Revealing and reclaiming the site of the farm cottage where John Bunyan was arrested in 1660
During the preparation of the Parish of Westoning Chronicle 2002, which was produced by a group of residents of the parish and has been£ on sale over Xmas 2002, the author gradually obtained information which enabled the book£s section on John Bunyan and his association with this parish to be written.The information was sufficient to give a fairly detailed account as to what happened in our parish in 1660 which finally led to Bunyans arrest and final imprisonment at Bedford for 12 years.Since that publication the author has continued £on his quest to complete his research with the final objective of getting£ the Westoning site of the farm cottage where Bunyan was arrested permanently recognized as a site of national interest £by the Bedfordshire County Council, English Heritage and the Ordnance Survey Mapping Department.This account is to bring the reader up to date as to how far this quest has been realized.£Much of the initial information given here is in the book and will be given as briefly as possible, followed by the subsequent additional information which is now becoming available as the result of further searches and enquiries.The author will also at the same time try and answer the question £but why are you doing this£?The answer is partially based on the present situation which is:-
Bunyan£s Oak Tree which is still standing, however much so in a distressed condition, is recognized as being of national interest as it is shown on Ordnance Survey maps. E.g. O.S. Pathfinder Map 1048 (TL 03/13) Hitchin (North) and Ampthill. The tree is actually just within Harlington on the Harlington/Westoning Parish Boundary line.£ The author is of the opinion that anyone who visits this site to view the rather reduced dead oak tree in 2003 would be prepared to accept££ that the tree was most probably used as a meeting place site by Bunyan. The site was chosen, no doubt, for being£ £in such an isolated area of the county and hopefully beyond the established churches jurisdiction at a time when Bunyan did not have an official license in order to hold religious meetings. Therefore the tree and the site are of significant interest to Harlington and the United Kingdom, but not directly part of the history of Westoning.
The actual site£ in Elstow / Harrowdean, Bedfordshire£ of the cottage where Bunyan was born£ at Bunyan£s End has long disappeared; portions of it were still remaining at the close of the eighteenth century when the site was ploughed up and the nine acres of land belonging to it was added to the neighbouring farm. However££ it has now become part of the local folklore/tradition and will always be of interest to the many visitors who visit the area every year in order to see just where Bunyan grew up in.
Thousands of tourists from home and abroad visit Bedford in order to view the Bunyans Church, Museum and Elstow in order to try and take in the surroundings that must have influenced Bunyan during his lifetime.
With all the above the author is of the opinion£ therefore that if the£ ACTUAL site of the farm cottage which is within the parish of Westoning £can still£ be clearly identified then surely it is as, or even more important, than many of the sites of interest£ £stated above.
The author will now list the specific information known about the Westoning farm cottage site and which will be used to make a case for the recognition of the site in, hopefully, the not too distant future.
A very good source of information about what was going on around 1660 £is to be found in the book on John Bunyan by John Brown , Ibister, 1885 and who was in fact at the time of the book being published had been£ the minister of the Bedford church for over 20 years.
John Brown, during the course of writing his John Bunyan book, actually walked the site of the farm cottage££ and obtained information from locals as to their own knowledge of the cottage site much of which had been handed down over the years. The book describes the cottage, its drawbridge and moat. A map is included which locates the cottage within the immediate area around Samsill, Westoning.
Brown also gave a very descriptive account of the countryside and village£s in the immediate area. One has only to read his text and stand on the site in 2003 to see and get confirmation that this can only be the place.
Further supportive evidence to the site location is also given £on the Medcalfe Map of 1797 ( see Chronicle , page xi Map 3..Evans Close 20)) which clearly show an enclosure and pond £(which may have well been the moat stated in item 1. above)
A limited overview£ search of the cottage £site was undertaken by the Bedfordshire County Council Historic and Environmental Record£££ in 1988 and £significant amounts of£ sherds / and related£ pottery were £found and recorded . For such amounts, in what is still an isolated location, could only suggest that there was a settlement of some kind in this area.££ Ref HER 15301. Field Search Report. Medieval and post- medieval sherds.
As the result of the publication of the Westoning Chronicle in November 2002 and the need to try and get £the site recognized £the author made a available to Stephen Coleman, of the Beds County Council, Historic and Environmental Section , all the data available £when £he visited the site £on 17 January 2003 with the author.
