Elstow village sign Sep 2007
Elstow is an ancient parish in the Redbornstoke Hundred. It was first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The name has had many variations over the years, as follows: Elnestou (1086-1181); Elvestou (1150-1181); Alnesto (1177); Elnesto (1177-1203); Alnestow (1182-1287); Auuestowe (1197-1247); Aunestow (1202-1315); Elnestowe (1232-1510); Aluestowe (1239-1247); Eluestowe (1247-1289); Elenestowe (1258-1530); Helenstoe (1270: Anestowe (1276); Eylenestowe (1287); Eleynestowe (1415); Elynstowe (1428); Elmestowe (1518); Ellenstowe (1518); Elvestowe (1589); Elvestow (1766) with the modern version only appearing in about 1475. The name seems to mean Ællen's place.
village green Sep 2007
The modern civil parish is bounded to the north by Bedford Borough, north-east by Eastcotts, south-east by Wilshamstead, south-west by Kempston Rural and north-west by Kempston. The old CEGB storage depot, which had been an ammunition factory in World war two, though called Elstow actually lies partly in the parish of Wilshamstead and partly in Houghton Conquest. The original village lies in the north of the parish and at the time of writing (2007) also includes the modern developments of Hillesden Avenue, Progress Way and Belfry Close. The equally modern developments along the relief road such as Melrose Avenue and Abbey Fields also lie in the parish. The site of John Bunyan's birthplace (demolished in the late 20th century) lies just inside the eastern border of the parish.
Elstow Moot Hall Sep 2007
The Domesday Book of 1086 records that Countess Judith held 3½ hides in Elstow. She was a niece of William I (daughter of his sister Adelaide and Count Lambert II of Lens). She married Earl Waltheof of Northumbria in 1070 when she was fifteen or sixteen. When he rebelled against William in 1074 Judith betrayed him to the King. She fell out of favour with William, however, when she refused to marry Earl Simon of Northampton, and, her estates confiscated, she fled to the continent.
Judith had founded an Abbey for Benedictine nuns at Elstow around the time of her husband's rebellion and, not surprisingly, she granted tenancy of her holding in Elstow to the Abbey. The holding included 14 villagers, 11 smallholders and 4 slaves as well as a mill (valued at 24 shillings) and woodland for 60 pigs. In 1066 four freemen had held this manor and it had been worth a substantial £10. Due, it is believed, to the depredations of William I's armies as they moved north to crush Waltheof's revolt, this value had been cut drastically to £2 by the time Judith acquired the manor, though it had risen to £5 by 1086.
Elstow village sign Sep 2007
Judith's manor of 1086 continued to be held by Elstow Abbey until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII, Elstow surrendering to the Crown in 1539 and the manor was immediately attached to the newly created Honour of Ampthill. The site of the Abbey was granted to Edmund Harvey in 1541 and his daughter married Sir Humphrey Radcliffe (younger brother of the Earl of Sussex), who received a grant of the property in 1553. Radcliffe's property was divided at his death between his son (a future Earl of Sussex) and his daughter Frances, wife of Henry Cheeke, who was MP for Bedford from 1572 to 1583. In 1616 Thomas Cheeke, son of Henry, and Edward Radcliffe sold the manorial rights of Elstow to Thomas Hillersdon and this family held the manor until 1792 when the four daughters of Denis Hillersden (born Denis Farrer, but assuming his mother's maiden name on becoming Lord of the Manor of Elstow) conveyed their rights to Samuel Whitbread, the manor remaining in the Whitbread family into the 20th century (all manorial incidents, courts and tenure of land being abolished under the Law of Property Act 1922).
Maidbury or Maydebury Manor
This alleged manor is first recorded in the 16th century. The mansion house was in Elstow but the majority of the lands lay in Wilshamstead and Cardington. It seems to have been part of the property of Elstow Abbey which passed to Richard FitzHugh at the Dissolution. In 1583 the property was alienated to Thomas Deacons and remained in this family until about 1683 when Edward Deacons died and his widow remarried a George Halfhide, who alienated the manor to Gilbert Morewood in 1647. His daughters alienated their manorial rights to Thomas Rich in 1656 and the last mention of the property was in 1682 when Edward Pye conveyed it to Robert Stevenson and John Wagstaffe. Medbury Farm, in the south-east corner of the parish is a modern building on the site of a much older one.
High Street in 1878 [Z100/1]
From the Coroners' Rolls
Bedfordshire Historical Records Society volume no.XLI, published in 1961, is a translation of medieval Bedfordshire Coroner's Rolls by R.F.Hunnisett. Two cases from Elstow are recorded. "About midnight on 17 May  Osbert le Wuayl son of William Crustemasse of Elstow, who was drunk and disgustingly over-fed, came from Bedford from door to door towards his house, which was on the north of Elstow bridge. When he arrived at his house he had the falling sickness, fell upon a stone on the right side of his head, breaking the whole of his head, and died by misadventure. The next day Agnes Ade of Elstow opened his door and found him dead".
The other case is more sinister than that of a drunken glutton having a seizure and dates to 1328 or 1329. "Robert Podifat and Alan Scalle wished to rob the abbess of Elstow and robbed a woman of a horse. Robert was unwilling to surrender and so was killed in his own felony by the hue which was raised against them [i.e. the locals who had been alerted to the crime]. Alan surrendered to an under-bailiff and was killed by Robert and Hugh le Percer, William and Thomas of Houghton and others unknown". At the following eyre, a court held by itinerant justices who visited Bedford at regular intervals, the robbery was said to have occurred at the Abbey, it also recorded that the four killers had fled and they were outlawed.
Bunyan's birthplace [X567/117]
Bunyan is undoubtedly the most famous man not just from Elstow but from Bedfordshire as a whole. He was born in 1628 in a cottage immediately west on Bunyan's Farm and just on the Elstow side of the modern parish boundary with Eastcotts.
Bunyan's cottage in the village [Z50/43/16]
Sadly this building no longer survives; neither does the cottage in which he lived in Elstow, which was, incredibly, demolished in the latter part of the 20th century, the site being now a driveway. Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has very little material on the great man but others do and there is an archive dedicated to Bunyan available for consultation online.
houses in the High Street Sep 2007
Enough remains to show that Elstow was once an attractive little place. Now it is increasingly swallowed up by modern developments such as the urban sprawl of Bedford to the north and the new Abbeyfields development in the parish to the south of the village. Twenty nine people are recorded in the Domesday Book. To get a true idea of the population one needs to multiply this figure by at least four to account for all the dependents of these men - which gives a total of somewhere around 120 - a good sized village for the date. The modern population figures show that Elstow did not grow hugely in size until the great influx of people in the last years of the 20th and first years of the 21st century.
1801: 475 1851: 581 1901: 479 1951: 417 2001: 2,124