Shortmead Street

Looking back at the history of Shortmead Street, Biggleswade
by Ken Page

Starting on the west side at St Andrews Parish Church ..... click here for the east side.

The Parish Church & The Bishops Land in Shortmead Street
A full history of the Church itself will be included later.

When Joseph Douton was vicar of Biggleswade from 1840 to 1855, his vicarage was located behind Goldthorpe's shop in High Street with the garden facing Market Square and first mentioned there in 1711. This building most probably replaced a medieval vicarage located in St Andrews Street where The Conservative Club is now.

The High Street vicarage was sold on 13th June 1842 and the site now forms part of Goldthorpe's Yard. The garden was sold for the Town Hall (now a prime location for Ask Restaurant) built in 1844.

2 -8 Shortmead Street 1900

On the right is the vicarage wall in the foreground and the churchyard beyond - about 1901

Victorian Vicarage about 1910

A decision was made to relocate the vicarage to a position adjacent to the churchyard of St Andrews Church in Shortmead Street. The land described as “The Bishops Land” in the 1838 Tithe Award Plan was purchased in 1843 from Robert Lindsell for the sum of £450 plus £30 expenses. The handsome new Victorian vicarage opened in 1844 and lasted until 1962 when it was considered to be too large and draughty. So the new incumbent, Rev John Dominey, moved into a more convenient house at 40, Drove Road

Present Vicarage - Biggleswade 2008
The present Vicarage in May 2008


The Present Vicarage The old vicarage stood empty for seven years before a decision was made and funds available to erect a new vicarage occupied in 1972. The architects F.C. Levitt and Partners designed the present vicarage using facing bricks from the old building. These were made in Biggleswade and are known as Shortmead Bricks. The builders were Wrights of Langford and the cost £12,833. The entrance is from Ivel Gardens, which was developed at about the same time on Parsonage Land. The urban district council had demolished the church wall giving a better view of St Andrews Church and the vicarage from Shortmead Street. Gravestones had been removed in 1958 and the churchyard turned into a grassed open space with seating. The whole area has proved to be an asset by enhancing the view of the Parish Church and available for various events during the year.

St Andrews Chapter House attached to the parish church.
Canon John Dominey laid the foundation Stone for the new Chapter House to replace the memorial hall on1st May 1976. The completed building opened in December 1977 was also used as an entrance to St Andrew's Church.  Also included, as part of the redevelopment was a new car park accessed from Ivel gardens, leading to the chapter house and parish church located behind the vicarage. This venue proved to be popular and was utilized by many local organisations in addition to church use. When the Chapter House roof needed to be replaced because it had started to leak, it was decided that an extension was required, so The Ivel Room was added in 1992 at a cost of £68,000. Despite some objections from residents in nearby Ivel Gardens, planning consent was recently given for a new extension to cost around £250,000. Work is expected to start next year.

The Church School and Memorial hall in Shortmead Street
The Church School for girls and infants was built on land know known as The Bishops Close in Shortmead Street. Mrs Dorothy Shuttleworth of Old Warden had laid the foundation stone on 27th August 1909. Then Miss Giffen the first headmistress laid another stone subscribed for by the teachers and scholars from the school in Station Road, soon to close. The new school opened on 9th May 1910 at a cost of about £2,500.

Stone laying New Church School 1909


Stone laying New Church School 1909


Church School Shortmead Street 1957 Church School Shortmead Street 1957  


May Day was celebrated for the first time in 1925 when there was dancing around the maypole in the school meadow. This was still going strong 1945. The first school canteen opened in 1948.

But mothers were complaining about the accommodation in November 1954, especially the lack of suitable heating in classrooms. The Ministry of Education were asked to approve remedial works, but a change of policy in 1964 resulted in the school closing and pupils relocated to the former Council School in Rose Lane. This became a voluntary controlled school renamed St Andrews.

The old Church school was demolished in 1973. Part was sold to John Burgess the builder who was developing Ivel Gardens and the remainder went to St Andrews Parochial Church Council.

The Church Memorial Hall was built following a public meeting held in the Masonic Rooms In 1919 to discuss building a memorial hall in memory of the soldiers who had fallen during the 1914-18 war. The site chosen was on land in front of the Church School.  The land was conveyed to the Parochial Church Council represented by the vicar and churchwardens.


Memorial hall Shortmead Street 1957 Church Memorial Hall - Shortmead Street -1957


Kingdom Hall May 2008
After conversion to the Kingdom Hall - May 2008

The new Church Memorial Hall was opened on 9th October 1924 at 3pm followed by tea & entertainment, repeated at 7.30pm. Funds were raised by various donations including church bodies and by public subscription. There was still an outstanding debt of £105 in July 1925 cleared by a fete in the vicarage gardens.

A lot happened in the 1970's including closing St Johns Church in St Johns Street and selling the site for residential Purposes. The Chapter House replaced the Memorial Hall; also the sum of £10,000 was required for urgent repairs to the church tower.

Following completion of the new chapter house, the memorial hall was put up for sale.  When the area behind was redeveloped the building was sold to The Jehovah Witnesses and was dedicated as the Kingdom Hall in March 1978. Since then the original building has been altered and enlarged on this important corner site together with a car park accessed from Ivel gardens.

7 "Glenfield"  This was built for James John Weston, the brewer, by 1871. James died in December 1888 at the early age of 43 and his mother, Elizabeth, passed away in December 1890 aged 85. Frederick Nicholas, relieving officer & registrar of Births & deaths, was there in 1891. Thomas Wilkinson replaced him as relieving officer in 1901.

Samuel Edwards was living there in 1925 and John Edwards in 1935 & 1940. Next owners were members of the Bryant family. The Ministry of Labour and Employment Exchange moved here from Hitchin Street on 1st September 1980, relocating to 55 High Street in 1974.

