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Beckerings Park

View of Beckerings Park and Segenhoe Manor January 2011
View of Beckerings Park and Segenhoe Manor January 2011

Beckerings Park was never a manor; it did not, for example, hold a manorial court. It was, however, a sizable tract of land which can trace its origins back to the 14th century. Volume III of The Victoria County History for Bedfordshire, published in 1912 states: "It owes its origin to a grant by the de Greys [later Earls of Kent whose seat was at Wrest Park, Silsoe], and was held of the Barony of Wahull [Odell]. Before the middle of the 14th century Reginald de Grey had granted John de Bekering one-fifth part of a knight's fee [the money necessary to maintain a fully armed knight and his horse]. No further mention of the family is to be found and this property appears to have returned to the Greys and followed the same descent as their manor [the Manor of Bevans], eventually passing to the Crown [and forming part of Henry VIII's Honour of Ampthill]. In 1541 we find that £100 10s. was paid for carting of "201 quyk [live] deares red" into the park [in other words it was a deer park]. The Crown still owned the park in 1571, and in 1613 Thomas, Viscount Fenton was appointed "master of the deare hounds in the Park of Bickeringe". In 1634 Sir William Crayford, of a well-known Ampthill family, who had been knighted by James I in 1621, was living there. During the reign of Charles I (1625-1649), the park was granted to John Ashburnham, a grant which was confirmed by Charles II (1660-1685)".

The Chester archive [CH] held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service shows that in 1643, the first full year of the English Civil War between the King and Parliament, Henry Chester was Keeper of Beckerings Park [CH567]. In this year Chester married Mary Cranmer, widow of Samuel Cranmer of London, alderman and the office of Keeper and "profit of conies [rabbits]" together with a yearly rent of £200 formed part of the settlement.

In 1645 the Bedfordshire Committee for Parliament surveyed BeckeringsPark to determine taxes to be paid on it by each parish of which the park formed part. The surveyor found that the park extended over the parishes of Ridgmont, Steppingley, Millbrook and Lidlington to the following extent:

  • Ridgmont; 348 acres, 25 poles;
  • Steppingley: 221 acres, 12 poles;
  • Millbrook: 96 acres, 1 rood, 13 poles;
  • Lidlington: 23 acres, 3 roods, 11 poles

This made a total of 700 acres, 1 rood, 21 poles. In 1648 Henry Chester was still Keeper [CH548] and borrowed £1,500 from a merchant tailor and a brewer, both of London secured on the park.

The Russell (Dukes of Bedford) archive [R] contains a survey of BeckeringsPark undertaken in January 1650 [R6/1/1/15]. It came up with a figure of 707 acres and noted that the Underkeeper, Robert Chester, was then in occupation, this is crossed out and the name Henry substituted. The survey confirms that there was no manor house associated with the park, rather there was a lodge "built in the fashion of a Roman "T"" in middle of park in Ridgmont. The lodge was constructed of timber and brick. One stroke of the cross was 50 feet long and 20 feet broad the other part 40 feet long and 24 feet broad. The lodge contained: a hall; two parlours (one wholly wainscotted); a buttery; a staircase; a kitchen; a pantry; a larder; a boulting house [possibly a room for sifting grain] and other small rooms downstairs. A "fair dining room" and "three useful lodging chambers" with four other chambers lay upstairs with "necessary closets". A brewhouse, a washhouse, a stable and a small barn lay outside. The site comprised 1.5 acres.

The underkeeper's lodge lay in the part of the park in Steppingley and was much more modest with just three rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs. An orchard and yard containing half an acre lay outside. This may be today's Beckerings Park Lodge Farmhouse, which is listed and dates from the 17th century. Both the lodge and the underkeeper's lodge were "not fit to be demolished but are all in very good repair".

The survey counted 130 red deer in the park of which 33 had antlers, of which there were seven braces (pairs) of stags, four and a half braces of "staggerds" and five braces of "stagerells", the other 97 being "rascall deer". The Oxford English Dictionary states that Staggerds were stags in their fourth year, animals in their fifth year were properly called stags and in their sixth year they were called harts. The term stagerell is not mentioned. Rascal deer are defined as "young, lean or inferior deer".

The surveyor was very thorough, counting 4,799 trees not marked for the use of the navy, of which 4,301 were oak and 497 ash, "mostly good small timber trees, the rest good for little save the fire". The park included a warren of conies or rabbits. This surveyor reckoned 349 acres lay in Ridgmont, 233 acres in Steppingley, 104 acres in Lidlington and 21 acres in Millbrook; 250 acres were pasture, the rest feeding and warren ground.

