Bishop’s Palace

Was there a Bishop’s Palace in Biggleswade

In 1075 the Parish of Biggleswade was part of the vast Diocese of Lincoln stretching from the Humber to the Thames. We were firstly transferred to the Diocese of Ely in 1837 and thence to St Alban’s in 1877. Travelling in the early days was very difficult and it is almost certain that although the bishop had a fine moated palace at Buckden he stopped at Biggleswade during his travels.

Mrs D.M. Hallworth of 23, Palace Street moved into her home in 1949, and had reason to believe that there really was a bishops palace in Biggleswade. An old lady told Mrs. Hallworth that she was living where a bishop used to live. The old lady had no proof but she always understood that this was the place. Deeds of the house only went back about 125 years, although it was much older than that. Mrs. Hallworth visited the Record Office, but all that she could find out was that the Bishops of Lincoln at one time held the manor of Biggleswade. There are letters written a few years before her deeds said that her house and the neighbouring cottage were one building. She was told that where the last part of Maythorn’s, later Weatherley, factory now stands was once Palace Yard with cottages and a pump. (Another source says that it was Gaol Yard).

A Lincolnshire Archivist replied to her enquiry; “I do not think that it is correct to say that the Bishops of Lincoln had a palace or a manor house maintained as a residence for them at Biggleswade. Medieval Bishops did, however quite often stay at Biggleswade. Henry I had granted the manor of Biggleswade to Bishop Alexander in 1132, and later in this century the Bishops of Lincoln acquired further property, a manse with buildings and land in about 1250 and a messuage with buildings and meadowland called ‘Le parc’ in 1262. King John had granted the bishops a market at Biggleswade. There must have been some sort of manor house or capital messuage, but our records do not contain any description of it”….”In his travels a bishop was entitled to claim hospitality for himself and a train of 30 horsemen” “The itinery of Bishop Oliver Sutton has been traced in detail and between 1280 and 1289 he was at Biggleswade 30 times sometimes staying for several days.”…The diocese of Lincoln, in those days, covered a large area and travelling was far more difficult. It is almost certain that the Bishop stopped in the town during his journeys”.

“Mrs Hallworth thinks that the Bishops house may have been the New Inn and that her cottage housed some of the entourage.”

In an ancient area of the town, Bonds Lane (earlier Flanders Lane) ran from Hitchin Street to The New Inn Yard. Palace Street extended from the New Inn to Taylors the saddlers in Station Road and included the narrow lane through to Saffron Road. When the area was redeveloped in 1990, the old timber framed buildings were knocked down, Bonds Lane was extended to Station Road and Palace Street retained from Rainbow car park to Saffron Road. Number 22 on the corner (the old Grapes public house), 23 and no 24 (Where Fred Tear Lived) are all now part of Rainbow Car Park. There were 5 cottages and a well in Palace yard, demolished to extend the Maythorn motor works nearby. Fairfield Care Products warehouse now stands on the site.

Ken Page
23rd August 2005