Elstow Abbey

Such a beautiful little village in Bedfordshire, I drove to find the Abbey and was stunned to find this little scenic village that looked like it belonged to another era, beautifully kept and so peaceful.

The Abbey was dedicated to St Mary. Judith was the principal of several patrons and endowed it with property in Elstow, Wilshampstead and Maulden (and possibly Kempston) so as to ensure its financial security. It did, of course, take decades to build.

There are various mentions of the Abbey in the years between its foundation and its dissolution 461 years later. The earliest is Henry I’s confirmation charter, granted in about 1126 and on completion of the Abbey’s construction. This mentions Maud, Judith’s eldest daughter, as being one among several current benefactors, including King Henry himself. In later years, there was mention of various scandals over the not untypical but nonetheless unseemly behaviour of the nuns and of the consequential disciplinary action taken. There are inevitably records of lawsuits one of which even led to Papal intervention before it could be settled.

As an example of how things could spiral out of control, Henry II (1154-1189) granted the nuns of Elstow the right to hold an annual fair, but it was to become so popular, successful and even rowdy that it aroused serious and even violent local opposition. However, the commercial success of the fairs resulted in a need for a lay trade centre; this led to the constructing, some time later, of the fine building known as the Moot Hall which still embellishes the village Green.