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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 25 August 2018

"From Saxons to Speed" by Ian Freeman

This is a history of Bedford from its beginnings as a Saxon burh until and including the John Speed map drawn in 1610. It makes the fascinating point that most of the roads going itno Bedford aim directly for where the town bridge is now (although some such as Cauldwell Street have subsequently been modified near the bridge and others such as Foster Hill Road have had parks or buildings plonked in their path): this implies that the bridge is where the old ford was.

It is an excellent local history with lots of drawings of street plans and old buildings and some photographic illustriaons too. Nevertheless, I found it hard to envisage exactly where some of the places he was talking about were (and I have lived in Bedford since 1987). So even more maps would have been useful.

There was one bit with which I disagreed. The treaty between Wessex king Alfred (the Great) and Viking Guthrun in about 888 negotiated a boundary between Wessex and Daneland. It travelled from the mouth of the river Lea where it enters the Thames (thus keeping the City of London inside Wessex) up the Lea to the source at Leagrave, then due north to Bedford, and then along the Ouse to Watling Street (now in Milton Keynes), and then northwards along Watling Street. What was to the north and east of this line was Guthrun's and what was to the south and west was Alfred's. This implies that Bedford north of the Ouse was in Viking hands. But this book states on p22 that Bedford (the town centre north of the river) was an Alfredian burh (a fortified township) even though it does not appear in the Burghal Hideage (an assessment of the garrison need for towns in Wessex) and claims that the rectilinear pattern of the roads confirms this. It then (p 23) states that according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 915 Alfred's son Edward the Elder took possession of Bedford from the Danes and commanded that a burh be built south of the river. Although tradition believes that the King's Ditch surrounded this southern burh the book points out that the earliest written reference to this is in the 16th century and suggests that it was simply a ditch to protect the bridgehead for the burh on the north of the river. Given that the Danes attempted (unsuccessfully) to retake Bedford in 917 this might also suggest that Bedford was a Danish town in Guthrun's Daneland until 915; if it was ever Saxon (and Matthew Paris in the 13th century claimed that Offa was buried in Bedford in 796) it was therefore ceded by Alfred to Guthrun. So I suggest that Bedford was a Mercian town, ceded by Alfred to Guthrun in 888, and incorporated into Wessex by Edward in 915.

Another fascinating mention:

  • "Hooper's Hypothesis of hedgerow dating [suggests that] ... the age of a hedgerow is proportional to the number of different shrub species which can be identified in a 30m to 50m stretch ... each different species represents one century." (p 101)

A fascinating book for residents of this old town. The author has clearly done a great deal of original research. August 2018; 123 pages

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