BOOK REVIEW by Bob Ricketts

by Dick Dawson

Streets Publishers (Stotfold). £10.95. ISBN 978-9551988-8-4

This is Dick Dawson’s second book about Bedfordshire. The first, "Scraunchings from Beneath the Dottle Tree", dealt with rural life in the county a hundred years ago. Dick is a local journalist who produces a weekly column on local history. Many of the excellent and evocative photographs in ‘Lost Villages’ were taken by Lynette Briggs. Born in Italy, she lives in Bedfordshire and is also a sculptor, artist and teacher.

The author sets out to tell the story of seventeen ‘lost villages’ in Bedfordshire. Some of these, for example, Stratton, conform to the type of ‘deserted villages’ chronicled by Maurice Beresford; others reflect more modern ‘clearances’ necessitated by war (Little Staughton, which lost one third of its houses to an airfield), or 19th century economic migration (Segenhoe).

A chapter is devoted to each community: Ruxox (near Flitwick), Segenhoe, Higham Gobion, (old) Linslade, the original village of Hockliffe (which was sited too far from Watling Street), Sheep Lane (on the B528 Woburn Road), Stratton (near Biggleswade – a genuine deserted medieval village), Thorn (near Houghton Regis), Potsgrove, Battlesden, Chellington, Lower Gravenhurst, Hulcot (near Cranfield), Edworth, Little Barford, Little Staughton and Chalgrave.

Each chapter provides a brief history, drawing on archaeological and printed sources, explaining the reasons for the settlement’s decline and fall, and providing interesting snippets of information (including important local families), as well as a useful guide to ‘what to see’. The chapter on Ruxox, for example, provides information on recent excavations, considerable detail on the Roman settlement there, the monastic house, the manor, and late-19th and early 20th century farming, as well as some oral social history. This is supplemented by excellent photographs of the moat, Joseph Chery (a ‘knacker man’), and single horse ploughing at Ruxox in the 1930’s. For Segenhoe, Dick provides a good introduction to the history of the ruined 11th century church of All Saints, a brief manorial history, and an account of Thomas McQueen’s Australian settlement (also called Segenhoe). Again, the chapter is accompanied by good photographs and illustrations – of the ruined church, the headstone of Segenhoe’s oldest inhabitant, and a reproduction of George Shepherd’s painting of All Saints Church in c.1830. A similar standard is maintained for the other ‘lost villages’. For reader with a particular interest in archaeology, the chapter on Stratton provides an accessible overview of the excavation evidence.

Dick Dawson’s highly personal and eclectic style should appeal to all bar the purist. The book’s usefulness to teachers and family historians could have been improved further by including sources and further reading, but it should still provide a valuable and accessible introduction to the past of these little-known villages and hamlets. Probably not a book to read in one session (except to skim through Lynette’s delightful photographs), but to dip into and perhaps take with you on walks or outings (it’s a small paperback which should fit easily into a coat pocket). I will certainly recommend the Committee to look at it when we’re considering trips.

Illustration of book cover