Glenfield 7 Shortmead Street

9 & 11 Shortmead Street

"Glenfield" - 2008

9 and 11 - 2008

Two important residences

9 In 1838 the house and garden was owned by John Foster and occupied by John Monk.  Isaac White Ironmonger was there in 1851 followed by James Bellchamber the National schoolmaster. A long standing resident was Charles Burnett general practitioner & surgeon from 1869 until his death in 1910. His widow Mary Burnett died in 1923 and John Orlopp was living there in 1925. The next occupants were Hooper  & Fletcher solicitors. Originally based at Brigham House, 93 High Street they moved to The Manor House circa 1970. The present occupants are Russell Associates Advertising Agency. There is currently a planning application to convert the building to residential use.  

11 The Manor House It was a house, garden and close in the 1838 tithe award plan owned and occupied by John Cator. Ann Cator his widow was living there in 1841 She had married John Thompson general practitioner by 1851. He died in 1880 leaving the property empty. The next occupier was William John Pope from 1885 to1898. Then 1903 Miss Brickwell, 1906 G. Philip Holding and 1910 Edward Lyne.  Edward Wilshaw MRCVS vetinerary surgeon moved here from Stratton Street in 1911. He was absent in the Army Veterinary Service from September 1914 returning to the practice in October 1915.


The Manor House 1957 and 1981 (right)


The property was for sale in 1919 and sold in 1925 to Dr T Healam from Calverton, (I hope that this was not on 1st April).  Dr Rankin a very popular doctor born in Scotland took over the practice in 1929 eventually retiring in 1959. He remained at the house until his death in 1970 and soon afterwards Hooper & Fletcher moved from no 9.

When William Fletcher died in 1931 his partner was Francis Allbutt who lived at Holme Lodge. After he retired in 1938, Avery Clough Waters headed the practice. Then in 1953, Wilkinson & Butler from St Neots took over, still retaining the name of Hooper & Fletcher. Lewis Day who came from St Neots in 1953 was made a partner in 1957 and thereafter ran the practice. He retired in 1984 and in 1985 they merged with Winters of Huntingdon as Winter Wilkinson. In 1991 there was a de-merger and the firm took the names of the then three partners Motley, Strachan & Hope.

After Duncan Strachan set up on his own about 1990 they became Motley & Hope (Paul Motley & Helen Hope) that still remains to this day.   

John Foster owned the next three sites in the 1838 Tithe Award Plan
The Wrestlers beerhouse was destroyed in the 1785Great Fire of Biggleswade. In 1838 it was part of a close owned by John Foster. Mary Taylor and Harry Albone appear to have occupied two cottages on the site in 1841.There were 6 cottages in 1851 and 10 in 1861, but in 1871 there were 6 cottages in Brampton's Yard and two shops, one occupied by John Leake harness maker and the other by Isaac White Ironmonger.

William Day who came from Kimbolton as a wholesale retail & export saddler occupied the shop in 1879. The business was known as Day & Co Wholesale Retail & Export. They also traded at Kimbolton and in 1890 they had a branch at Melbourne, Australia, this must have been a local record! They were advertising dog muzzles in 1897 when there was a dog muzzling order in force in Bedfordshire.

13 Shortmead St 1916 Jackson

13 Shortmead Street 1957

13 Shortmead Street - 1916 - Jackson's

13 Shortmead Street - 1957  

William Jackson took over the business in July 1899 in addition to his ropewalk and factory in St Johns Street. He had only just retired when he died on 12th February 1924. The extensive premises were advertised:

To Let and described as “Front Shop and large cellar with Five Bedrooms, Sitting room, Dining room, large Kitchen and scullery, Bathroom & Pantry, also Spacious Warehouse, Coachhouse, Loft & stable Garden & outbuildings”.

The next occupant was Alfred Alex Rutt a fruiterer & greengrocer who traded there for many years.


13 Shortmead St Coutts Surgery
13 Shortmead St Coutts Surgery - 2008

The present vetinerary surgery started in 1967 as Tebbutt & Coutts with another surgery at St Neots. The partnership was dissolved in 1986 when Kenneth Coutts continued with the Biggleswade Surgery and Norman & Alasdair Tebbutt carried on at St Neots. The branch surgery opened at 31 High Street Sandy.  Since then the Biggleswade surgery has expanded to take in the whole building with many more services offered for local animals. Mr. Coutts retired in 1997, handing over to his son Fergus Coutts. The practice was at one time briefly Coutts & Shackleton but is now Coutts Vetinerary Surgery with four vets' in attendance with a support staff and the Sandy branch surgery.


15 - Beaumont Close
Beaumont Close was built in 1840 for John Foster, one member of a family of merchants trading between Biggleswade and Kings Lynn. His elder son Blythe Foster was living there in 1851 with his wife Alicia and three servants. Blythe died in 1871 and his brother John Nathaniel Foster put it up for sale by auction at the Swan Hotel on 30th November 1871


Beaumont Close - 1981


The extensive grounds extended right down to the river.  No 13 A house and saddlers shop (now the vetinerary surgery) and three cottages, No 23 (now Dew Cottage) were sold as separate lots.

Gerard Andrews was the purchaser followed by Henry Jackson Whiteley (1881), James Binney (1894). The curate, Rev. Charles Henry Brocklebank in 1890, but it was unoccupied in 1891. The Misses Wilkin, daughters of a Church of England clergyman were living there by 1894. Miss Alice Wilkin died in 1913 and her three sisters attended the funeral.


The main particulars in 1871
FAMILY RESIDENCE comprising nearly 5 acres.
Erected in the Elizabethan Style after designs by an eminent Architect, well built with white brick, stone string courses architraves &c supplied with hot water heating apparatus is well placed a convenient distance from the road and approached by a carriage drive from Shortmead Street from which it is well screened by ornamental timber: it contains:
ON GROUND FLOOR Entrance Hall, inner hall with bay windows, Dining Room with bay windows and Library looking into conservatory.
DOMESTIC OFFICES Comprise; Capital Kitchen, Store Room, Butlers Pantry, Butlers Bedroom, and Scullery with hard and soft water pumps.
ON FIRST FLOOR Seven well arranged bedrooms, 2 Dressing Rooms and W. C.
ON SECOND FLOOR Attic and Box Room.
ARCHED UNDERGROUND CELLARS 7ft 9inches high:  comprising Beer Cellar, Apple Room, Wine Cellar, Dairy and Larder.
STABLING 2 loose boxes, 1 stall coach house etc

Charles Edward Cooke purchased in 1921. He was estate agent for Viscount Clifden of Wimpole Hall. Mr Cooke died in 1933 and Mrs Cooke remained until 1937 when she sold it to Edward Dixon Fisher the ironmonger who died in 1966. Mrs Fisher moved into the bungalow when the Close was sold to Charles Cook. Following her death Charles Cook moved into Close Cottage and sold the mansion converted into Biggleswade Nursing Home in 1987. It is now known as Beaumont Park Nursing Home.

23 Shortmead Street William Dew carrier c1910
23 Shortmead Street
William Dew carrier - c1910 

23 Shortmead Street & Dark Lane Dew Cottage No 23 - Dew Cottage & Dark Lane - 2008

23 originally one of three cottages sold in 1871 all accessed from Dark Lane. The only one remaining is where William Dew took over the carrier business started by his grandfather Thomas Dew in 1854 and continued by his father Ebenezer Dew at The Coach & Horses. Following upon his father's death in 1891, William moved to no 17 with his mother Sarah where he successfully continued in business with his van built by John Maythorn. A W Watkin described it as “painted a bright yellow and lined out in black”. He went weekly to Bedford, Hitchin & St Neots carrying all kinds of goods and produce also passengers. The Biggleswade Chronicle reported an accident in 1913 when his horse took fright in the Market Square. The only time he failed to get home was in the 1916 blizzard when it took him an hour to climb Wilbury Hill to Arlesey and he had to leave his van there and return home by train.  He changed to a motor van about 1920 and continued until 1946 when he retired aged 75. He died at Rye Close Nursing home on 11th May 1958 aged 80.

Dark Lane originally ran through to the river. It is prominent in the Tithe Award Plan of 1838 and must have been in use before then. There was once a ford at that point but it could not have existed after the Ivel Navigation opened in 1758.

25-41 Shortmead Street 1957

25-47 Shortmead Street Aug 1995

25-41 Shortmead Street 1957

25-27 Riverford House   Nathaniel Herbert owned a property on the site in 1830 let to John Rhodes shoemaker and others, he was still there in 1871.

Riverford House could have been newly built in 1873 when Frederick Conder, the estate agent sold it to the daughters of Charles Powers the miller, Annie, Mary and Lizzie following their fathers' death.

Frederick Gee was born in Balsham, Cambridgeshire and came to Biggleswade with his parents. He attended the British School and when a local seedsman, Thomas Ayres asked the headmaster, Mr Carter who was the brightest boy in the school, Frederick Gee was asked to stand up and was promptly apprenticed. He set up on his own at the age of 16 as a seedsman and plant grower in Hitchin Street. He moved to Sun Street with his gardens nearby in Fairfield. By 1890 he had moved to Riverford House, which included extensive pleasure gardens leading down to the river with a boathouse at the end of Dark Lane. The house had a large hall, three reception rooms, kitchen, scullery and six bedrooms, dressing room and bathroom. As Frederick and his wife Ellen had 16 children, a large house was essential.

He soon became a top seedsman, supplying seeds to the Royal farm at Windsor and was recognised as a Royal Seedsman by Queen Victoria. King Edward VII conferred a Royal warrant, renewed by King George V. A man of boundless energy, he was a Town Councillor from 1892 on the Local Board and the Urban District Council until 1919. He was chairman for three years and on many local bodies; also a member of The Royal Agricultural Society of England.

He died in 1925 and the firm of Frederick Gee and Sons included Furzenhall, Marsh and Elm Farms. Three of his sons carried on the business, but in 1930 at a time of recession, the firm was in the hands of a trustee for creditors and the house was sold to Mrs Gee. In 1937 Riverford House with six cottages and land was sold to Alfred Bryant.

Bryant's already had a shop and motorcycle showroom opposite at 121 Shortmead Street started by Alfred Bryant and his brother-in-law Mr Chambers in 1907.  The original premises were sold in 1985 and the redevelopment of this site includes Trinity Close.

The frontage of Riverford House was converted into the main showroom in May 1938. During the war, the cellars were used for an air-raid-shelter with an entrance in Dark Lane.  By now, Alfred Bryant had retired and Alfred's son George Bryant, a renowned champion motorcyclist was head of the firm. George Bryant died suddenly in 1955 on holiday at Frinton-on-Sea, predeceasing his father who lived until 1962. Elsie Bryant, his widow carried on with the help of willing staff, her father-in-law, son and daughter.

Sid Skinner Caravans 1988


Sid Skinner Caravans 1988


Internal walls were removed when the showroom was enlarged in 1965. Two years later, four of the cottages nearby were demolished for a new modern showroom opened as they expanded into Triumph, Bond and Reliant cars.  Cars were later discontinued and Sid Skinner opened a new showroom for caravans.  He demolished the last two Cottages in 1980.

Elsie Bryant retired in 1973 and a partnership of her son Michael, daughter Ann and her husband Roger Sharpe took over the business. Elsie died in February 1992, later that year there was a downturn in the motorcycle trade and the partners reluctantly decided to close the business in October 1992.

Mantles Garages used the new showroom for a short time, when they first took over their Ford dealership in addition to Rover. There was a planning application in 1996 to use the land for a supermarket, with Riverford House restored as part of the frontage to Shortmead Street. But this fell through and as the Victorian house was not listed a planning application for demolition and to build a housing estate on the site was approved. Whilst demolition of Riverford House was in progress in January 2002 an unexploded hand grenade was found and detonated by disposal experts in a nearby field.


25 Shortmead Street 2008
25 Shortmead Street - 2008


29-35 Shortmead Street - 1957
29-35 Shortmead Street - 1957


25 -41 Shortmead Street - 2008
25 -41 Shortmead Street - 2008

The new development of houses and flats was completed in 2003, with new houses blending in with the Shortmead Street frontage and Wharf Mews leading towards the river with trees retained fronting Dark Lane and a large block of luxury riverside flats.

It can be difficult to pinpoint cottages no longer standing from Census records. Those roughly corresponding to the present 29-41 were:
1851-1861 John Chapman, 1871 Sarah Chapman on parish relief,1881-1901 George Cowland shoemaker, 1910 Joseph Mantel, carpenter.

1851 Lucy Snowdon, 1861 Emily Hollinson, Mary Plummer laundress,
1916 Mrs Chambers.

1861 Simeon Mead Cabinet Maker, 1871-1901 Thomas Henshaw corn dealer, 1910 John Wm Hardy millwright, 1910 William Chambers Corn merchants clerk.

1861-71 Charles Pope merchants clerk, 1891-1901 Charles Dalton retired baker, 1916 James Burrows.

29-35 New Houses 2003

Wharf Mews 2003

41 New House 2003

43 Pope's Wharf
 Have you ever wondered about the impressive house in Shortmead Street known as Wharf House? This was originally the Middle Wharf used for the Ivel Navigation between 1756 and 1876.  Denis Herbert and Richard Foster, both coal merchants were trading there in 1785

Wharf House 1957

Wharf House 1988


Wharf House 1957

Wharf House 1988









John Foster, William Hogg and John Croft followed them in1823. William Pope a corn and coal merchant and maltster was in occupation from1830. He was one of numerous members of the Pope family involved in the corn trade at Biggleswade, Sandy and Potton including his five sons. For many years it was known as Pope's Wharf.

When William Pope died circa 1885, the business was known as Pope Brothers. They had another premises at Mark Lane London. In 1899 there was a failure at the London Corn Exchange that resulted in difficult times for the firm. A fire in 1905 destroyed a large part of the corn stores and buildings on the south side together with an adjacent onion loft belonging to Frederick Gee.

After one son Charles James Pope, died in 1904, the firm was known as Charles James Pope & Co. The last son, William John Pope retired to 17 Fairfield Road where he died in 1932.

By 1935 William Jordan & Son of Holme Mills were the owners of the wharf premises, but Miss Alice Sarah Hipwell resided at Wharf House from about 1925 until her death in 1938. She was connected with a family of millers at Sharnbrook.

43-45 Shortmead Street - 2008
43-45 Shortmead Street-2008


Jim Alison rented part of the wharf for his road haulage business from 1924 initially delivering flour from the J. Arthur Rank mills in London to bakers locally. Among his customers were Idris mineral waters, Nuro Films and Pobjoy.

Abel (Peter) Smith a corn merchant moved to Wharf House in 1938 with his son Harold, but their business closed in 1940 due to the war and Harold Smith a notable local historian became Transport Manager at Franklin's Mill. It was about this time when the iron railings in front were removed for the war effort.

After the war Wharf Engineering was one of the firms operating in the complex. William Chisholm and family utilised Wharf House as an overnight stop for long distance lorry drivers for some years until Wharf House continued as a private residence.



45-47 Some occupiers of cottages between The Wharf and Coach & Horses included:


43-51 Shortmead Street - 195743-51 Shortmead Street - 1957

Barns Shortmead Street 1957 Barns in the yard behind 1- 957

1841&1851 William Edwards carpenter followed by Mary Edwards widow in 1861 and John Edwards owner of land and 1901Mary Ann Edwards.

1851William Hulet carpenter 1871-91 Mary Ann Harcom bonnet sewer
1901George Peters Labourer.

1861-1910 John Broom grocer confectioner & gardener.
(Some of these may have been yards behind including the wooden barns.)

The present occupants are Grazilda Hyde who opened her accountants business here in 1994 and expanded in 2007 with her partner Elaine Lewis as Hyde & Lewis Accountants

The Wooden Barns in the yard behind have been occupied by carpenters painters and builders for a long period of time and have survived (2009) despite not being listed. Charles D Woodward was builder and contractor there in 1906


Coach & Horses Shortmead Street - 2008Coach & Horses - 2008

49-51 Coach & Horses first mentioned in 1719 as an alehouse. An important tavern on a main street always fully licensed it never developed into a fully-fledged coaching inn with yards and gardens right down to the river.

Mrs Spencer operated the Perseverance Van in 1842 to Hitchin on Tuesday, Bedford on Wednesday and St Neots on Thursdays. By 1854 it was operated by her nephew Thomas Benson. Ebenezer Dew licensee in 1869 ran his carriers business from the pub.

A fire occurred in 1905 at the stables a few weeks after the fire at The Wharf. The building was thatched and built almost entirely of wood. There was a tremendous blaze and most of the animals and carts were saved, but a carthorse was forgotten in the confusion and perished.

Although much altered internally and with good facilities externally the building is little changed apart from the removal of two bay windows.


55 Shortmead Street 1957
55 Shortmead Street 1957

55 Shortmead Street 199555 Shortmead Street 1995


55-65 A W Watkin Ltd purchased the block of three remaining cottages in the late 1970’s and they were demolished to provide vehicle parking. No 55 is a Grade II listed building and could not be knocked down and it was allowed to become neglected and derelict. Following the takeover of Watkin by The Pendragon Motor Group in 1988 the business closed in 2000. The site was purchased by Wheatley Homes in 2001 and sold to Stamford Homes in 2002. Building work started in 2003 and the site was developed into Woodall Close leaving No 55 still in a perilous state. The building was wrapped in polythene until permission was given to reconstruct the cottage later that year.


Woodall Close 2008

Woodall Close & 57 Shortmead Street 2008


Woodall Close 2008

57 Shortmead Street 2008

Woodall Close replicates Bakers Yard mentioned in the 1871 & 1891 census returns.

Here are some of the occupants:
1838 Mary Waples still there in 1841 with Margaret Norman Mary Toll, Edward Moseley, Ann Cooper

1851 Charles Barker d until 1881 replaced by Henry Woods market gardener & seed grower 1891&1901

There were 12 other cottages in 1851 and 8 in 1861. The 8 in 1871 included 4 in Bakers Yard. Still 8 in 1881 but 6 in 1891 with 4 in Bakers Yard again mentioned

67 The Plough was an alehouse from 1744 to 1796 when it became The Blue Ball.  Wells & Co purchased the lease from John Hill Day of the Priory Brewery St Neots in 1840.  In addition to a bar, parlour, kitchen cellar and 3 bedrooms there were stalls for 10 horses. A W Watkin referred to a huge wooden ball suspended on an iron arm over the pathway. The lease ran for 99 years from 1796 at 15 guineas per annum payable on Lady Day. Licensees were 1841 John Medlock, 1851-1861 Mary Medlock ,1871 Samuel Berry, 1881 –1896 William Medlock.


Travis Perkins 2006


Travis Perkins 2006

The Blue Ball closed in1896 when the lease expired. Arthur Stileman leased the building for a year to James Huckle and then to Ellis & Everard, builder’s merchants and proprietors of granite quarries, dealers in soot, artificial manures in 1897.  They opened a depot at the railway station at the same time. Ellis & Everard eventually purchased, continuing until 1990 when they became part of Travis Arnold Ltd and the now Travis Perkins. 

69-75 Four Cottages were demolished when Travis Perkins extended their yard.

There was a malthouse behind these cottages in 1883. One of these was occupied Alfred Huckle a domestic groom in 1871 and a greengrocers shop in 1881.Another by Robert Keene gardener 1871 & 1881.

The Royal Astronomer and his Observatory in Biggleswade
Thomas McClear the distinguished astronomer was born in 1794 at County Tyrone in Ireland then went to St Guys and St Thomas’s Hospitals in London to study medicine. In 1815 he was appointed to The Royal College of Surgeons. He became House Surgeon at Bedford Infirmary and established a friendship with Admiral Smith a Bedford Astronomer. He then joined his uncle Thomas McGrath in a medical practice at premises in High Street Biggleswade, now three shops, Shoe Co, Lloyds Chemists and Fruit & Flowers. M’Grath (sic) & Maclear, surgeons are listed in Pigot & Co’s directory of 1830.

Thomas Maclear set up his observatory in Shortmead Street behind a property owned by Thomas McGrath.  There is a plan of the premises contained in a letter preserved in the archives of The Royal Astronomical Society. It consisted of two adjoining rooms. The Transit Room was 8 foot square and the Octagonal Observatory with a rotatable roof containing his telescope was 8 foot in diameter. The total cost was fifty pounds.

The observatory is clearly shown in the 1838 Tithe Award Plan and the present location would appear to be somewhere in Travis Perkins builders yard.

After leaving Biggleswade in 1833 Thomas McClear became The Royal Astronomer at The Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and gained an international reputation. He was knighted in 1860.

Both Sir Thomas and Lady McClear (daughter of Theed Pearce, Clerk of the Peace for Bedfordshire) are buried in the grounds of The Royal Observatory at Cape Town.

Thomas McGrath (whose sister Mary was Thomas McClear’s mother) died in 1838 aged 73. His son Thomas McGrath MD married Caroline Barnett, daughter of Charles Barnett of Stratton Park.

There are memorial tablets in St Andrew’s Church to Thomas McGrath, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh. Deceased 28thMay 1838.  Aged 73 and Caroline McGrath of Stratton. Deceased 28thMay 1852. Aged 35. 

Rankins Court


Rankins Court


Rankins Court A new build court of cottages named after Dr Rankin.

Mead Villa 2008

77 Mead Villa  John Thomas Huckle chimney sweep had moved from Sun Street in September 1906. He died in 1933 when his son Alfred had already taken over the business. There was a lean to wooden shop on the south side

79 Became Dr James surgery by 1885.

Surgeon's House Shortmead Stree 2008

Surgeon's House 2008

81 Ivel View now Surgeons House
Alexander Frederick Fisher surgeon was living here in 1850 He moved to Rose Bank London Road by 1881 until he died in September 1883 aged 77. His widow Susan remained there until about 1900. Dr Alfred James was born in Merthyr Tydfil on 24 February 1853 He married Helen Buckland in 1881 and moved to Biggleswade as partner to Dr Stevens. By 1885 after the death of Dr Stevens he was living at 81 Shortmead Street. The adjoining surgery was at 79 Shortmead Street. He still owned the property when he moved to St Andrews (The present Conservative Club in St Andrews Street) in 1906 where he continued with his practice until he retired in 1910 and passed away there on 3 March 1913.  

