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The Odell Castle Estate

Alston coat of arms
The Alston family coat of arms

This estate was, effectively, the two manors of Odell and Little Odell along with the lands of the former Barony, which became extinct in 1632. In 1633 the Estate was acquired by William Alston, a lawyer of Suffolk ancestry who belonged to Inner Temple and was Keeper of Writs in King's Bench, a post of considerable profit and some standing. He was described by contemporaries as a pious and charitable man and certainly he made a bequest of plate and fittings to the church on his death in 1638. Alston was unmarried and the Odell Castle Estate passed to his brother Thomas, also a lawyer of Inner Temple. He was created a baronet in 1642, the year in which he was High Sheriff of Bedfordshire - also the year in which the First Civil War broke out.

Thomas' immediate successors were all Baronets and his wife, Elizabeth, was a daughter of Sir Rowland Saint John and thus sister of three successive Lords Saint John of Bletsoe. Sir Thomas died in 1678 and was succeeded by his younger son Rowland, the elder son having predeceased his father. Sir Rowland died in 1697 and was succeeded by his son Thomas who was one of the Members of Parliament for Bedford Borough from June 1698 to January 1701 and he died, unmarried in 1714. His brother Rowland succeeded him. Sir Rowland sat as a Member of Parliament for Bedfordshire from 1722 until 1741 and died in 1759 aged eighty, his son Thomas succeeding him.

Sir Rowland Alston's memorial in Odell church June 2008
Sir Rowland Alston's memorial in Odell church June 2008

Sir Thomas Alston sat as Member of Parliament for Bedfordshire from 1747 until 1761 and died in 1774. He was the last baronet as his son, also Thomas, was born out of wedlock to a Margaret Lee. Thomas junior inherited the Odell Castle Estate but not the baronetcy which then became extinct. When Thomas junior died in 1823 his son Justinian inherited the estate and his son Crewe succeeded him, dying in 1901 and passing the Odell Castle Estate on to his son Rowland Crewe Alston. On his death in 1933 the estate was sold to Lord Luke.Odell had been, effectively, the fiefdom of the Alston family for almost exactly three hundred years.

Lord Luke was George Lawson Johnston. He was of Scottish extraction and second son of John Lawson Johnston, creator of a meat extract drink called Johnston's Fluid Beef, now better known as Bovril. George moved to Bedfordshire in 1910, living first in Bletsoe, then in Pavenham. He was a philanthropist, particularly interested in helping medicine and hospitals, thus, when he was ennobled in 1929 he chose the title Lord Luke as Luke is patron saint of medicine and doctors).

The 1st Lord Luke died in 1943 being succeeded by his eldest son Ian, who became a Justice of the Peace, Deputy Lieutenant, County Councillor and Master of the Oakley Hunt. He was deeply religious, becoming a lay reader and welcoming American Billy Graham on each of his crusades to Britain. Odell Castle had been burned down in 1931 and in 1973 renovation was complete. Most of the Odell Castle Estate was sold in 1991 and the remainder, except Odell Manor, in 1998. The third Lord Luke died in 1996 and was succeeded by his son Arthur, at the time of writing [2008] sits in the House of Lords as one of the ninety hereditary peers elected to remain.