A history of Kempston

Kempston has always been proud of its independent sense of community and character. Many of its residents talk about “the village” with affection and others who live in the “new town”, speak of it with warmth.


It is a good place to live having a wide range of housing available, with a variety of shops both large and small and the Interchange Park close by.


There are several schools: Lower, Middle and Upper to choose from and an Adult Education Centre offering a diversity of courses all within walking distance.


Kempston has several leisure facilities with riverside walks, parks, play areas, a library, a teenage recreation centre, an indoor swimming pool and outdoor and indoor bowling greens. Other facilities only a short distance away, include a 10screen cinema, a ten-pin bowling alley , museums, an art gallery, a countryside park, a canoe slalom, a butterfly farm, a children’s farm, theatres, a sports centre, 3 golf courses and  a leisure pool.


Kempston has opportunity for employment and is also ideally placed for a wider work base being within easy access to Bedford, the A1, the M1, Milton Keynes, Cambridge and Luton.


The History of Kempston


Kempston first appears in the Domesday Book as “Camestone”.


The evidence of a thriving, peaceful community, in existence before the neighbouring town of Bedford, was found in a Saxon Cemetery, on the site of the present day Saxon Centre. The most important discovery being a glass drinking horn in a perfect state of preservation which is now kept in the British Museum Other artefacts which were found are displayed in the Bedford Museum.


In A.D.885, Kempston was situated within King Alfred’s territory of Wessex.


In the reign of Edward the Confessor, Camestone was held by Earl Gyrth, killed alongside his brother, King Harold at the Battle of Hastings.


After the Norman Conquest, King William gave Kempston to his niece, the Countess Judith de Balliol, wife of Waltheof, Earl of Northampton. Unfortunately, Judith is remembered for her treachery against her husband when he was unjustly tried and subsequently executed for treason.


In 1086, Judith founded the Benedictine Convent for Nuns at the nearby village of Elstow. At that time, it is recorded that Kempston comprised of 2,400 acres of arable land that needed 20 teams of oxen to maintain it and a large part being uncultivated because it was too wet and marshy. Also, on the river Ouse, stood a working mill where the local people took their corn to be ground. At that time, the population was reputed to be 40-45 men and their families.


In 1237, the Manors of Kempston are mentioned with names, which are still used today.


Daubeney.  In 1333, the Crown granted this Manor to William Daubeney, remaining in his family until 1502. Kempston Manor in Manor Drive, alongside the river walk is built on the site of the original Manor House.  Henry III visited Kempston in 1224 whilst at the siege of Bedford and is reputed to have stayed at the Daubeney Manor House.


Kempston St. Johns and Brucebury originally were granted to Isobel, wife of Robert de Bruce and claimant to the Scottish throne.


Hastingsbury or Greys was granted to Ada, the wife of Henry Hastings, eventually being inherited by the Greys of Wrest Park. The Manor House stood to the west of the present Bury House, on Cemetery Road.


In 1400, there were recorded small hamlets, which surrounded the main settlement of Kempston. These were known as Ends being Bell End, Church End, Box End, Moor End, Bridge End, Thistley End, West End, East End, Wood End, Crow End, Green End, Up End, and Kempston Hardwick.


Some famous residents with Kempston connections, are remembered in street names.


Balliol Road was named after John de Balliol who founded the college of the same name in Oxford and married Devorguilla, a descendant of Countess Judith. She was the mother of a second John de Balliol who became King of Scotland.


Cater Street was named after William Cater who bought the Kempston Greys Estate in 1624 for £7,200.  The family owned the Kempston Mill  and remained in Kempston for  a further 175 years.


Dennis Road was named after William Dennis, a London merchant who bought the Daubeney and St. Johns manors in c.1603 for £7,356.00.


Williamson Road is named after the Rev. Edmund Williamson who bought the Manor from William Dennis. Subsequently in 1815, he built “the house between the street and the river”, namely The Manor. It was Mrs. Williamson in her will who made possible the building of the Church of the Transfiguration and had the St. Johns almshouses in Bedford Road, built in her husband’s memory.


Littledale Street was named after Henry Littledale, a director of the Sun Insurance Company, who built the Kempston Grange in 1845 in an area known then as Ham Field.


Thornton Street was named after Harry Thornton, a nephew of Henry Littledale who inherited the Grange in 1866.


Howard Street is named after James Howard, who purchased the Grange in 1885 and whose widow bequeathed the Grange and its surrounding parkland to the people of Kempston in memory of her son Addison who died in World War 1.


The nineteenth century saw a growth of urban housing and building in the New Town including the building of the Kempston Barracks in 1874-6 for the XVI the Regiment of Foot. In 1881, it became the Depot of the Bedfordshire Regiment and in 1918 for the amalgamated Beds. & Herts Regiment. However, in 1958 the barracks closed with the Keep on Bedford Road being retained as a centre for the Freemasons incorporating a Regimental Museum, very appropriate with the Regimental War Memorial opposite. The remaining land was used for housing development.


Kempston has also, had historical events that include;


27th February 1826 when the great fire of Kempston destroyed 40 houses in the High Street, including part of the King William Public House. A fund for the 55 victims raised £344.13s.0d.


4th April 1829 when Matthew and William Lilley were hanged at Bedford Gaol for the murder of a gamekeeper whilst poaching for food for their families.


8th January 1904 when a second fire occurred at the Half Moon near Water Lane. The host, Mr. Anthony was getting ready for a “smoker”, when he discovered the fire at 1.30pm. The message reached the Post Office who telegraphed it through to Bedford and at 1.50pm the horsed Fire Brigade steamer Victoria dashed to the scene. Unfortunately, it was too late as the thatched roof had gone and so had Mr.Anthony’s 600 cigars.


More recent history is recorded with some of the street names on the housing development at Hillgrounds being named after those who had given their lives during the World Wars, as commemorated on the War memorial in the High Street.