Biggleswade

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Biggleswade is a market town and civil parish located on the River Ivel in Bedfordshire, England. It is well served by transport routes, being close to the A1 road between London and the North, as well as having a railway station on the main rail link North from London (the East Coast Main Line).

Located about 40 miles (60 km) north of Central London and 20 miles (30 km) west-south-west of Cambridge, the fastest train to London, King’s Cross, takes 35 minutes, while a car journey to central Cambridge takes about 35 minutes. In 2001 the population of the town was about 15,383. The Biggleswade civil parish also includes the nearby hamlet of Holme, Bedfordshire.

The town lies on the B1040, which leads to Potton to the north and the A6001 (a section is the former A1), which leads to Langfordand Henlow to the south.

The area around Biggleswade is thought to have been inhabited from around 10,000 BC, with arrowheads dating from this period found in the region. In Roman times, a loop road known as the White Way passed through Biggleswade (possibly along the course of the present-day Drove Road), linking up with the Ermine Way at Godmanchester.

In the 5th century AD, Saxon invaders settled here – the name Biggleswade is thought to be derived from Biceil, an Anglo-Saxon personal name and Waed, the Saxon word for ford.

In 2001 a gold coin bearing the name Coenwulf was discovered at Biggleswade on a footpath beside the River Ivel. The 4.33 g (0.15 oz) mancus, worth about 30 silver pennies, is only the eighth known Anglo-Saxon gold coin dating to the mid to late Anglo-Saxon period. The coin’s inscription, “DE VICO LVNDONIAE”, indicates that it was minted in London. Initially sold to American collector Allan Davisson for £230,000 at an auction held by Spinkauction house in October of that year, the British Government subsequently put in place an export ban in the hope of saving it for the British public. In February 2006 the coin was bought by the British Museum for £357,832 with the help of funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the British Museum Friends making it the most expensive British coin purchased until that date.

In 1132, Henry I granted the manor of Biggleswade to Bishop Alexander – Alexander the Magnificent – of Lincoln to help endow Lincoln Cathedral. The town was granted a charter to hold a market during the reign of King John (1196–1216) – a market is still held in the market place in the centre of the town every Saturday. The church is dedicated to St. Andrew. Biggleswade Castle existed in earlier times.

On June 16, 1785, there was a large fire in the town. The fire started at the Crown Inn and spread rapidly through the neighbouring streets. By the time the fire had been brought under control, nearly one-third of the town had been destroyed, including 103 houses leaving 332 people homeless. A national appeal was launched to raise funds for the many people who had lost their homes and their livelihoods. In the local parish church there is a stained glass window depicting the fire.

The Great Northern Railway opened in 1850, and Biggleswade was for a time the first and only town in Bedfordshire to have a mainline station.Later it was one of three towns in the county to have one (on the East Coast Main Line), along with Bedford and Dunstable.

The town was bypassed by road in 1961.

Traditionally, Biggleswade has been a vegetable- and produce-growing area with trains often taking daily loads of vegetables to London’s produce markets. Even though much of this has now stopped, Bedfordshire Growers, based on the outskirts of the town, still supplies major supermarkets with UK-grown potatoes and onions.

Biggleswade is also the base of the Jordan’s cereals business who produce their own brand of breakfast Muesli, Country Crisp and Crunchy Oats and Frusli cereal bars which are sold across Europe as well as in Canada. There used to be a Felix cat food factory located on Potton Road. However, this moved away in 1970. There also used to be a glass bottle factory on Brunts Lane which was later destroyed by fire in 2000.

The town was also home to the Ivel Cycle Works, founded by Dan Albone. This factory ultimately produced bicycles, motorbikes and light tractors. It went into receivership in 1920.

Other goods which have been made in Biggleswade include Berkeley Caravans and Sportscars, who had a factory in the town, which was later used by Kayser Bondor who made ladies’ underwear and stockings in the town until the mid-1990s. The factory was demolished and is now a housing estate, with roads named Berkeley Close and Kayser Court after the businesses that used the factory.

The town had a large brewery in the town centre for many decades; its last owners were Greene King but it closed down in October 1997 and the site is now occupied by an Asda supermarket.

Biggleswade had two long serving motor dealers, A. W. Watkin were agents for locally made Vauxhall cars and Bedford lorries for many years and had a large showroom and repair site in Shortmead Street, but the dealership closed in 2002 and the was site redeveloped into houses which are in a road named Watkin Walk. The other dealer was the Mantle’s business which originally had a site for Austin cars near the old Swan Hotel in the town. Mantle’s moved to a larger site opposite the old work house on London Road where they sold British Leyland and later Austin Rover cars. They also had a caravan dealership. Mantle’s still sell cars here, but since the collapse of MG Rover now sells Mitsubishi and Ford cars. The caravan business closed in the early 1990s.

The Swiss Garden in Old Warden Park was created in the early 19th century, with additions by the Shuttleworth family. It is promoted by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

The town is mentioned twice in the diaries of Samuel Pepys. On 22 July 1661, Pepys stopped off in Biggleswade (called ‘Bigglesworth’ by Pepys) to buy a pair of warm woollen stockings. John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington often refers to the town and the Sun Inn. There are six churches in Biggleswade, which are represented by the umbrella organisation Churches Together in Biggleswade.

Nearby is the Shuttleworth Collection of vintage aeroplanes, sometimes referred to as Biggleswade Airfield.

Biggleswade is twinned with Erlensee, Germany.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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