Blunham

Blunham lies in the river valley where the Ivel tributary runs into the Great Ouse. It is believed that some time before the Norman Conquest, a Saxon with a name such as Blunda settled on a stretch of pasture land in this area. To this ham the man gave his name and at Domesday the Norman land surveyors called it Bluneham or Blunham. An ancient fair on the morrow of St. James the Apostle was held in the village. Today people are still attracted to Bluham with its tranquil river walks and meadows that typify the area. The Kingfisher Way and the Thornton Walk capture its rural charm.

History

Blunham church is dedicated to St. Edmund and St. James, The first dedication links to an early reference in the Domesday Book that Abbot Baldwin of St. Edmunds, tenant in chief, holds ‘4 hides and 1 virgate in Blunham from the King’.

The Approach to Blunham village

Blunham church tower dates back to the 11th Century. The attractive church is partly constructed of local sandstone. The later Thornton mausoleum of 1805/06 lies behind it.

In 1621 Charles Grey, 6th Earl of Kent, invited John Donne, Dean of St. Pauls, to became Rector of Blunham church. Donne has subsequently been acknowledged as one of England’s greatest metaphysical poets with particular attention being paid to his religious sonnets and love poetry. Blunham Lower School is therefore named the John Donne School.

Donne made a gift of an inscribed silver gilt communion cup to the church and this is still a treasured possession. He did not live in Blunham however, although it appears that he regularly visited the village during the ten years of his tenure.

Sweetest love, I do not goe,
For wearinesse of thee,
Nor in hope the world can show
A  fitter Love for mee;
But since that I
Must dye at last, ‘tis best,
To use my selfe in jest
Thus by fain’d deaths to dye.
John Donne

The Bunyan connection

Among the companions of John Bunyan in the County Gaol at Bedford in the days of persecution in 1665 were four Blunham Nonconformists – John Wright, variously described as a ‘knacker’ and a ‘coller maker’; William Gregory also a ‘coller maker’ or  labourer; George Farr, a grocer; and John Overell also a labourer. These men had been fined for attending a conventicle in Wright’s house at Blunham in January 1665 and were gaoled for refusing to pay. This was repeated in April and June when they were finally committed to the Bedford County Gaol without bail.

The 1669 ecclesiastical return of conventicles reported that Blunham had an Anabaptist Conventicle of about 50 persons, led by John Wright. Under the Act of Indulgence in 1672, John Bunyan applied for a licence for John Wright, of the Lake House Barn, to preach at Blunham. By 1699 a number of Blunham people were members of the Bunyan Meeting, Bedford.

In 1724 Blunham formed a separate church with twenty one members, without first obtaining Bedford’s approval. The Bunyan church decided ‘to dismiss those members who live about Blunham to their newly formed church there’. Members were steadily dismissed as they found Blunham more favourable, until in 1725 they appointed their first pastor. In 1751 the present  meeting house was built.

At first they baptised in the river Ivel, and in February 1784 a baptism had to be postponed because of frost and snow. In their early days they had a habit of stamping if they disapproved of the doctrine in a sermon, so that Thomas Craner, their pastor threatened to lead a persistent stamper out by the nose.

Watermill

It is thought that the mill mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 was on the site of the present Blunham Twin Bridges Mill. The first record of a mill after Domesday comes in the Bedfordshire Historical Society Records which mentions a reference in the coroner’s rolls for medieval Bedfordshire.

Mark Norman was listed as a miller in Blunham from the directory of 1847 to that of 1876. From 1885 to 1898, Miss Susannah Norman is listed as miller at a watermill and in 1910 Robert Brocklebank is shown as a private resident living at the Mill House.

Farming and wildlife

Blunham dairy was established in the 20th century, its herds of cows grazing on the nearby water meadows. Market gardening became considerably important to the village and several growers established nurseries under glass, growing flowers, tomatoes, cucumbers and, in these days, chillies. Between Blunham and the A1 the Zwetsloot family established a thriving flower industry which is now owned by Flamingo Flowers.

On the higher ground between Blunham and Great Barford and Moggerhanger the prevailing crop is wheat where gamebirds are reared for local shoots. Fishing has always been popular in these parts.

The lakes and wetlands in this area are a magnificent habitat for a variety of birds. Otters have been re-introduced to the Ivel and  voles, though diminishing in number, are still found in the ditches which feed the river.

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