PITSTON, anciently PIGHTELSTHORN, in the hundred of Cotslow and Deanery of Muresley lies about ten miles east of Aylesbury and about six miles from Dunstable, in Bedfordshire. The chief property of Pitston was given to the monastery of Asheridge founded at the extremity of this parish on the borders of Hertfordshire, in the year 1283, by Edmund earl of Cornwall. The founder had a palace or castle at Asheridge, the keep of which is to be seen not far from the site of the monastery: either in this palace or in the convent, king Edward I. kept his Christmas in the year 1290, and stayed five weeks, during which time he held a parliament at Asheridge. The chronicle of Dunstable priory records the grievances which the inhabitants of that town endured by being obliged to furnish provisions for the monarch and his court. The earl of Cornwall died at Asheridge in the year 1300, having given the manors of Pitston and Asheridge to the convent, which consisted of a rector and 20 canons of a religious order called Bonhommes, who wore a blue habit. The founder gave them, amongst other donations, a portion of Christ's blood; in honour of which the convent was founded. This precious deposit proved a mine of wealth; persons of all ranks flocking hither from the most distant parts out of devotion towards so sacred a relic, to the great enrichment of the canons. This pretended blood was publickly shewn at Paul's cross by the bishop of Rochester, on the 24th of February, 1538, and proved to be nothing more than honey clarified and coloured. The lands belonging to the monastery of Asheridge were estimated, in 1538, at 416 l. 14s. 4d. clear yearly value. The site was kept for some time in the hands of the crown, and the monastery became a royal palace. It was the frequent residence of Queen Elizabeth when princess, in the reigns of her father and brother; she had a grant of it from her brother in 1552, and was residing at Asheridge when taken into custody by Sir Edward Hastings, Sir Thomas Cornwall, and Sir Edward Southwell, on suspicion of being concerned in Sir Thomas Wyat's conspiracy, and, though confined by illness, was obliged (such was the strictness of their commission) to rise from her bed and set off for London in the Queen's litter. In 1574, Asheridge, with the lands which had belonged to the convent, was granted in exchange to Dudley and Ayscough, who acted, it is probable, as trustees for Henry Lord Cheyne of Toddington, to whom it was immediately conveyed. His widow sold this estate, in 1600, to Sir Randall Crewe and others; by whom it was conveyed, in 1602, to Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, ancestor of the present proprietor, the earl of Bridgwater, who inherits also the manors of Morrants, with Narnets and Butlers, in Pitston. It is probable that these are the names of families who held lands under the monastery.
The collegiate church, in which lay the remains of Lord Chief Justice Bryan, Sir Thomas and Sir John Denham, and other persons of note, was demolished in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The great hall and cloisters were entire in the year 1800. The hall, which was 44 feet by 22, had a rich gothic roof, and pointed windows; and was enriched with fluted pilasters on the sides. This beautiful speciment of ancient architecture, though to all appearance in good repair, was pulled down by the late duke of Bridgwater, and the materials sold piece-meal: the cloisters, which were to have shared the same fate, were standing in the year 1802 after the demolition of the other buildings, but had sustained considerable injury by the pulling down of the adjoining walls. The roof of the cloisters was of Toternhoe stone, wrought with various ornaments, which remained very entire. Among these occurred the arms of the founder and those of the monastery (a holy lamb standing on the sepulchre and holding a banner.) The side walls were adorned with paintings in fresco, well designed, representing the history of our Saviour. Some of the figures had been well preserved, but most of them had sustained more or less injury from the damp. The additions which had been made to the conventual buildings about the reign of Queen Elizabeth, were pulled down also by the late duke, who it is said intended building a new mansion on, or near, the site of the monastery. Asheridge park is of large extent, well wooded, and abundantly stocked with deer. Pitston church, which is about four mile distant from Asheridge, contains nothing remarkable: it was consolidated with Ivinghoe in 1684, but the parishes continue separate.
[Correction/Addition at the end of Magna Britannia states "The cloisters at Asheridge were afterwards pulled down (by direction of the late Duke of Bridgwater) and the materials sold; some of these were used for mending roads."]
The great tithes, which belonged to the convent of Asheridge, are now the property of the earl of Bridgwater, who is patron of the consolidated vicarages of Ivinghoe and Pitston.
At Nettleden, a hamlet of Pitston, about six miles distant from the parish church, on the road from Gaddesdon to Hemel Hempstead, is a chapel of ease, which was consecrated in 1470. It was the burial place of Sir George Cotton, vice chamberlain to King Edward VI. who died in 1545.