Dr Oscar Milburn who had married his daughter Mamie James followed him at Ivel View from 1910 until 1917. The practice then passed to Dr Charles Keith Crowther who retired in 1935. Dr James Celestine Rowan followed him until his death in. 1944. Mrs Rowan inherited the practice employing Dr McGowan who was still there when Dr Chisholm purchased the practice. Dr Chisholm retired about 1974 and Dr McGowan purchased the house and continued in residence until he died in 1982. The house and surgery then remained empty.

There was controversy in 1986 as No’s 77 and 81 were listed buildings but No 79 the former surgery was not. A developer demolished no 79 and had the roof removed from no 81 so that it became waterlogged and derelict. It was a ‘hideous eyesore’ and The Town Council called for it to be demolished. English Heritage did not agree and the Environment Secretary, Michael Heseltine intervened in 1991 when both No 77 (a former chimney sweep’s house) and 81 were saved from destruction.

Crowther Court site

Crowther Court 1

Crowther Court

The whole site was redeveloped in 1993 and 77 became an entrance to Crowther Court, 81 was restored and named “The Surgeons House”. These three shots show it in 1990 and its redevelopment in 2008

There were three residents living between No 81 and Ivel Bury in 1901:William Pettingell dealer in wearing apparel, George Warren gardener and Richard Hobbs coachman, both obviously employed at Ivel Bury.

83 Ivel Bury
The Ivel Navigation opened in 1759 with the rivers Ivel and Ouse navigable from Kings Lynn to Biggleswade, where lighters were turned at the mill pit. There were three wharves at Biggleswade. St Andrews, (now the Conservative Club), Middle Wharf (now Wharf House) and Ivel Bury. In 1823 the navigation was extended to Shefford and due to competition from the railways it closed in 1876.

Ivel Bury House

Ivel Bury 1957

Rear of Ivel Bury House

Ivel Bury 1957

Ivel Bury 1995

The first record of the mansion at IVEL BURY is of a serious fire in 1783 when many of the best houses in town were burned down. There were extensive wine cellars under the site used in connection with the Ivel Navigation. Denis Herbert a merchant trading between Biggleswade and Kings Lynn lost the newly built mansion house he had not time to insure. However, it was soon rebuilt and later became the residence of Samuel Wells the Biggleswade brewer who died in 1831. The next owner was Samuel’s son-in-law William Hogge who died in 1862. He was a merchant, brewer and banker of Biggleswade and Kings Lynn.

The next owner was Admiral Talbot. His executors sold it in 1883 to Frederick William Conquest who then moved Mead House School For Young Gentlemen from the other side of Shortmead Street. The school closed by 1920 and in 1921 the site was adapted for use as the Territorial Army Centre. Ivel Bury was rebuilt in 1936, retaining the original coach house and cellars. The whole site became surplus to military requirements in 1970 and was put up for sale.

Argyle House Hotel Shortmead Street 1957Argyle House Hotel - 1957


AHC design purchased Ivel Bury and renamed it Century House. They originally provided technical drawing office and planning facilities to local firms. The private company later added technical recruitment and design consultancy. The Drill Hall, parade ground and gun park were used to house a variety of small factory units. The original coach-house was converted into Argyle House Hotel in 1971 and then in 1984 became Pegasus public house. This building was demolished in 1989 and the cellars filled in to enable the construction of an adjoining residential complex called Pegasus House.

Biggleswade & District United Services Club purchased the main building in 2000 with the aid of a lottery grant. They renamed it Millennium House where Biggleswade History Society now have a research room and hold monthly meetings.

The factory units behind were demolished in 2002 when the site was acquired by Croudace Homes. They filled in the other cellars; the last remaining cellar under Millennium House is now “out of bounds”.

The development of 24 houses leading down to the river is “Ivel Bury” retaining the original name, a decision that should be applauded.

The next part of the present Shortmead Street was still known as Bridge Street in 1901.

89 The Black Swan


Ivel Hotel c1900 up to No 119

This was an alehouse in 1760 when "Mr Scott the licensee was returning home from Baldock Market with a coachman of his acquaintance and on driving through the archway, not stooping enough was thrown off with such violence he expired immediately. Denis Herbert owned it next to his mansion at Ivel Bury. It survived the fire in 1783 and Samuel Wells the Biggleswade brewer was owner in 1809 until his death in 1831. His sons-in-law continued as Wells & Co until 1899 when Wells & Winch Ltd was incorporated. Wells & Co the brewers rebuilt the house in 1886 as The Ivel Hotel including a cycle works for the new licensee Dan Albone.

William Richardson was licensee in 1822 followed by four others until Dan Albone opened the Ivel Hotel in 1886. Following Dan’s death in 1906, his widow Elizabeth continued as licensee until it closed in 1918. Elizabeth Albone sold off various effects from the works and the Ivel Motor Works moved to The Market Square in 1920. Wells & Winch Ltd sold the whole property to R A Jordan. 


Dan Albone was born at The Ongley Arms Biggleswade on 12 September 1860, the son of a market gardener who died when Dan was only four years old. His mother took over the licence. Dan was apprenticed to Thomas Course a millwright and engineer in Biggleswade. He was only twenty when he set up his own cycle works at The Ongley Arms making penny-farthing cycles. He took over the licence in 1884, when his mother died. Dan became a champion cyclist as well as a designer and manufacturer in and he moved next door to the newly built Ivel Hotel with his cycle works behind. By 1887 he employed 100 men making Ivel cross-framed safety cycles. These could be ridden hands off and already had a worldwide reputation. At the same time he was licensee of the Ivel Hotel that became a magnet for motorcyclists and cycling clubs.

He won many races both in England & Holland. At the same time he was licensee of The Ivel Hotel. He pioneered the introduction of tandems, three-seaters, tricycles, the parcel carrier, child carrier, ladies cycle and many other innovations.

