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Langford History Society

Other History Pages

Church and Chapel


Langford field names and the Enclosure of 1827

Langford Mill

People of Langford

The Langford Workhouse


Langford Quakers

A Brief History of Langford:

Langford, Bedfordshire, lies in the valley of the River Ivel and dates from Saxon times being first mentioned in AD 944. There were once one or more fording points across the river and the village is said to take its name from the words ‘long ford’ alluding to the length of the settlement.

Before 1066 the Lord of Langford was Lewin, a thane of Edward the Confessor. William the Conqueror granted the village to Walter le Fleming. The Domesday Book in 1086 records the population of ‘Langeford' as 21 and the landholder as Walter le Fleming and that there were 2 mills. In 1142 Walter’s descendant Simon de Wahull gave land to the Knights Templar, who established themselves as Lords of the Manor of Langford Rectory.

Reference: Michael Rutt, The People at the Long Ford (Bedfordshire County Council, 1975)

The parish church is St Andrew’s and dates mostly from the 14th century but the Chancel was remodelled in the Perpendicular style in the 15th century. A short history of St Andrew's Church is here.

church and church school 1971
church and church hall 2010
Church and Church School 1971
Church and Church Hall 2010

Langford is three miles (5 km) south of Biggleswade and is a long straggling village. The village now starts at the Baulk corner and it is nearly three miles to the Running Waters at the north end of the village.

On the west side of the River Ivel is part of the Ivel Valley countryside project, namely, Henlow Common and Langford Meadows local nature reserve. This 47 acre reserve, despite being called Henlow Common, is situated in Langford parish. It came to Langford in 1985 after an exchange of land between the two parishes and as a registered common it keeps its original name.

The village has grown enormously since 1961 when the population was 1,250. By 1976 it had doubled to 2,500 and in 2001 it was 4,000.

As Langford was mainly a small agricultural community great events tended to pass it by but research is ongoing to glean what can be found of its previous inhabitants or of things that have happened.

On our Church and Chapel page you will find a history of St Andrew's Church and the Wesleyan Chapel including the Wesleyan Methodist 20th Century Fund and Langford Children; and the Band of Hope. Our People of Langford page has Philip Wright's story about growing up in post-war Langford; a piece about Lawrence of Arabia's brother, a distinguished Cambridge academic, who lived in Langford and an article on early nineteenth century incomer, Peregrine Piper. For a fatal motor accident in 1904 and aviation incidents which occurred in Langford from 1912 to the 1960s go to our Incidents page or our Langford Mill page for information on the mill and papermaking in Bedfordshire.

People walk alongside it, folk paddle in it, men and boys fish in it, and some even sail down it on homemade rafts in July. But what do we know about our River Ivel?
The river begins its life as a spring on the north side of Baldock close to the railway and the A1M. As the Ivel works its way northwards to Langford it is joined by other rivers which flow out of the Chiltern escarpment. The Hiz brings water from Oughton and the Purwell and the Flit join the Ivel together with water from the Cat Ditch which winds through Bygrave, Hinxworth, Stotfold and Astwick. Eventually the Ivel joins the Great Ouse at Tempsford. After this the river reaches the North Sea via Ely, The Bedford Level, The Denver Sluice, King’s Lynn and The Wash.

As the River Ivel passes Henlow Grange its course is very windy and in the past it was quite marshy too. Here it forms the parish boundary between Henlow and Langford. When the river reaches the Henlow Road, there is a road bridge over the river near the Garden Centre. Water End was the name given to the part of Langford between this bridge and Chapel Hill due to the regular flooding that took place. The last serious flood was in 1947. Before the first Henlow Road bridge was built in the Middle Ages there was a ford at this point so travellers could pass from Henlow to Toplers Hill via Cambridge and Edworth Road. This was a minor Roman road and parts of it may have been paved for the benefit of Roman travellers

As soon as the river passes under the Henlow road bridge the boundary follows a ditch known today as Dam’s Ditch. This leaves the river which then runs quite a straight and pretty wide course from the Henlow road to the Mill at the bottom of Mill Lane and then on to Holme Mill. It is probable that Dam’s ditch was called Adam’s Ditch in medieval times. Perhaps this ditch was originally the course of the River Ivel. What we see now behind Riverside Gardens and northwards to the Mill is a much improved waterway enhanced as part of a failed plan in 1847 to construct a canal from Biggleswade to Hitchin. The straightness, width and high west bank of the river indicate the intervention of man. The new channel also improved the flow and increased the head of water for Langford Mill to operate more efficiently.

In 1823 a meeting was held in Hitchin where it was recommended that a route from Langford to Hitchin should be constructed. It was also decided that the company should extend the Shefford line west to meet the Grand Junction Canal. This would create a profitable link from the main inland waterways system to Bedford, Ely, Cambridge and King's Lynn on the River Great Ouse network.
The current footbridge over the river at the bottom of Chapel Hill is a modern construction and before this the crossing at this point was a ford suitable only for cattle and sheep to access the common.

The power of water was employed at Langford Mill to grind corn and to power machinery to convert old rags into paper. Water levels were managed by weirs and sluices to provide enough head of water to drive the machinery. The river then continues onto Holme Mills where the process is repeated once again to provide energy at Jordan’s Mill.
Plans for a canal for the River Ivel were first announced in 1756. Locks on the River Ivel were built in 1758 at Tempsford, Blunham, South Mills and Sandy. Although tolls were initially lower than expected and the operators were in debt, trade increased rapidly and the creditors were all paid off by 1780. In the early nineteenth century the canal was extended to Shefford, with locks at Biggleswade, Holme, Stanford, Clifton and Shefford, and it was opened in 1823. The canal was abandoned in 1876.

The canal that was built from Shefford to Langford is known as the Ivel Navigation or New Cut. It passes through Stanford lock and joins the River Ivel behind Mill Meadow. The extension to the River Ivel Navigation was built by labourers or navvies from Bristol, who were paid 3.5d (not p) per cubic yard of earth removed.

The navigation proved profitable, and also had several unexpected side-effects; it helped control flooding, and great numbers of eels were captured in traps at the canal staunches. These eels graced many local table and became extremely popular as a regional dish.
Then came the railways – in 1850 the Great Northern, and in 1857 the Midland Railway were built through the region – and the navigation gradually fell into disuse. By 1870 trade on the canal ceased with the last barge in 1876.
Information sourced from The People at the Long Ford by Michael Rutt and

By John Shipman