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Biddenham Windmill

Windmill Hill on a Biddenham map of 1794 [X1/51]
Windmill Hill on a Biddenham map of 1794 [X1/51]

Biddenham used to have a windmill, as is evidenced by Windmill Hill, a road leading north from Bromham Road. In volume XIV published by the Bedfordshire Historic Record Society in 1931 J. Steele-Elliott wrote an article on windmills in Bedfordshire. He wrote the following about Biddenham: “Inquisition of William Boteler [1602 – TW610]. “The jurors say that the said William was seized of the Manor of Biddenham, formerly belonging to the priory of Newenham, formerly in the tenure of John Baker; of view of frankpledge in Biddenham, and the rectory and advowson of the vicarage of Biddenham; and one chief messuage in Forthe End of Biddenham, formerly ‘Kirtons’, in which William dwelt during his life; and of 3 other messuages, 15 cottages, one windmill [etc.] in Biddenham”. And the said William settled certain lands (specified) in Biddenham, the advowson of the vicarage, “all that windmill situated and being in Biddenham aforesaid”, the manor of Biddenham with view of frankpledge, and all the premises in the several tenures, to Thomas Boteler and his heirs in tale male. In the Enclosure Award of this year [1828 – MA52] the field alongside, to the north of the high road leading from Bedford to Bromham Bridge, was known as Windmill Field, the whole of which land came within the parish of Biddenham. It does not appear from the Award that a windmill was in existence then. At the present day no trace of any site can be located, and we can only assume it to have been on the higher ground, probably in the vicinity of, but on the opposite side of, the road to the gravel workings of Palaeolithic fame”.

In fact Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has a number of additional references to the windmill. The earliest is in 1598 in a book detailing land in Biddenham once held by Dyve Downes [TW788]. One of the fields is The Claye or North Field which includes “the furlonge wheron the Myll standeth”.

As well as the inquisition into the lands and goods of William Boteler made on his death in 1602, referred to by Steele-Elliott another document of 1602 mentions the windmill. This is a conveyance by Henry Lane of Biddenham to John Dyve of Bromham of various lands in Biddenham including two roods on Myll Furlong [TW434]. This purchase was part of the ongoing war between the Boteler and Dyve families as each tried to “muscle in” to the other’s territory.

In 1626 the Court of Wards and Liveries made a demise to Lady Ann Boteler, widow of Sir Thomas of various lands during the minority of her son William [TW615]. A windmill in Biddenham was identified as part of the estate demised.

In 1675 a crime took place near the windmill and two statements survive in the Assizes records held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service [HSA1675S55-56]. George Harris of Little Gransden [Cambridgeshire], a servant who was “overtaken in drincke” hired a man named John Gale of Bedford, plasterer for 2d. to accompany him to Bromham. Near the windmill Harris was overcome by the drink and lay down and slept. He awoke to find his coat and money (twenty two shillings) gone. Naturally, he accused Gale of the theft. Gale confessed, he had presumably hoped that Harris was so drunk he would not remember him, and returned the coat.

In 1692 the windmill was leased by William Boteler to Thomas Brown of Bromham, miller. The small piece of ground where the mill stood was specifically mentioned as being on Windmill Hill and two adjoining small pieces of land were included in the lease. The rent was 6/8 per annum [WW310].

The final mention of the mill is in a will of 1733 [ABP/W1733/21]. It is the will of Thomas Brown of Bedford, Saint Cuthbert, miller and it seems quite likely it is the same man who leased the mill in 1692, or, perhaps, his son. He devised the mill to his daughter Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Barker of Bedford, baker. Barker was already in the occupation of the building and so obviously bought the wheat, ground it into flour, baked and sold it all himself.

The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record [HER] contains information on the county’s historic buildings and landscapes and summaries of each entry can now be found online as part of the Heritage Gateway website. The entry for the windmill [HER 3192] states that a pre-inclosure map of 1794 [X1/51] lists field names of Windmill Field, Windmill Hill and Windmill Furlong but that no windmill was shown [see the image at the top of the page]. On the map buildings in Biddenham and other things such as the gallows at Gallows Corner in Bedford, are shown, so it seems quite reasonable to conclude that the windmill was no longer extant, suggesting that it was pulled down some time between 1733 and 1794.