Summary of Archive Holdings
Some record office holdings
Maps and plans
Use our map collection to see how your community used to be in days gone by. Trace what was on the site of your house or workplace. Find evidence on land use, property boundaries, and rights of way.
Printed county maps and town plans from 1576 - e.g. the 1610 map of Bedfordshire by John Speed, and the Reynolds 1841 map of Bedford,
Estate maps - hand-drawn maps and plans of property belonging to the major landowners and estates, from as early as 1581 but mainly after 1750.
Inclosure maps - large-scale maps drawn up in connection with Parliamentary Inclosure awards, mainly between 1790 and 1840, and often accompanied by lists of names and property.
Tithe maps - manuscript maps with schedules listing landowners and occupiers, dating from about 1840 (not as common in Bedfordshire as in some other counties).
Ordnance survey maps - good coverage of the whole county for OS maps of various scales and dates, from c.1835 to date including 6" and 25" editions of 1880, 1901, 1926 and 1970s
Goad Insurance plans for Luton 1895.
Architectural plans and drawings
Building plans from several local authorities including Bedford and Dunstable Borough Councils, Ampthill, Bedford and Leighton-Linslade District Councils - for all new buildings and development from as early as the 1860s but some start much later and others have not survived at all.
Architectural drawings deposited by local firms of architects and builders (e.g. Charter Design Group of Bedford and T. & E. Neville of Luton) or by local authorities and private clients.
Plans and drawings for country houses, churches, schools and other major buildings, often backed up by specifications, building accounts, inventories of contents, and other documents.
Whether you are interested in your own property or in the history of an area generally, the Archives Service has a wealth of information. Property records will also be useful in connection with ownership disputes and land-use problems.
Title deeds and conveyances - from as early as 1166 but mainly after 1600.
Rating valuation records and rate books - from 1576, but mainly C18th and C19th, and with county-wide surveys of c.1910 and c.1925.
Land tax returns - beginning in 1797 for most parishes, but with some earlier returns.
"Terriers" and inventories of church property - especially for 1610, 1708 and 1822. These include descriptions of parsonages.
Manorial records, for copyhold and customary tenure of property - from mediaeval times to 1925 for some manors, but usually in Latin until 1733. Especially good for the small towns of Biggleswade, Leighton Buzzard and Potton.
Surveys and rentals - mainly to be found among the archives of landed estates, e.g. in the Bedford Estate (Russell) archives, the Wrest Park (Lucas) collection, or the Southill (Whitbread) papers.
Sale catalogues, auction particulars and estate agents' archives - from the early C19th onwards, often with maps and sometimes photographs.
Sources for family history
This is a popular but surprisingly complex subject.
Parish registers (baptisms, marriages and burials) -beginning in 1538 (most from 1600) and continuing to at least 1940. All the registers to 1812 have been published. Microfiche copies of the later registers are available in some local libraries in the County.
Bishops' Transcripts (contemporary copies of the parish registers) - from 1604 to 1885 (with gaps).
Nonconformist church registers - baptism and burial records for the Independent (Congregational and Baptist), Methodist, and Moravian Churches.
Marriages - allegations for couples married by licence 1747-1885 (published to 1812), and indexes of all recorded Bedfordshire marriages up to 1812.
Cemetery records (mainly on microfilm or fiche) - for public cemeteries (including Bedford, Dunstable and Luton) from the mid C19th.
Wills and administrations - original Bedfordshire probate records from 1484 to 1858 (published index available), and copies of wills held elsewhere.
Probate calendars - information (on microfiche) on all wills proved in England from 1853-1943.
Census returns listing the entire population of the County by name at ten-yearly intervals from 1841-1901 - on microfilm, with name indexes for 1851 and 1881 and street indexes for the towns. We also have some other population lists.
International Genealogical Index (IGI) - microfiche index of baptisms and marriages for all England
Indexes of names - for Poor Law and settlement papers, burials in some towns, Methodist baptisms, marriages to 1812, prisoners 1799-1837, clergy, the professions, and certain trades and occupations.
Family and estate papers - not just for the aristocratic families (whose papers contain information on tradesmen and staff anyway) but also the papers of humbler folk.
Electoral registers from 1834 and earlier Poll Books.
Archives of the Archdeaconry of Bedford (a "mini-Diocese" under Lincoln, in Ely from 1837, and St. Albans from 1914) from 1537.
Anglican parish records - held for nearly all ecclesiastical parishes.
Nonconformist church records - good coverage for all denominations (e.g. Baptist, Congregationalist, Methodist, Moravian, Quaker and Roman Catholic).
Employment and recreation
Records of local companies - some include wages books and staff records.
Business records - e.g. the Britannia Ironworks at Bedford, Hayward Tyler of Luton, Bagshawe of Dunstable, and the London Brick Company.
Apprenticeships - information on apprenticeships from a number of sources.
Sports - how did your village fare against the neighbouring teams in cricket and football?
Clubs and societies - many local organisations have deposited their records here, and they provide information on social and local events.
Plans of canals and railways (built and proposed).
Turnpike Trust records, 1706-1871 - road travel in the age of highwaymen.
Motor vehicle licensing records - it's quite easy to trace vehicles licensed in Bedfordshire from 1903.
Not as dull as they might seem, records of local authorities and councils are full of detail. County Council archives are the main source for C20th Bedfordshire history.
Minutes and other records of local authorities, boards and committees including the County and District Councils, Parish & Town Councils, Highway Boards, etc. from the mid C19th.
Records of the former public utilities - gas, water and electricity companies etc. - and of the emergency services (e.g. Fire Service and Police), Quarter Sessions records, including registers from Bedford prison in the 19th Century.
Most of the early lists of soldiers and volunteers for 1539-1831 are in print - edited by Nigel Lutt and published by BHRS.
Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regimental archives - few personnel records, but an excellent collection of photographs and ephemera.
Bedfordshire Yeomanry, Territorial Association, and other local units - administrative records and photographs.
Personal papers of some local servicemen.
An extensive collection of photographs, aerial views, prints and images of Bedfordshire people and places - comprehensively indexed.
And don't forget
Directories - copies of most commercial and street directories for the county (including Bedford and Luton town directories) from 1785.
Newspapers - runs of the main Bedford, Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard papers from the mid C19th (those for Biggleswade remain at the newspaper offices, and the Luton papers are mainly at Luton Central Library).
Published works - we aim to hold copies of all the main books and published works on Bedfordshire history, but for more general reference material you will need to use the local library.
Your interests not mentioned?
Don't assume that we haven't got anything on your subject just because it isn't listed here! We can offer information on an impressive range of local topics - obvious and obscure - and all you need to do is ask. We're waiting for your call...
How can you help us?
Do you know of important records which aren't held by us? Are they at risk? Would the owners be willing to consider deposit? If the answer to any of these questions is "yes" please let us know. We are always keen to add to our holdings.