The weather looked a bit indecisive today, so we thought we’d play it safe and have a road trip around some of the Bedfordshire villages.
First one we drove through was Bromham where there is a watermill – but it is only open at the weekends, so we didn’t stop. Stevington was next and was one that we took time to have a good look around. The village appears in the Domesday book and is a charming village which won the accolade of “Best Kept Village” in 1965,1969,1979 and most recently in 1985. Stevington has one of England’s finest examples of a ‘post mill’ windmill.
The post mill is the earliest type of European windmill. Its defining feature is that the whole body of the mill that houses the machinery is mounted on a single vertical post, around which it can be turned to bring the sails into the wind.
The key to the windmill can be obtained from the landlord of the local pub The Royal George. We spotted the windmill from the road and found the pub with no problem. It was closed but the landlord was in there working on his laptop (phew! could have been another Crompton Special there!) and he gave us the key and directions for driving to the windmill.
None of us had ever been inside a windmill before and we were fascinated when we saw that the whole of the top part – the bit where the sails are attached – can be turned around to make the most of the wind direction. There is a large, thick pole sticking out from just behind the staircase and to make the job easier (easier??? really???) for the miller, he had a yoke which he attached to this pole to pull the top of the building to face the way he wanted.
I took a photo of the information inside the mill…
…and then didn’t think any more about it until I uploaded the photos this evening. The two names – Pool and Keech were the same names that we came across time and again in the graveyard in the grounds of the local church.
The inside of the mill is small but has reasonable light from the two small windows:
The millstones would have been in the centre and the post that turned the structure (and maybe turned the millstones, as well?) is quite low and can be seen at the top of the photo.
The photo below is my feeble attempt at capturing the workings from below. Quite difficult to get the idea in such a small space. The main post is the wood with the crack in it and around it is the circular wooden structure that does the turning.
Below is a windmill sail and the view from the site:
In the centre of the village is the market cross. It is not known when the cross was carved or if this is indeed the original cross but a cross is thought to have been on this site in the village since the 1200s. The earliest mention of a cross at Stevington is in the Hundred Roll of 1279. The design of the present Cross indicates it is of 13th century origin. The base and steps were repaired in 1888.
The building for sale behind the cross is what used to be the other village pub, The Red Lion.
We followed the road past the stone cross to get to the village church – the church of St Mary the Virgin:
We couldn’t go into the church as it was closed, but we could see that there was a very old, roofless, derelict part to it. This apparently dates to the early 10th century – and the church does have a Norman look to it.
The church has what is known as a Holy Well – it is outside of the church walls and you have to go down a track to find it. It is probably a spring, but it has never been known to freeze or fail in times of drought. In the Middle Ages various miraculous powers were ascribed to the waters, particularly in respect to curing ailments of the eyes. It has been suggested by some researchers that the waters may have been the site of earlier veneration, possibly dating back to the Iron Age. The area around the well is protected as there is a proliferation of Petasites Hybridus, a plant commonly known as Butterbur, so named because its leaves were commonly used to wrap butter in times past. I managed to get myself nettled taking the photo, but we found a dock leaf at hand to soothe the sting.
The Holy Well:
The Bedfordshire villages are very pretty – but in quite a different way to those of the Norfolk villages. The old stone is a lovely honey colour – very like the Cotswold stone. Here is a selection of the houses that we liked in Stevington:
What to do with an old car…
We left Stevington and passed through Pavenham and Felmersham and by the time we got to Odell it was definitely Lunchtime. We were all pretty hungry as the time had run past us and it was getting on for 2.30 by the time we reached a likely looking pub that was advertising food:
Doesn’t it look lovely? The menu was very tempting as well – but sadly, after serving our drinks , they told us that the kitchen had closed at 2pm! So four rumbling tums got back in the car to search out somewhere that didn’t put a time limit on when you could eat.
Next to view on the journey in search of food were Harrold, Carlton and Turvey – Turvey is simply gorgeous but the need for food prevented us stopping to take photos – and then on to Olney where we were assured that there were lots of unusual little shops and eating places:
As you can see Olney is actually in Buckinghamshire and holds the title of best kept town. Olney is a popular tourist destination and is best known for its Pancake Race which we saw advertised.
(picture from wikipedia – mine didn’t come out too well!)
First mentioned as Ollanege (Olla’s island) in 932, the town has a history as a lace-making centre. The place, later called Olnei was held in 1086 AD by Bishop Geoffrey of Coutances as its overlord, according to the Domesday Book.
During the English Civil War, Olney was the site of the Battle of Olney Bridge on November 4, 1643, in which Royalist forces attacked the Parliamentarian forces holding Olney Bridge. The Parliamentarian forces held the bridge, and the remaining Royalists retreated.
The bridge for which the battle is named remains to this day. A memorial to the dead can be found on the site – sadly, we didn’t know about this, so didn’t go looking for it.
In the late 18th century, William Cowper and John Newton collaborated here on what became known as the Olney Hymns. John Newton, author of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ was curate of Olney and is buried here. His guest was William Cowper (English poet and hymnodist (1731–1800)). The town has the Cowper and Newton Museum dedicated to them. The museum was adapted from Cowper’s former residence, which was given to the town in 1905 by the publisher William Hill Collingridge (who had been born in the house). Newton was succeeded as curate in Olney by the biblical commentator Thomas Scott (1747–1821).
We found a lovely little cafe called The Courtyard, situated in a delightful little courtyard, where we got some delicious food at very reasonable prices. They did have Olney pancakes on offer but by the time we’d eaten the generous portions we were served, everybody was too full to sample one!
Part of the pretty courtyard:
Some of the buildings and sights around Olney: