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Clophill St Marys CofE lower school

Local and Community History Month: May 

Local and Community History month is organised by the Historical Assocation to raise awareness of a strong community and to highlight local history. 

In 2021, our aim for Local and Community History month was to share an historical fact about Clophill, every school day, to encourage everyone to enjoy learning about the history of our local area. 

Each fact was created by Mrs. Arnold, our History Co-ordinator using the following sources:

Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service

Clophill History

St. Mary the Virgin Clophill Website

Clophill Heritage Trust

We also aimed to 'inspire, enable and encourage' others to get involved with local community events and landmarks. 

A fact a day in May.......................

1 Clophill is pretty old as far as history goes.  In fact, it is first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 around 935 years ago, when it was known as Clopelle.  The name means "tree-stump hill" and it contained only two or three hamlets - Beadlow, Cainhoe and possibly Moddry.  The Doomsday Book, commissioned by William the Conqueror, records a population of eleven for Clophill.  This would only have included heads of household, so the number could be multiplied by at least four to include wives and children.  With this in mind, the total population would have been around fifty, so still quite a small settlement!  

What do you know about the Romans?  Roman remains have, in fact, been found on the Clophill parish boundary at the south edge of Pedley Wood and crop marks suggest the presence of a small settlement there!  A 4th century coin was found at the south-west end of the village and the High Street/Shefford Road is also presumed to be a Roman road!  So, whilst history only mentions Clopelle 935 years ago, there were people living here long before that and the Romans were more than likely some of them!


To the south of Clophill, across the Flit valley, are the remains of a motte and bailey castle.  It was probably built soon after the Norman Conquest (1066).  The large mound is the motte, built by making use of the natural sloping ground.  On it was built a tower (or keep) to give more height and to further intimidate the native English!  The bailey was a yard, surrounded by an embankment and ditch which provided a first line of protection.  It contained barracks, stables, livestock and other buildings for storing food, weapons and equipment.  If attacked, the occupants could retreat to the motte.  The castle didn’t survive for long though; by 1374 it was abandoned and in ruins, possible as a result of the Black Death in 1348.


The Flying Horse public house is a familiar and popular landmark of Clophill, even having the roundabout named after it!  It was first recorded in 1731 in the will of it’s owner, but it is more than likely even older than that.  It was an important coaching inn on the A6 and would have had stables for horses.  Local history claims it may have even been a stopover for real life highwaymen! 

“The legend of Dick Turpin may be a myth but there were highwaymen at the Flying Horse in 1751.  On the day of the Ampthill Fair, 21st April, three men came to the Flying Horse where the publican was Abraham Perrin.  They pretended to be horse dealers who travelled from fair to fair.  They spoke of their fear of highwaymen…...About four o’clock they left and started robbing travellers on the Ampthill to Bedford Road near Houghton Conquest.” (https://clophillhistory.mooncarrot.org.uk)

It is reported they robbed at least 7 people and were spotted by a number of locals, although it is unknown whether they were ever caught!


Have you ever wondered what the funny little brick building between the Co-op and the Flying Horse is?  Perhaps you have taken the time to read the plaque on it’s little wooden door.  If you have, you will know that it is in fact a ‘Lock-up’ and the adjoining bricked enclosure was a ‘Pound’.  The Lock-up and Pound were built in 1851 by magistrate Captain Moore of Maulden Cottage.  The Lock-up was used for the control of any ‘wrong-doers’ who would be kept there to cool off before being allowed out and fined or removed to a more secure location.  The Pound was used for their livestock or any stray livestock wandering loose.  Animals would be released from the Pound on payment of a fine by their owner.  I wonder what it would have been like to spend the night in the Lock-up or if there was ever more than one occupant at a time?!  I’m guessing it wouldn’t have been very comfortable at all and would certainly make me think twice about misbehaving :-). 


For the women (and children—some as young as 4!) of Clophill, straw plaiting was an important cottage industry as the straw hat industry was centred around Luton (The Hatters).  It also meant they could earn more than the men did working in the fields.

The 1851 census shows there was a ‘School for Plaiting Straw’ in Little Lane and other sources suggest a hat factory may have been run by a Mr. Manning in 34 High Street, employing about twenty women machinists. 

By the end of the 19th century, plaiting had died out due to cheap imports from the Far East.


St. Mary’s School—Part 1


The Education Act of 1870 required every town and village to provide schools for all children between the ages of 5 and 10 years.  Clophill had been striving to provide schooling from as early as 1630, so this was mostly good news!

In 1871, the National Society (Church of England) provided money to build schools in Clophill to accommodate 185 pupils, as a National Mixed School and an Infant School.  The two parts were run quite separately and a School House was attached.  These buildings would have been towards the front of the school grounds, around where Acorn Nursery is now situated.


St. Mary’s School—Part 2


During the summer of 1939, World War II brought with it the declaration of a state of emergency.  This delayed the reopening of St. Mary’s School, after the summer holidays, by two weeks.  When it did reopen, not only did it have it’s 5-11 year olds but, in addition, all the older Clophill children who had previously transferred to Shefford, plus a number of evacuees with two teachers from London and from St. Leonard’s in Sussex.  In total the number on roll reached 228, compared to the 100 of the previous year, with locals opening their homes up to the evacuee children.

