The contents on this page remain on our website for informational purposes only.
Content on this page will not be reviewed or updated.


A brief history of Battlesden
FULL OF HISTORY: Battlesden's famous church
The plaque to Walter Merridale,
who did much to finance the church restoration.
THE NEW FISH POND: Battlesden's picturesque lake

In many of our local villages several interesting features are to be seen, recalling their history and heritage, but some also have associations with people who achieved a national renown. One such community is Battlesden, the lake of which was an early project by Joseph Paxton, who later became Sir Joseph Paxton, of Crystal Palace fame.

The early mansion of Battlesden was built in Tudor times, and during the Civil War became a hiding place for Royalists.

Thus in the wake of Parliament's victory the Duncombes, as lords of the manor, fled to France, but according to the diarist Samuel Pepys, when Sir John Duncombe returned at the Restoration he, despite being made a Knight of the Royal Oak and Chancellor of the Exchequer, was the sole member of the government to offend the King by protesting against his extravagant expenditure.

In a later century Battlesden was sold to Sir Gregory Page, a director of the East India Company, and following the death of his descendant, Sir Gregory Page Turner, the house in the early 19th century remained empty for many years. Yet despite the supposed mysterious appearances of the ghostly 'Sir Griggery', it was looked after by a female caretaker, but on one occasion when she needed a night off two women from the village were called in to take charge.

As the night wore on they eventually retired to bed, but, with the clock in the tower having just struck midnight, suddenly their bedroom door began to slowly creak open and a 'presence', said to be a ghostly grey lady, began to pull at the bedclothes. Having a young baby with her, one of the women then remembered that a ghost would not touch innocent blood, and so she laid the infant upon the bed. Indeed, no harm befell the child.

Another ghostly tale regarding the old mansion was that of a cheating steward, whose apparition was said to appear on certain nights in the dairy. During his lifetime he was said to have deceived the villagers by mixing water with the milk, and as he rattled his ghostly chains he was heard to chant:

'Milk and water I sold ever,
Weight and measure I gave never
And I shan't rest, never, never.'

In 1635 Sir Saunders Duncombe, the brother of the lord of Battlesden, obtained the monopoly for the manufacture, sale and hire of sedan chairs in England. As a great traveller he had probably seen this type of conveyance at Sedan, where they were supposedly made, and his patent vested the sole right to himself and his heirs.

As for his other achievements, as inscribed on the memorial above the pulpit in Battlesden church he 'hath bin a gent pentioner in ordinary to King James of blessed meo and also to King Charles about ye space of thirty yeares.'

Another form of transport to which the village could lay claim was 'The Battlesden Car', a type of horse drawn trap. Built by Mr King, of Linslade, the original model had been made for Mr David Bromilow, during his tenancy, Battlesden mansion and with the conveyance becoming very popular with all classes, Mr King's works became known as 'The Battlesden Carriage Works.'

The local community has never been populous, and so the plan of Battlesden church is a simple nave and chancel.

Appointed in 1219, Robert de Gatesden is recorded as the first rector, although it is from the late 13th century that the earliest structural vestige is now apparent, in the form of the two light window in the south nave wall. The chancel arch dates from the 14th century, and the tower is an addition of the 15th century. In fact a mention in 1551 records that there were 'in the stepull of the church iij bells.'

However, it seems that the tower had been built on insubstantial foundations, and a subsequent tilt had to be arrested by brick buttressing.

Contemporary with the brick battlements, in 1898 the tower underwent repairs, but despite these attentions from 1928 it became necessary to keep the church closed (except for the months of August and September) from 1931 to 1934.

Then in August 1947 a church fete, held in the grounds of Milton Bryan rectory, raised over £100 for the restoration of the local churches, and this would especially please the Reverend Kenyon, who had been appointed to the combined parishes a few months before.

Indeed, his was the ambition to have the church of Battlesden restored, and towards this intent he was greatly aided by a gift of £200 from William Merridale who, having lived for many years in the village, had sung as a youth in the choir. In fact he had spent all his working life on the Woburn estate, and because he lived near the church he tried to maintain it in some sort of order.

Sadly, damage to the organ and pews had been caused during the Second World War and it was by the advice of the famed Professor Richardson that a meeting of the parishioners, held in July, agreed that for a few hundred pounds the church could be made fit for use. In fact during the meeting Mr Merridale's £200 was substantially increased by other donations, and the much hoped for restoration could now take place.

Thus the church re-opened in 1949, but sadly William Merridale did not live to witness the event.

He died in December 1946, and a plaque to his memory is to be seen on the north wall of the nave.

Following the restoration, the church was open to anyone with an ecclesiastical interest and, with the benefices of Battlesden and Potsgrove having been officially united in 1732, (by the Bishop of Lincoln), an Order in Council by Queen Elizabeth was made in 1971, whereby Battlesden church became denominated to serve the communities of both Battlesden and Potsgrove.

The church of the latter therefore became redundant, while Battlesden church remains in regular use.

At Battlesden once stood the mansion of the Page-Turner family, who were prominent as East India merchants, and several views of the palatial glory were included amongst a magnificent collection of local water-colours, presented by the family to the county of Bedford.

Born in the nearby village of Milton Bryan, during his early career in 1821 Joseph Paxton had been engaged to lay out the gardens of the mansion, and still to be seen is his 13 acre lake, complete with a boathouse and central island. In fact Joseph's uncle kept the pub in the nearby village of Milton Bryan, and was owed money in 1823 by Sir Gregory Page-Turner for supplying beer to the workmen!

Locally the lake became known as 'the new fish pond' -as opposed to an earlier watery expanse lying to the north, which had been dug some 300 years previous but as for Joseph, he would progress to much greater renown, and is today best remembered for his design and construction of the Crystal Palace, built to commemorate the Great Exhibition of 1851.