Elstow village dates back to Saxon times, but the visitor to the village today sees mostly 13-15th century buildings, many black and white timbered. The buildings are thought to have been constructed under the supervision of the abbess of Elstow. They provided housing for estate workers and shops and inns for the 3rd largest (at the time) English abbey. The large village green was once the property of Elstow Abbey.
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John Bunyan was a famous resident of the village. After his marriage he lived here in the High St. There is a stump remaining of the market cross where he used to play village games.
The village church belonged to the abbey. Unusually, the church tower is a separate building. The west door and the tower are famous in literature—they are mentioned in Pilgrim’s Progress where they were renamed as the ‘wicket gate’ and the tower from which arrows were shot by Beelzebub.
The Moot Hall, built for the nuns of Elstow Abbey, on the village green originally served as a market house. The large four day fair overseen by the abbey and taking place 2-5 May was under royal charter. Food, livestock, clothes, and other products were sold. The Abbey raised money by charging for stalls and space at the fair. The Moot Hall had four shop units where the stalls and fair paraphernalia were stored between fair times.
On the edge of the village are the ruins of Elstow Place and 17th century Hillersden mansion. Abbey materials were recycled to build them. The building, named Green House at the time, was constructed using green oak beams in-filled with bricks. The interior divisions were wattle and daub. The roof was constructed from clay tiles. One hundred years after its first construction Green House was expanded to make 2 extra bays on the ground floor. The upper floor was used as a court house during the fair and at other times for Elstow Manor court.
After the dissolution of the monasteries the Green House was owned by a Sir Humphrey Radcliffe, then Sir Thomas Hillersden. Samuel Whitbread bought it in 1792 along with the rest of the former abbey estate grounds. It was used in the 1800s as a school and chapel, and became known at that time by its present name, the Moot Hall.
In 1950 the Whitbread family gave the building and green to Bedfordshire County Council who restored it. It now reflects its original medieval construction. Visitors can learn about its life in the past.
Moot Hall and Museum
Elstow, Bedfordshire, on Church End, off High St
Tel. 01234 266 889
Open: April-end Sep, Sun, Tue-Thu, 1-4pm; also open BH and Good Fri
Elstow is signed from the A6 south of Bedford; heritage signs to museum
Small car park on site; parking also at village church
Photos © by Barbara Ballard except Hillersden mansion by M J Richardson courtesy Geograph Britain and Ireland