The surveyor noted that Thomas, 1st Earl of Elgin (1599-1663) claimed the park by letters patent from James I of 18th February 1613 and by letters patent of Charles I of 24th February 1640, which contradicts the statements in The Victoria County History.

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service is lucky enough to have the archive of the Delmé-Radcliffe family [H/DE] who owned the park in the 18th and 19th centuries. On 21st July 1666 King Charles II leased Beckerings Park to John Ashburnham, one of the Grooms of the Bedchamber, for forty years and a rent of £20 per annum. Ampthill Great Park and Brogborough Park were demised to Ashburnham in the same lease [H/DE1]. Ashburnham made his will in 1671 and it was proved in 1672 [H/DE2]. In it he devised his lease of Beckerings Park, along with Brogborough Park and MoultonPark in Northamptonshire to his brother William in lieu of £5,000 which he owed him in trust for the testator's grandson John. Most of the family estates were in Sussex, including Ashburnham itself.

In 1675 Charles II granted the park in full to John Ashburnham, the grandson of the John who took the lease in 1646 and made his will in 1671 [H/DE3]. This was because Charles I granted the three parks to John Ashburnham senior in 1646 in lieu of a debt he owed him of £8,912/2/9 and as a reward for other services. John was made 1st Baron Ashburnham in 1689 as a supporter of the newly installed King William III (1688-1702) and Queen Mary (1688-1694).

In 1723 John, 3rd Baron Ashburnham, made a settlement of all his estates on trustees [H/DE9-10]. Two years later in December 1725 he made an agreement to sell Brogborough and Beckerings parks to Ralph Radcliffe for £20,500 [H/DE12]. A private Act of Parliament [H/DE13-16] was necessary to enable the sale because the settlement two years earlier had not mentioned those parts of Beckerings Park in Steppingley and Millbrook. The conveyance took place in December 1727 and in noted the Ashburnham's tenant in Beckerings Park had been a man named John Denbigh and, by 1727 he had been replaced by Adam Bevan. The park was worth £320 per annum. The Bevan family had owned a manor in Ridgmont in the Middle Ages and Adam Bevan may have been a descendant.

A Ralph Radcliffe, schoolmaster and playwright (1519?-1559) settled in Hitchin [Hertfordshire] from Lancashire in the reign of King Henry VIII. His son Ralph was a lawyer and speculator in land among other things he leased the Scilly Isles for a rent of 600 puffins a year! He adopted as heir Edward, son of his brother Sir Edward Radcliffe, physician to King James I (1603-1625). Edward bought a farm at Wilshamstead in 1651. He was succeeded by his nephew, another Ralph. He was a banker to King Charles II (1660-1685) during his exile and became a merchant adventurer trading in The Hague and the Levant. He was also Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire and a Justice of the Peace who persecuted the newly formed Quakers in his neighbourhood. He left a fortune of £26,400, many millions in today's currency. He was succeeded by his son Edward (1658-1727). The Ralph who bought Beckerings Park was his son. He, too, was a merchant in partnership with his younger brother Edward. He died in 1739 and was succeeded by his brother Edward (1687-1764), described as an Aleppo [Syria] merchant. He was succeeded by his brother Arthur, another Levant merchant who was reported as leaving a vast fortune of £150,000 t his nephew John (1738-1783), M. P. for Saint Albans [Hertfordshire] from 1768 to 1783.

John Radcliffe died childless and his inheritance passed to Sir Charles Farnaby Radcliffe, baronet and then to Emilius Henry Delmé who married Anne Melicent, daughter of Sir Charles' sister Anne, who married Charles Clarke. The Delmés were originally Walloons, French speaking inhabitants of part of today's Belgium and Huguenots, French Protestants. Philip Delmé (died 1653) was pastor at the Walloon church in Canterbury [Kent] but his descendants were bankers. His grandson Peter was a director of the Bank of England, an alderman and sheriff of London and Lord Mayor in 1723. Emilius was his great grandson. He was a friend of the Prince Regent, later George IV. On inheriting the Radcliffe estates he changed his name to Delmé-Radcliffe. He died in 1802 and was succeeded by his son, another Emilius Henry who died without heirs in 1830 having been Master of the Horse to George IV (1820-1830) and William IV (1830-1837). He sold the park to John, 6th Duke of Bedford in 1828.

The Bedford Estate put the park up for sale in 1996 as one estate of nearly 1,500 acres. This estate also included Segenhoe Manor Farm, Beckerings Park Manor Farm and Beckerings Park Lodge Farm [Z449/1/17].