History of Buckden Village

Although fragments of pottery and other such remains have been found which indicate human activity in the area as far back as the Stone Age period, the first written reference to the parish of Buckden occurs in the Domesday Book. This was a written survey carried out in 1086 and was an attempt to register the wealth of the country to determine the revenues due to William I. From the Domesday Book it is found that Buckden was held by the Bishop of Lincoln for the King. There are problems in translation and interpretation but a modern version of the entry for the medieval village of Buckden is: (1, 2)

"Manor in Buckden the Bishop of Lincoln had 20 hides taxable. Land for 20 ploughs. Now in lordship 5 ploughs; 37 villagers and 20 smallholders who have 14 ploughs. A church and a priest. 1 mill, 30s; meadow, 84 acres; woodland pasture 1 league long and 1 league wide. Value before 1066 £20; now £16 10s." (2)

Over the years there have been a number of variants or spellings of the village name including Bucksden, Bugedene, Bugdene, Bugendena, Bokeden and Bugden. Indeed, the present version, although recorded as early as 1279, has only been relatively recently accepted. There are those who still refer to the village as 'Bugden'. Whatever the spelling, the origin of the word is reasonably certain. 'Dene' is the old English word for valley and 'Bucge' the name of a person; hence 'Bucge's valley'. (2, 6) (Although the stretch of water by the side of the village playing fields is called 'the valley', the 'dene' referred to is thought to be more likely to be the valley of the Great Ouse.)

Detail from John Speed's map of Huntingdon,1610
The village of 'Bugden' on John Speed's map of Huntingdon,1610.

Two factors helped shape the character of the village. The first was Buckden Palace which was the residence of the Bishop of Lincoln and would have provided many of the villagers with employment and interest down the ages. The second was the Great North Road which used to run through the middle of the village. It was an established main road from London to the North at the time of the Conquest (and, of course, the one used by the Bishops of Lincoln; hence their palace). It was maintained as an important highway throughout the middle ages, and greatly improved by Edward I (1272-1307) who needed it for moving his armies. (2)

In the eighteenth century, new methods of road building made coach travel much more comfortable and fast, and therefore more popular. This brought employment and prosperity to the village as there was a demand for farriers, wheelwrights, corn merchants and, of course hostelries.

The introduction of the railways had a dramatic impact on Buckden. In 1854 the 'History, Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Huntingdon' said of the village:

"...a quiet, insignificant place compared to what it was in coaching times, when the traffic through it was very considerable, but the many railroads which intersect the country have deprived it of its trade and support. Not one coach is now to be seen in the streets of this once bustling village. Signs of this decline in importance are visible everywhere; the most prominent is the large mansion-like inn (the George) now divided into several tenements." (2)

There were two stations that served the village and surrounding area. Nearly two miles east was the Offord and Buckden station on the Great Northern Railway main line to Kings Cross; a mile north was Buckden Station proper on the Kettering to Huntingdon branch of the Midland Railway. Although called Buckden the station was actually in the Parish of Brampton. Buckden station was closed in 1959 and Offord and Buckden in 1962. (1, 2)

Steam trains near Buckden in the 1950s.
An east-bound excursion train approaches the now-demolished Brampton Road bridge adjacent to Buckden station.

The change in Buckden's fortunes over the last two centuries is reflected in the figures for its population. In 1801 (the first National Census) it was 869. The number rose to 1095 by 1831 and to 1209 by 1841, but fell to around a thousand in 1871 where it remained for the next 90 years or so. It was only in the 1960s that the population started to increase dramatically. (2)

Today, Buckden is once again thriving with a population of nearly 3000 people. It has a number of excellent facilities. The Village Hall was built in 1974 and considerably extended in 1999 at a cost of £700,000 to become The Buckden Millennium Community Hall and Sports Centre. The original Village Hall replaced the Rifle Range in Church Street which had provided the previous central venue for social gatherings and meetings. The recreation ground where the Centre is situated was purchased by public subscription as a memorial to those killed in the Second World War and a monument recording this is to be found nearby.

Places of historical interest

Buckden Towers

Drawing of Buckden Palace

Buckden Towers (formerly Buckden Palace), mid-way between London and Lincoln on the Great North Road and in the centre of the historic diocese, was a resting place and/or home to successive Bishops of Lincoln from the 12th Century to 1842. The location was important as many were involved in affairs of state as Chancellor or Keeper of the Great Seal. Many have left their mark at Buckden and five are buried in St. Mary's Parish Church. (3)

Little now remains of the Bishops' moated Palace except the Great Tower, Inner Gatehouse, part of the battlemented wall, which used to surround the Inner Court within the moat, and the Outer Gate and wall. These were started by Bishop Rotherham in the time of Richard III and completed by Bishop Russell, whose Arms appear on the Inner Gatehouse, in 1480. (3)

The Inner Gatehouse The Great Tower

The Inner Gatehouse seen from the Outer Gatehouse.
The Great Tower seen from the Outer Gatehouse with the cloister to the modern St. Hugh's Church and the Victorian house on the left.

