Twitchells of Biggleswade

Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to the origin of the word Twitchell, I suspect that it is of Anglo-Saxon origin. Twitch is the common word for couch grass, a persistent weed and the bane of local market gardeners. Twitchell does not appear in the Oxford Dictionary, but locally describes a narrow lane or passageway.

If one went back to the old passages and yards in the town, there must have been many more twitchells’ in my grandparent’s time; I know of three still existing in Biggleswade.

The Long Twitchell is now restored as part of the Watkin site redevelopment; iIt ran from Shortmead Street passed through Cowfairlands, The City and Mount Pleasant to Sun Street with branches to Chapel Place and Anchor Yard. Now we have Watkin Walk and Fairlands. There were also farmyards and two pubs the Black Horse and Steamer common lodging house.

Rootham’s Twitchell between High Street and Back Street confirmed in Spong’s Directory of Biggleswade 1911 contained Rootham’s Row of houses.

Bear Twitchell between Hitchin Street and St Andrew’s Street is next to The Black Bear closed 1989 and presently for sale. The old deeds dating back to 1661 describe the building in Holme Street (now Hitchin Street) with the Bear Twitchell.

Away from Biggleswade there is still a Twitchell in Potton leading from the Market Square next to Tysoe’s ironmongers shop.

There was a notice near Shillington Church, “All Persons passing by this Twitchell are to go directly up and down without loitering, collecting together so as to create obstruction committing nuisance breaking fences &c”; it is still there as far as I am aware.

There may be others further afield such as The Twitchell in Ashwell that actually has a postcode.

Ken Page
21st July 2005