The cottage site is at present situated in an overgrown copse and amongst decayed dead trees. This, condition, ironically, in many ways has been responsible for preserving the site as it is, in winter 2003, precariously close to ££the edge of a ploughed field.
Stephen agreed that there was nothing at present, as far as he was concerned, to dispute the case being made for the site and he would now seriously consider just what he and Beds C.C can do to preserve/ protect the site. One of the first things may well be to record the visit and allocate a HER number to the site.
As he was leaving the site he noticed an area££ very close to what must be the cottage area and using his experience soon started to pick up sherds of pottery which he considered to be as medieval (e.g. £5 to 15th century on a first appraisal basis) and post medieval. Such evidence supported our view that we must be inspecting the same area as stated in item 3 above.
As at 27 January the author is awaiting a letter from Stephen, when it is hoped he£ and his department will recognize the site for what is worth and allocate it £a Beds C.C. HER number.
This will then, hopefully, be used as an acknowledgement for English Heritage and the Ordnance Survey to-do likewise.5.££
The author is seeking to impress on all those public institutions mentioned above, at what he considers now must be the eleventh hour, that as the site is in such a poor condition then once lost it can never be reclaimed. If this is allowed to happen, then this loss will have to be added to the cottage where Bunyan was born in Elstow.
The author in early January 2003, in wishing also to get recognition for the site by English Heritage and Ordnance Survey, was put in contact, after much correspondence, with a Debbie Potter from English Heritage.
Her reply on the 20 January 2003 acknowledged my letter and all my information in seeking to get the site recognized. After much£ detailed info£ the important points of the letter are as follows:
Clearly the site has strong historical interest£although earthworks are visible their nature extent and survival are not clear (how can she say this when she or any rep has not seen the site? Ed.)English Heritage has no power to recommend sites for inclusion on OS maps£. (Not entirely true as confirmed by Brian Hopper, Liaison Officer of OS, Swindon. Ed.)£..I realize my response will disappoint etc.
£Note: - There are already 8 official Westoning Parish sites listed by English Heritage National Monuments £held at their Record Office at Swindon (see page 19 in Chronicle)
So the present situation and objective is:
***How to get support for OUR CASE £if okay for the 8 sites why not the farm cottage where John Bunyan was arrested and which has been clearly identified?£
*** A rather£ interesting piece of information, outside the main theme of this article, that was recently realized about the arrest and subsequent£ 12 year imprisonment of John Bunyan at the Bedford County Gaol£ of the corner of what is now Silver Street Bedford . Bunyan £was arrested at the Westoning farm cottage site in November 1660 which was very soon after Charles II entered London in triumph on his birthday 29 May 1660 just after the restoration of the monarchy. Charles II had just previous to this occasion issued the Declaration of Breda which promised a general amnesty and liberty of conscience.
The question therefore arises is why did Bunyan get £so severe a sentence, or even one at all, if the treatment of the established church and crown towards the non-conformists£ would appear to suggest to have started to become more lenient£?
It would appear from records that Francis Wingate the Justice at Harlington in order to issue the Mittimus i.e. A warrant of commitment to prison, had to implement Act 35, which had been passed during the reign of Elizabeth I and £which forbade religious gatherings in order to arrest Bunyan.
Why had Wingate taken such a course of action?£
It has been suggested££ that as Wingate and his mother had had some very unfortunate experiences during the Civil War, which effected their family fortune and religious beliefs, then when his turn came he was eager to avenge the past.
Also,£ and maybe just as significant, one of the residents at Harlington House at the time was a Dr. Foster who married Wingate£s sister Amy; who had died in 1659. £Foster was a lawyer and local JP and was to become a Commisionary at the Court of Bedford Archdeaconry which harassed non-conformists.
This may well suggest that Wingate was influenced by Dr. Foster as to the procedure to be followed.£
Certainly Bunyan would appear to have unfortunately found himself in front of a unsympathetic and it could be said, after all the facts were known after the event, biased audience; for it is found in part of Bunyans own account of the event £Mr. Foster, the man that did at first express so much love for me to me, told the Justice that then he must send me away to prison£.
This statement was based on initial BunyanÂ£s dealings with Foster and Bunyan was to later on write rather interestingly of Foster as, and to an outside observer most appropriately, A right Judas and in after years as he saw what this man did, he remembered that it was somewhere written, Â£Their tongues are smoother than oil, but their words are drawn swords.