Great Barford

Situated in the valley of the river Great Ouse, Barford, as the name implies must have been an important river crossing since time immemorial. In 1427 when £100 was left in the will of Sir Gerald Braybrooke “to replace a ford”, the Barford bridge was built. Soon afterwards the burgesses of Bedford complained that people used it in preference to Bedford bridge and that it had caused trade to bypass the town.

Barford Bridge

With originally far fewer arches than today the bridge evolved over the centuries to the seventeen arch structure that now spans the river. Extensive repair work has been carried out over a number of years by Bedfordshire County Council and English Heritage to retain the charm and character of this important scheduled ancient monument.

The area has evidence of habitation since well before Roman times. Ancient crop marks are occasionally visible from the air, and off High Street there are traces of medieval ridge and furrow.

The River and Navigation

The importance of the river at Great Barford cannot be underestimated. In 1086, the Domesday Book entry lists two mills, one worth 22s and the other 7s and 80 eels.

The early 15th century bridge that still spans the River Great Ouse was originally built from limestone and sandstone. The bridge underwent significant changes in the 19th century with a widening project in 1818. A brick face was built over the cutwaters on the south east side in 1874.

In the 17th century, engineering techniques were sufficiently advanced to allow navigation, aided by locks and other structures to became a regular means of transport from the coast. By 1638 a system of locks from Kings Lynn had reached Great Barford. For 50 years the settlement was the head of navigation and became a minor inland port. “Shops, conveniences and yards were built near the bridge to receive coal, salt, iron and grindstones”. Trade affected during the Civil War, gradually diminished after the completion of the navigation system to Bedford.

John Franklin of Great Barford acquired a share in the ownership of the navigation in the 18th century, and became one of the leading figures in the river’s history. 1840-44 saw considerable rebuilding of the locks, however trade fluctuated further with the influence of the Grand Junction Canal. The advent of the railways in the 19th century also minimised the use of the river.

In 1933 the sluice collapsed and once again the river became silted and barely navigable. Between 1974 and 1977 the river was dredged and the new weir and lock were constructed by the Anglian River Authority with help from the Great Ouse Restoration Society Volunteers. The risk of serious flooding was reduced and moorings were provided for pleasure boats in much the same place used earlier by working barges. The adjacent grass terrace was taken over by the Parish Council and landscaped to create a village green.

The Village

The southern end of the village is dominated by the 15th century tower of the Parish Church of All Saints. In 1905 the five bells originally cast in the reign of Charles 1st, were tuned, refitted and rehung. The church clock was built by John Bull of Bedford in 1860. It has recently been refurbished by Smith of Derby Ltd to mark its 150th year in the village in 2010, at the cost of over £11,000. This was funded by the PCC and grant aid from the Parish Council.
The Millenium Project financed the floodlighting of the church and, together with the illuminated Anchor Inn, the lights enhance the approach to the village.

Wildlife

Seven Swans

Seven Swans

The village stands on Oxford clay, topped with boulder clay at the higher levels. This attracts a variety of wild flowers. Cowslips grow freely along the banks and ditches, and rare waterside flowers can be found along the river.

The village is within a conservation area for the nationally declining Corn Bunting. Many common birds can also be seen including varieties of Starlings, Tits, Chaffinch, Goldcrest, Wren, Robin and Linnet. Along the picturesque riverbank you can find Swans, Wildfowl, Kingfishers, Sedge Warblers, Reed Ducks and Common Terns.

Three designated Country Wildlife Sites are of great importance to the local flora and fauna. Great Barford North Pit and Gravel Pit, now flooded, are close to the river at Cuckoo Brook. Both are ornithologically important. Neutral grassland on boulder clay and broad leaved woodland at Great Barford House, and the wooded churchyard, create diverse habitats.

The entire village is criss-crossed by public footpaths enabling considerable enjoyment of its varied locations.

Printed from: http://www.riversmeetonline.co.uk/places-to-visit/great-barford/ .
© Riversmeet Hidden Britain 2019.