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Land Use Sources Deposited Plans

Whenever private enterprise needed public sanction, such as for the creation of turnpike roads, railways and building works, the private company or trust was obliged to deposit with the Clerk of the Peace or, later, the local authority, a plan of the site showing the current lie of the land. As this map was the basis of the company's proposal, the information on it had to be as accurate as possible to allow a fair evaluation of the scheme, and this often included names of owners and occupiers, field boundaries and land use. Thus these deposited plans, now held by the Archives Service, can be a useful source for land use research, particularly for the early Victorian period when other map evidence is sparse.

Turnpike Trusts

The earliest and perhaps the least informative of the deposited plans discussed here are the turnpike trust maps which date from 1771 to 1841. Each plan, usually a long, thin map, shows the proposed turnpike road with all its twists and turns, but to give the route context it also shows all the buildings along the road, all roads leaving the turnpike road and their destination and has additional comments such as, "cow pasture","open field", "infirmary", "brick kiln", "public house".Four of Bedfordshire's turnpike maps also have have books of reference giving owners and occupiers of land on the route: these cover Cockayne Hatley and Potton 1813; Wrestlingworth 1825; Woburn to Leighton Buzzard 1839; and Bletchley to Kempston and Newport Pagnell 1841.

Turnpike roads tended to use valley routes because sprung carriages couldn't negotiate the steep, upland packhorse ways. There is a map showing all our turnpike roads in Bedfordshire Historical Records Society volume "Survey III - Turnpikes: Pounds", which can be found on the search room shelf. Once you've identified the Trust, you'll find its deposited plan listed in the green Map Catalogue volume 2. Other documents relating to the Trusts are in reference QT and include accounts, notices, leases, mortgages of tolls, and the Acts. There's a broader history of Bedfordshire turnpike trusts and roads in our Newsletter no.17 (April 1991).

Railways and canals

You may think that because there are not many railways in Bedfordshire this source is unlikely to be of great use to you, but you'd be wrong. After the 1844 Railway Act, quickly-formed private companies hastened to obtain the right to build a railway, and 38 proposed routes passed through Bedfordshire. Every proposal was accompanied by a plan which was deposited with the local Clerk of the Peace. Only ten of these proposals were implemented but the unsuccessful 28 are as useful to us as the successful ones, their routes differing widely from those built and sometimes running through parishes where all thought of a railway has long been forgotten. Three quarters of all Bedfordshire parishes were affected.

The big difference between these plans and the turnpike plans, and what makes them more useful, is that the railways and canals were being built across privately-owned land whereas most of the turnpike roads ran over already-existing public roads.. The railway and canal surveyors therefore had to keep precise records of the landowners, field boundaries, buildings and how the land was used in order for a purchase price to be agreed.

The canal plans run from 1793-1924 and the railway plans from 1844-1910. They're paper sheets about a metre long and half as wide bound into a volume, one volume per route, and anything up to about 50 pages per volume depending on the length of the route. The whole route - say, London to Manchester Railway - is contained in the volume but the Bedfordshire part will be only a few pages of this - in this case, from Luton to Wymington passing through villages like Stopsley, Pulloxhill, Maulden and Houghton Conquest. It will take you a few minutes to get oriented to the plan, but the information is extraordinarily detailed once you've worked it out and there's a real buzz about handling a document signed by Robert Stephenson.

To check if a proposed rail route passed over or near the land you're investigating, see the maps in Bedfordshire Historical Record Society volume 53 (search room shelf) and, once you've identified the line, use the brown PDR catalogue to find the particular plan and book of reference you need.

There are about 14 deposited canal or canal extension plans. Most are listed under PDC but six more are listed in the green Map Catalogue volume 2 together with several books of reference which include Stotfold, Arlesey and Henlow 1811; and Aspley Guise, Marston Moretaine and Wootton 1812.

Local authority building plans 

It was clear by the mid-1800s that the slums created by the Industrial Revolution had to be demolished and the people re-housed in order to improve public health. From the 1860s on, local authorities expected builders to deposit with them plans of proposed developments to ensure the new structures complied with public health requirements and, later, planning regulations.

Site plans of farms, industrial and commercial premises are the most useful land use source - when a water supply, drainage or sewerage connection was made, or even when a small addition or alteration was made to the buildings, the plan deposited with the local authority often included the whole site in great detail. This can be very useful for finding such things as contaminated areas, types of storage, boundaries, and use of buildings.

Not all building plans have survived and not all that do have been deposited here, but we have very good indexed collections for Bedford from 1864-c1940s and Dunstable 1876-1945. The Bedford index is kept in a box in the search room. For all other building plans for the county, please refer to the red ring-binder under the lectern entitled "Local Authority Building Plans", which will guide you to the right catalogue.

Land Use Sources 20th Century