Of Bishop Grossteste's Great Hall nothing survives except the footings marked in the grass to the north of the modern church. The medieval Great Chamber, chapel, library and domestic quarters which would have housed Katherine of Aragon when she was banished here in 1533-4, were demolished in 1838. (3)

During its long history, Buckden Palace has been host to a number of royal visitors including: (3)

  • Henry III - 1248
  • Edward I - 1291
  • Richard III - 1483
  • Margaret Beaufort (mother of Henry VII) - 1501
  • Queen Katherine of Aragon - 1533/34
  • Henry VIII & Katherine Howard - 1541
  • James I - 1619
  • Prince Regent - 1814

Katherine of Aragon

Probably the most important Royal visitor to Buckden Palace was Katherine of Aragon. She was sent there by order of Henry VIII after the annulment of their marriage by Archbishop Cranmer. She resided in the Palace from July 1533 until 1534, occupying a room from where she had a direct view into the chapel. The ordinary people of England had a deep sympathy with Katherine and she was very popular with the villagers of Buckden. This, together with the fact that she was visited by two Friars Observant who were her devoted supporters, made Henry determined to move her to a place where she could be more easily confined. In December 1533 Henry sent the Duke of Suffolk to force the Queen's attendants to address her as 'Princess Dowager'; instead of treating her as Queen, and to remove Katherine herself either to Fotheringhay or Somersham. Suffolk arrived on December 18th , but he met with a blank reception. The Queen's attendants, both English and Spanish, remained perfectly loyal to her and Katherine herself refused to be moved. Fotheringhay she had always disliked, and Somersham was so damp that it would probably cause her death. Suffolk lost his temper and shouted at her. Katherine retired to her room and sealed the door against him. (4)

The men of Buckden now took a hand and showed their sympathy with the Queen. They gathered in the street outside, silent but carrying choppers or billhooks and looking so threatening, that Suffolk's courage began to fail him. He found himself, moreover, shunned by the gentry of the district. After several days he succumbed. All he could do was to remove the furnishings of the Palace that Katherine had brought with her, and have them packed up, ready to send to London. He arrested some of the Queen's English attendants. Katherine herself remained behind the locked doors, saying that she could only be removed by force. This Suffolk, in view of the menacing crowds outside, dared not do, and he returned to London, defeated by the Queen and the men of Buckden. In the following May, Katherine was moved to more comfortable, but more easily protected, quarters at Kimbolton where she lived the life of a semi-recluse until her death in July 1536. (4)

Buckden Towers is now a Christian Retreat and Conference Centre run by the Claretian Missionaries together with the Catholic Parish Church of St. Hugh of Lincoln which stands on the site of the Great Chamber of the medieval palace.

For more information on Buckden Towers and how you can help with its restoration, please visit the The Friends of Buckden Towers' website at www.fobt.fsnet.co.uk.

St. Mary's Church

St. Mary's ChurchThe church of St Mary consists of a chancel with a modern organ chamber, and vestry on the north, a nave, north aisle, south aisle, west tower and south porch. The walls are of rubble with stone dressing, and the roofs are covered in lead.

Although mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086, nothing of this date remains; the earliest existing portions being the south doorway of the nave (which is early 13th Century) and parts of the chancel wall, a triple sedilia and piscina which date from the latter part of the same century. The 13th Century chancel retains its original size and structure. The tower was built or rebuilt in the 14th Century. Between 1432 and 1435 Bishop William Grey and Prebend John Depyng put new windows in the chancel, built the south aisle, the north and south arcades, the clerestorey, the chancel arch and rebuilt the upper storeys of the tower. The north aisle was added about twenty years later and the south porch about 1480, thus completing the building as seen to-day. The axis of the building is off-centre probably owing to the builder's concern about the north aisle collapsing into the moat present at the time.

Considerable repairs to the roofs took place in 1649 and 1665, and large buttresses were added on the north side in the 18th Century. The church was restored in 1840, 1860 and 1884 when the present vestry and organ chamber were built, and again in 1909 when the seating was renewed and the font removed to the south aisle of the church. (6)

For more information on the history of the church, times of services and details of current activities, please visit the website of St.Mary's Church at www.ely.anglican.org/parishes/buckden.

The Lion Hotel

The Lion Hotel
The Lion Hotel, or as it has been known, 'The Lion and the Lamb' or 'Lamb and Flag' was built in 1492 and is believed to have been a guest house for the Bishop of Lincoln's Palace.

An important feature of the hotel is a ceiling boss with five large oak beams that are considered by many experts to be almost unique. The boss is carved with the Lamb and the words 'Ecce Agnus dei' ('Behold the Lamb of God') which bears witness to the hotel's past ecclesiastical connections.

Did you know?

Geese to Market

In the 18th Century, a most unusual facility was the shoeing of geese. These were driven through warm tar and onto sand which formed a protective layer to pad their feet on the long walk to market.(2) The barn opposite the present entrance to the George Hotel was known to natives of the village as the 'goose barn'.

The Buckden Speed Trap

At the beginning of the 20th Century the Great North Road ran through the village of Buckden. To deter motorists from speeding, the Huntingdonshire Constabulary stationed policemen in the main street to time motorists over a measured stretch of road. Anyone travelling faster than 20 miles per hour was charged with 'driving to the common danger'. In 1906, 168 drivers were convicted of this offence and fined more than £1200 between them. The area became known as the 'Buckden Speed Trap'! (5)

The Shortest Peerage

In July 1551 Henry Brandon, the fifteen-year-old Duke of Suffolk, was at St John's College Cambridge with his thirteen-year-old brother Charles, when an outbreak of the 'sweating sickness' caused them to flee to Buckden. Unfortunately, the brothers left their escape too late and both were taken ill the evening they arrived in the village. The Duke died that night and his brother about half an hour later.

The death of Henry meant that Charles succeeded him to the title and was himself the Duke of Suffolk for the few minutes before he died - the shortest tenure of any peerage that has been recorded. The brothers' tomb can still be found in the village churchyard. (5)

Laurence Sterne

Laurence Sterne, author of 'Tristram Shandy' and 'A Sentimental Journey', was ordained a clergyman at Buckden in 1736. (5)

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys, who had property at nearby Brampton and Stirtloe, was very friendly with Bishop Fuller (appointed 1667) and is believed to have frequented Buckden Towers, or Buckden Palace as it was then.

In his diary, Pepys refers to the Bishop as 'a very extraordinary good-natured man, and one that is mightily pleased, as I am, that I live so near to Bugden, the seat of his Bishopric, where he is likely to reside.' (4)

The Victoria Cross

War memorial In the churchyard there is a memorial to those from the village who gave their lives during the wars. Of the names on the memorial perhaps one deserves special mention, it is that of Captain John Leslie Green V.C.

John Green, who was born in Buckden High Street, was twenty-five when war broke out in August 1914. Although he had not quite finished his medical training, he was commissioned in the Royal Army Medical Corps. On 1st July 1916 he was advancing in the rear of his battalion in their assault on the enemy's trenches when he found a seriously wounded officer. Whilst under fire, he moved him to a shell hole where he dressed the wound. Although wounded himself, he carried the officer 200 yards back towards the British lines. Unfortunately, just before reaching the safety of the advanced trench, his brother officer was hit again. Captain Green started to dress the wound but was himself shot through the head.

Captain Green was one of the 19,240 young men of the British Army to die during the first day's fighting of the Battle of the Somme. In October 1916 he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain's supreme award for gallantry. (2)

Captain Green and his brother are commemorated by a stone erected by their father opposite the entrance to the Towers.

Anecdotal History

The Spy Story:

"During the war due to the bombing and destruction the government ordered anyone who had extra rooms in their house to take in boarders to relieve the burden of displaced people. Much against my grandmother's wishes they had to take in a lady boarder who was a stranger to Buckden. My grandmother was not very keen on the idea of a stranger in the house and made her discomfort known to my grandfather rather regularly. After realizing her unjustified complaints were falling on deaf ears she decided to observe the stranger's daily activities. In a very short time she noticed that the stranger would have dinner with them until about 7pm then leave for the evening. The stranger then would not return until late at night well after the pubs had closed. She would then stay in her room and not come out until dinnertime the next day then repeat her daily mission.

So after observing this activity for a few weeks my grandmother decided to pass this information on to my grandfather. At this point my grandfather is working 12 and 16-hour days at his saw mill or doing contractor work on the military airfields. He really did not want to deal with this nonsense since he felt it was just my grandmother wishing the unwanted guest gone. Finally to keep peace in the house my grandfather agreed to follow the stranger's activities one night. So my grandfather follows the stranger to a pub where airman from the pathfinder's squadron enjoyed themselves.

I am not sure what pub he went to. Whether it was a local pub or one far away since my grandfather did have an MG motorcar at the time. Anyway, once in the pub my grandfather noticed the stranger flirting with the airmen and coaxed them to drink but did not drink herself. The stranger at first would made small talk with the airmen about their families or girlfriends. After a few rounds the stranger would move into talking about what missions they had flown or if they were going to fly the next day.

Now my grandfather was convinced my grandmother might be correct in her observations and went to the local constable. The constable told him this information was sort of out of his jurisdiction but would pass it along to the authorities. The next day officials showed up at my grandparent's house eager to talk to the stranger. When they went upstairs to her room they found she and all her belongings had disappeared during the night never to be seen again.

I have told this story to a friend of mine who was involved with the military and understands their methods. He said the stranger was most probably working for the RAF and just trying to see if any airmen had loose lips. So when my grandfather reported his findings to the RAF they just moved their informant elsewhere and made it appear like they were investigating a possible spy. My friend felt no spy would be so obvious but it is the story my grandmother and grandfather told me many years ago."

Leslie Osborn Glessner, New Jersey, USA

Acknowledgements and sources of information