The following seats and villages are in the neighbourhood of Biggleswade:— Old Warden, 4 miles, the seat of Lord Ongley; near which are the ruins of Worden-abbey, which was formerly a very extensive and considerable monastery, as the digging of the earth at different times demonstrates, where several very curious figured stones, subterraneous passages, &c. have been discovered; but, the devouring hand of time has almost demolished it; the only remains perfect are two rooms on a floor, and the stair-case; it is supposed to be near 1000 years since it was built. Samuel Whitbread, Esq. M.P. for Bedford, has purchased this estate, since which he is very desirous of preserving the ancient remains. — Southall-place, 3 miles, the seat of the Earl of Euston, M.P. for Cambridge University. — Sutton-place, 2 miles, the seat of Lady Burgoyne. — Stratton, the seat of C. Barnett, Esq. — Sandy-place, 3 miles, the seat of Sir Philip Monoux, Bart. near which is the pleasant village of Sandy, which is considerable, and the soil is agreeable to its name. Here is a very extensive warren of wild rabbits, the property of Sir Philip Monoux, which are reckoned to be some of the most delicate in the kingdom. It has some hills on it. Sandy is noted for producing large quantities of fine and forward garden herbage, as potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbages, cucumbers, &c. which grow in the open fields, in plentiful crops, around the parish. By hiring a few acres of this land, and thus cultivating these commodities, a number of families are supported. The above articles are sent to market-towns 50 miles distant. — Hasells, 3 miles, the seat of F. Pinnus, Esq. and, Ickwell, 3 miles, the seat of John Harvey, Esq."