During the war years, tanks would occasionally roll through the streets of Clophill with soldiers throwing sweets out to the local children.  There is a report of a bomb going off in the woods but very little else, which suggests life in the village was fairly unscathed, although undoubtedly the locals will have pulled together for the war effort. 


St. Mary’s School—Part 3


After the war, the numbers on roll in school were low, but as the village was due to grow, with plans from the local council in place for a new housing development, so too was the school. Upon closer inspection, it was found that the building was not in fact suitable for extension and would therefore need to be replaced. Plans for a new school to be built behind the National School building were drawn up but in the meantime some changes were needed more urgently and a kitchen and indoor toilets were provided for the first time!

The first phase of the new building was opened in 1971, providing 5 classrooms and a hall. The remaining phases were completed in 1976 and it was dedicated and officially opened by the Bishop of Hertford.

Sadly, the old building was beyond repair and increasingly unsafe so it was demolished in 1977. Some of its bricks were used to complete the wall in front of the school and of course our beautiful bell tower was saved, being brought from its place on the roof, refurbished and placed as a feature at the front of the school. This is now widely recognised as the logo of our school but it is so much more than this, linking our past to our present and hopefully beyond.


The ruins of the original St. Mary’s Church stand set quite a way back from the main High Street, up Old Church Path.  This wasn’t, however, the first church in Clophill and it is likely that there was a church in the village from Saxon times (from 410-1066AD).

The original St. Mary’s Church was mainly built in the 15th century and was in use for around 400 years!  However, by the 1840’s it began to show signs of wear and tear and was becoming too small for the village, which was growing rapidly!  It was decided that a new church should be built and in a more convenient location. 

When the ‘new’ church was built, the ‘old’ church was converted for use as a mortuary chapel (a chapel that is used to help with the funeral process) linked to the graveyard, which remained open at the ‘old’ church.  It continued with this job for around a century.

During the following years, the ‘old’ church fell further and further into disrepair.  In more recent years, lots of work has been completed on the ‘old’ church by Clophill Heritage Trust.  The tower has been restored and now provides a fantastic panoramic view over the Bedfordshire countryside.  The church can also be hired for private photo shoots or special events!


The current St. Mary the Virgin Church in Clophill was built in 1848-1849 at the foot of the hill of the old church.  The architect for the church was Thomas Smith of Hertford, who made use of his earlier plans for Silsoe church in his designs.  It was paid for by the Earl de Grey (who was patron to the church and chairman), the new Rector: Rev’d Mendham and his wife, some other members of the public and the rest was gathered from taking out a loan. 

The completed church was consecrated on 10th July 1849.  However, by 1879 it was already in need of repair and had to close for a time for necessary works to occur.  During this period of closure, services were held in the newly built school! 

Over the years, other repairs and upgrades have been completed, including, adding electricity, repairing dry rot, refitting the wooden floor, installing new lighting, adding meeting rooms, a kitchen, toilets, installing new heating and sound systems as well as a new east window in 2005 depicting the Virgin Mary sending the young Christ out into the world.   In addition, lots of other changes have occurred such as to the organisation of the interior of the building and moving the pulpit and the organ.


Clophill originally had a Primitive Methodist chapel in, what is now called, Old Silsoe Road, from the mid 19th century until 1938 when the new one opened in the High Street.  A second Primitive Methodist chapel, also in use in the early 20th century, stood on the site of what is now 55 High Street.  This chapel, and it’s land, was sold in 1938 for £250 when the new chapel opened.  The one in Old Silsoe Road went on to become a fire station, tea shops and Chapel Feeds before being demolished later in the 20th century.

There was also a Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Maulden, although it was known as Clophill Wesleyan Methodist Church.  This chapel was demolished in 1937 when the A6 road was developed.

The Methodist chapel residing on the High Street today, opened in February 1938. 


The Stone Jug

A popular pub in the village of Clophill, The Stone Jug probably began as a beer house.  It was noted in the 1861 census as occupied by Eliza Issit, who was a Baker, Grocer and Beer Retailer. 

It was first mentioned as ‘The Stone Jug’ in around 1874 and had many different licensees between this time and 1976 when it was planned to be renamed ‘The Toby Jug’ by the potential new owners!  The Parish Council at the time strongly opposed this plan, but the sale fell through anyway and the name never changed.

In 1927, The Stone Jug was valued for rates.  Amongst the report produced, the valuer noted that the licensee had ‘no idea of takings’ as he ‘keeps no books’!

The Stone Jug is the only stone residence in the village and is believed to have had 14 different licensee changes in it’s life as a public house so far. 


In the days before everything could be found under the one ‘Co-op’ roof (other varieties available!),  Clophill had a number of local shops to serve all the villagers’ needs. Here are some of them from along the High Street, generally dating around 1927 when valuers visited the village.