His manufacture extended to motor cycles and motor cars, But he is best known for The Ivel Agricultural Motor first introduced in 1902 after five years of experimenting. The widely acclaimed improved model followed in 1903. No less than 27 gold & silver medals were awarded including a silver medal at the 1904 Royal Show. Dan had a flourishing overseas trade with The Ivel exported to 40 countries worldwide.

The town of Biggleswade was stunned and shocked to learn of the sudden and unexpected death of Daniel Albone on Tuesday 30th October 1906. An inquest was held the very next day at The Ivel Hotel. The coroner paid tribute to him and the jury recorded a verdict of death by natural causes. His death was reported in no less than 47 newspapers and periodicals. His funeral service at the Parish Church on 2nd November was attended by a large number of mourners from all walks of life.

His untimely death put an end to further inventions. Cycle production carried on for a few years. Ivel agricultural machine (or as we now know them, tractors) were made in Biggleswade and under licence in the United States until about 1914.Ivel Agricultural Motors Ltd continued until 1920. Before the works closed the very first tractor manufactured was overhauled and updated before being donated to The Science Museum in Kensington where it remains.

In 2003 the restored Ivel No 131, owned by the late John Moffitt, was driven from Biggleswade to The Royal Show at Stoneleigh a distance of 100 miles. In addition to the two preserved tractors in UK there are 2 in Australia, 2 in New Zealand, 1 each in Ireland, Sweden and Zimbabwe. 

91 The Ongley Arms
This was where Dan Albone was born and started his business before moving to No 89.

Ivel Hotel, Ongley Arms & Running Stream

The site of The Ongley Arms was a Quaker Meeting House in 1715. It was sold for £21 in 1768. The deeds show that there was a blacksmiths shop in 1778 sold by Denis Herbert to Henry Sheffield and a newly erected public house was erected in 1785, following the fire in 1793. James Ind brewer of Baldock purchased the new building in 1785 followed by Edward Ind in 1812 and John Izzard Pryor in 1815. Simpson's Brewery Baldock purchased in 1853 and owned the pub until it closed in 1918. 

A sketch by Jean Rainbow - Ivel Hotel, Ongley Arms and Running Stream.


Ivel Hotel & Ongley Arms
Ivel Hotel & Ongley Arms site in 1957



RA Jordan c1960

There is a long list of licensees beginning with Henry Sheffield. There were at least six others until Edward Albone, market gardener, sawyer, cowkeeper and milk seller took over in 1848. His widow continued in 1864 and son Dan in 1883. John Day followed Dan Albone from 1886 to 1918 when it was also a registered common lodging house. It closed in 1918 and was sold by Simpson's Brewery to R A Jordan in 1920 together with the Ivel Hotel next door.

R A Jordan took over the site of both public houses in 1920 together with the original Dan Albone workshops and registered as R A Jordan Ltd, Ivel Works in 1923 to carry on the business of haulage and general transport operator, motor omnibus proprietor, engineer and motor garage proprietor. They were distributors of Dennis vehicles, building both lorry and omnibus coachwork. They also repaired motorcars, commercial vehicles and coach bodies and hired out vans, heavy & light lorries, buses coaches and charabancs. There were petrol pumps in front of the showroom.

Omar Caravans built a 7,000 square ft workshop in 1964 on part of the premises to build large caravans for use on permanent sites.

Owen Godfrey took over THE NORTH ROAD AUTO CO at 174 Shortmead Street opposite in 1924.  Owen Godfrey Ltd continued to sell Austin cars when he extended his business in 1937, by moving opposite with a new showroom at 119, next to Bridge House. Still trading at both sides of Shortmead Street when Owen Godfrey died in 1970, they added MG and Wolseley dealership in 1971 There was expansion in 1972, when the company headed by his daughter Mollie Godfrey took both over a newly built showroom with forecourt and pumps selling JET petrol.  Michael Marshall managing director of Marshall’s performed the opening ceremony.


Hamilton Cars 2001

Harvest Furnishings 2008

This later operated as a petrol station called BIGGLESWADE FILLING STATION; it taken over by Hamilton Cars by 1998 (shown to the right in 2001) with showrooms adjoining selling used cars such as Land Rover Discovery. The filling station closed in 2000 and the showroom is now Harvest Furnishings (far right in 2008).

Calico Row in the 1891 census comprised: Herbert Course, agricultural labourer, Jonah Green shop and general dealer, James Smith bricklayer, Samuel Pressland, William Fuller, George Lincoln & Eli Course all agricultural labourers, Mrs Mary Ann Mary Ann Mullenger, Charles Pressland Miller Lab and Phoebe Arnold widow, sausage maker. I have a rent book for Eli Course from December 6th 1869 to May 15th 1873 when he paid 2 shillings per week rent. The 6 cottages were demolished under a slum clearance order in 1935

Rusper Safes 1999

McCarthey & Stone 2008

There were various occupants of the former Ivel Works including Lee Valley Daries milk depot at 99 Shortmead Street in1948, still there in 2000 and Eden Garden Home & Garden Centre in 2005.  Also Rusper Safes where Retirement Flats are in the process of completion for McCarthy and Stone late in 2008.


105 The Running Stream beerhouse in 1849 was the third pub to open in this small area. John Steed brewer of Baldock being the first owner followed by his son Oliver and William Pickering in 1889 who sold the pub to Charles Wells of Bedford in 1895 for £800. Charles Wells Ltd were granted a wine licence in 1943 and the pub was fully licensed in 1949. Samuel Cutler was licensee in 1871, followed by at least 14 people until the last licensee George Davies took over in 1956 until it closed for good in 1974. Cottages in Calico Row can bee seen in the 1957 picture of the Running Stream

Running Stream 1957
Running Stream 1957

Running Stream 1981
Running Stream 1981

107 Shortmead Street 1981
107 Shortmead Street 1981

107 This was a cottage dated 1843.

109-113 In the 1881 census this must have been Roses Yard with Ann Ray annuitant, Mary Ann Rowlett washerwoman, Sarah Chapman retired dressmaker and my grandfather Thomas Page a gardener of 6 ½ acres. Then John F Cooper general dealer shop and George Wagstaff basket maker (also there in 1871), Thomas Page’s father in law and my great grandfather

115-119 These were four older cottages replaced by Owen Godfrey’s showroom that was built in 1937. It became Neil Graham Cars in 1991 then Biggleswade Tyres & Exhaust Centre and in 2009 Biggleswade MOT Centre.

Owen Godfrey

Owen Godfrey in 1957

MOT Centre in 2008


Bridge House 1993
Bridge House - 1993

121 Bridge House William Chapman was owner in the 1838 tithe award plan described as:  House & Garden - 17 poles occupiers Ray & others. Some succeeding owners were 1851 George John Chapman 31, landed proprietor,1854, C H Huckle Surgeon, 1869 Francis Young MA,1890 Harry Church,1891 Elizabeth Church, 1894-1901 William Brookbanks, Vegetable Fruit Salesman & grower

There is no further mention in Kelly's Directory until 1940 when Frank Hallam lived there in 1940. He started at Sheldon Blake opposite in 1920 and worked there with Owen Godfrey. He joined Owen Godfrey when he took over the business and was workshop foreman in 1972. He was still working there in 1978, but must have retired soon afterwards as he was living at Furzenhall Road when he died in 1979 aged 73.

The Ivel Bridge
The Ivel Navigation was formed by an act of 1756 and opened on 1st July 1759 providing a waterway from Kings Lynn along the Great Ouse to Tempsford and then to Biggleswade. A prospectus was "submitted to the Publick" estimating the cost of scouring the river, building locks and staunches and other works at £4,000. Shares were £50 and £100. Probable annual income from tolls of 500 chauldron of coals and 1,000 tons of timber, iron etc was estimated at £400

More than 200 local gentry were named as commissioners and they were to meet annually at the Sun Inn, Biggleswade on the first Thursday in July. Lock keepers were to have an annual salary of not less than £10. Where a lock was near a mill the miller could charge three pence per boat for his trouble.

The canal was successful with the average annual toll taken during the first seven years being £376. This increased to an average £795 by 1800. Imports included iron and coal from Newcastle, timber, tiles and other building materials also wine. Barley malt oats and flour were among exports.

Biggleswade Bridge was the subject of Bishop Dalderley’s Indulgence in 1302 designed to promote the building of Biggleswade Bridge it was rebuilt in 1796 with stone from Sandy to a similar design to Girtford Bridge and the cost was shared between the Quarter Sessions, Turnpike Trust and Ivel Navigation. The bridge was inscribed also on the north side  :                                     "Made Navigable In the year of our Lord 1758"

Stone River Bridge 1900

Wharves were established at Blunham, Girtford with three at Biggleswade Ivel Bury, Middle Wharf and St Andrews. Lighters (barges) were possibly similar to those used in the Fens about 40 feet long built of oak and elm and carrying 25 tons. Patient horses in strings of six or more hauled the lighters, these were turned in the mill pit at Biggleswade. From Tempsford to South Mills at Blunham the towpath was to the east side of the river and to Biggleswade on the west side. There were locks at Tempsford, Blunham. South Mills, Sandy and Biggleswade Common. It is said that many barge operators lived at Cowfairlands between Shortmead Street and Sun Street. This may be true although they would not have been employed in grant numbers. It is a fact that the Anchor at Anchor End in Sun Street was burned down in 1783 and rebuilt. The Black Horse and Steamer in Cowfairlands were established in 1851. There must have also been stabling for the horses, which possibly worked from Tempsford to Biggleswade and back a distance of seven miles.

A census was taken after the inhabitants of Shefford petitioned the commissioners "humbly hoping that the navigation" would be extended to them. It was found that each week 20 wagons and nearly as many carts left Biggleswade for Shefford and nearly as many to Henlow. It was estimated that each year 6,500 tons of coal were moved.

The decision was made to extend the navigation six miles to Shefford in 1822, carried out by a Bristol firm. The first part from Biggleswade to Langford was straightforward and they were paid five shillings per yard for a channel 5 foot deep and 40 foot wide. From Langford to Shefford was more difficult and treated as a canal at 3l/2 pence per cubic yard cut. Locks were built at Biggleswade and Holme Mills. Stanford, Clifton and two at Shefford, New bridges were built along the whole length by Morton & Kinman at Biggleswade Foundry. A more ambitious scheme of extension to Hitchin was not carried out. The extension opened in 1823 and was successful until the railway opened in 1850. Traffic decreased to such an extent that the Ivel Navigation closed in 1876

As early as 1934 the bridge was declared unsafe and shored up under three arches. There were plans to replace the stone bridge with a single carriageway reinforced concrete structure and preliminary works commenced in May 1939. Owing to war breaking out in September plans changed and a new Callender Hamilton bridge built on the lines of a Meccano set was built. It was the second one constructed and the first of 18 ft width. It was built on the riverbank alongside the stone bridge and slid across the river in November 1939, but was not ready for traffic until May 1940. The original bridge was retained as a single carriageway. Following the severe winter of 1946/7 there was severe flooding at Bells Brook as the shored up arches of the stone bridge were impeding the free flow of water. At a time of severe shortages a second Callender Hamilton Bridge was completed late in 1948.

Although the Meccano bridges were adequate for their purpose there were calls for a new bridge in 1988. Funds were available for a replacement later in the year.  This was not entirely popular with sections the public who had got used to the structures as a local feature.  Work began in September 1999 on a new concrete construction, but the new bridge was not completed until 2001.