As a parish, Mogerhanger is a relative infant amongst Bedfordshire parishes, but its existence as a named place goes back well into the earlier written record.
Previously a hamlet in the ancient parish of Blunham, it became a separate ecclesiastical parish in 1860, and a civil parish in 1866. It was enlarged a little with land from Northill parish by means of a parish boundary shift in 1882.
The meaning of its name—Mogerhanger or Morhanger—is still somewhat uncertain. The second element is from the Old English ‘hangra’, meaning ‘slope’; the first element is obscure. Some of the variations of its spelling that appear in records include ‘Mogarhangr’ ’ (1216), Mokerhanger (1276) and Mouerhanguer (1289).
Even now the parish tends to be spelled both with one ‘g’ (generally when referring to the civil parish) and two (generally in reference to the ecclesiastical parish); on the latest Ordnance Survey maps, the civil parish is spelt as Mogerhanger, with local pronunciation being ‘Morhanger’.
Mogerhanger consists of approximately 1,815 acres, lying in between the River Ouse, at its northwest tip, and the River Ivel, which runs southward along its eastern edge. Its land is, on the whole, low-lying, with a rise to the north of the village; the church of St. John the Evangelist, Moggerhanger, built in 1861 by Mrs. Elizabeth Dawkins of Moggerhanger House in memory of her husband, the Rev. Edward Henry Dawkins, stands on this higher ground. Besides the village itself, the parish includes also the hamlet of Chalton to the north of the village.
The parish was, at least in later Victorian and early 20th century times, something of a hot spot in the county for market gardening— a trade whose viability was assisted, no doubt, by its proximity to the rail station at Blunham, a stop on the Bedford and Cambridge branch of the then London and North Western railway.
At the time of the Domesday Survey (1086), Hugh de Grentmeisnil’s wife, Adeliza (sometimes translated ‘Adelaide’) possessed 10 hides in Chalton; the manor of Moggerhanger, not mentioned in the Survey, apparently was part of this larger property.
Manor of Moggerhanger
One of the earliest owners of Moggerhanger manor is Roger de Trumpington, who held it at his death in 1289, and whose son, Giles, then inherited it. It stayed within the Trumpington family until 1457, when Sir Walter gave it to Maud Enderby in trust for her life, as her son, Richard, was pledged to marry his daughter, Eleanor. Richard Enderby held the manor from 1474 and, after he died only 13 years later, his son, John, transferred ownership to William Gascoigne. It passed then to the Aleyns, with John Aleyn possessing it by 1549. In the mid 1600s, the manor was alienated to Thomas Bromsall, and the next families to own it were the Astells, then the Thorntons, Robert Thornton succeeding his uncle Richard Astell in 1777. Moggerhanger passed to the Dawkins family of Over Norton, Oxfordshire, in the second half of the 19th century, then to Richard Mercer around 1888. Richard’s son, Colonel Algernon Mercer, sold it to the Fanes around 1909.
A manor house has been present in Moggerhanger Park since at least the 15th century, but the present Moggerhanger House is nearly entirely the work of Sir John Soane.
Godfrey Thornton, a cousin of William Wilberforce, was a Russia Merchant and a director of the Bank of England. It was he who around 1789 hired Sir John Soane, who had recently designed the Bank of England, to completely remodel Moggerhanger House (many of his plans and drawings for which are held in the archive of the Sir John Soane’s Museum at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London). Humphrey Repton drew up designs for the gardens and grounds also in the 1790s. The House was occupied as a family home until 1919, when it was purchased by the County Council for use first as a sanatorium and then as an orthopaedic hospital (ParkHospital) until its closure in 1987. After languishing unused for nearly a decade, it was purchased in 1995 by the Moggerhanger Preservation Trust. Both house and gardens are being restored increasingly to their former grace.
Though part of Blunham parish until the 1860s, separate population counts have been kept for Mogerhanger since 1801, and the figures show that it has never quite doubled in size in the intervening 200 years: 345 in 1801; 455 in 1851; 432 in 1901; 618 in 1951; and 638 in 2001.
Its highest population was recorded in 1991 (658), and its biggest jump was between 1921 and 1931, going from 398 to 575 in that decade.