4 High Street is appropriately named ‘The Old Forge’, as it used to be a blacksmith's house and business premises. Arthur Cakebread is said to have made the horse shoes and could be watched shoeing horses himself.

33 High Street was a butchers, owned and run by George Palmer. He had been there since at least 1890 and remained until somewhere between 1928 and 1931. 

46 High Street aka ‘Wootton House’ still has its distinctive shop frontage remaining. James Wooten and family are recorded as living there in the 1861 to 1911 censuses, when it was a tailor’s shop but also run as a sub-post office. The 1927 valuation noted it was owned and occupied by Linden C. Wootton and remained a tailor’s and post office. Following this in 1931, it was listed as a confectioners. 

53 High Street was built about 1620 and was a hardware shop then the post office and village shop in the latter part of the 20th century, owned by George Mead. 

104 High Street was a shop for many years, dating from at least 1869 when Ebenezer Goss was shopkeeper. Following on from him, records in 1914 name Hannah Goss as shopkeeper possibly until 1919 although this is not clear. In 1927 the valuer noted it was still a shop, now owned and occupied by Mrs. Kate Shepherd (who bought it at auction in 1919), but it seems Mrs Thomas Mathews was shopkeeper from 1920 to at least 1924.

There were a number of other premises reported to have sold sweets. It seems the villagers of Clophill had a sweet tooth! 


Clophill Watermill

The watermill in Clophill can be found on the corner of the High Street and The Causeway.  It was shown on a map of 1716, so was probably built in the 18th century.

The watermill would’ve been used to ground grain to make flour (usually for making bread).  Water from the River Flitt would’ve powered the mechanism to grind grain between stones.  The water gets to the mill through a special channel that is created to raise the height of the water above the original river stream.  This difference in height is used to drive the mill wheel and the mechanism to grind the grain.

The watermill in Clophill was probably in use for grinding grain until the early 20th century when new techniques using metal rollers instead of stone, had been discovered.  In the late 19th and early 20th century, Clophill watermill was probably only used to ground grain for animal food. 


The Green

Did you know that the A6 road used to run right past The Green in Clophill?

This was long before the A507 bypass was built in 1975 and before the dual carriageways were built in 1938. 

Before these roads were created, the A6 used to run from Bedford, turning left past the Flying Horse and continuing along the south side of The Green past the lockup and pound. 

As we already know, The Flying Horse was a popular inn.  In the old days where people travelled by horse and coach, The Flying Horse would’ve been used as a staging post for travellers from London to the north.  This meant it was a place to change the horses.  Later, when buses replaced horses and carriages, there was bus garage in the yard instead where the buses were stored overnight!

Even though the main traffic travelling to and from Bedford and other areas has been diverted away from The Green, this area is still full of vehicles either passing to or from the village or parking to visit the local shop, for example.



There are many references to brickmakers living in Clophill.  For example, in 1850, Slaters Directory lists George Crouch as a Brick and Tile Maker.  In another publication, Susan Heath is mentioned as a widow of the brickmaker, Tristrum Heath, who lived at 2 Mill Lane in 1666.

It was much cheaper to make bricks locally with the best materials that could be found as it was otherwise expensive to move the large quantities of heavy bricks needed to build a house across the country on horse-drawn carts!

Therefore, the clay to the north of Clophill would’ve been used for brickmaking.  The clay local to Clophill made a soft red brick, which can be seen in lots of buildings in the village.  In some buildings you can also see dark blue bricks.  These would’ve been a result of the bricks overheating, due to the fire used in the brickmaking process being too hot.  These weren’t wasted though, and were used to produce patterns in the walls instead. 

How many houses can you see in the village with the soft red bricks or the burnt blue bricks?


Fire Brigade

Did you know—Clophill once had it’s very own Fire Brigade?

Clophill Auxiliary Fire Service was created in 1940 and took care of the village until the end of the Second World War in 1945.  The firemen were volunteers who did not have to fight in the war because their jobs at home were considered too important.

Originally the Fire Brigade were based behind the Post Office but moved to the Old Primitive Methodist Chapel building later.  The firemen were on duty 7 days a week, between the hours of 6p.m. to 6a.m. during wartime.  The men were formed into 3 crews and each crew had 4 people in it.  This meant that they were on duty at least twice a week but sometimes three times.  It was very hard for the men to do their fireman role throughout the night after spending all day working in their ‘usual’ jobs, even though the fire headquarters did have bunks so that the men could get a few hours sleep when they weren’t needed.

Luckily, the firemen were not called to deal with bomb damage from the village but did have to travel to surrounding woods, for example the travelled to Pedley Wood to deal with a bomb dropped there by the German army.  The brigade also supported the Ampthill fire brigade with incidents and even had to attend a big fire at Bedford School and travel as far as Huntingdon!


Clophill Heritage Trail

Now that we’ve learnt lots about the history of Clophill, why not step back in time this Half Term and complete the Clophill Heritage Trail!  This takes you back in time to visit different locations in the village and learn what life was like in Clophill then.

More information about the trail, including a special children’s I-spy quiz for them to complete during the trail and a wordsearch that can be completed afterwards, can be found here: