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Elstow, Bedfordshire

Historical Description

Elstow, a village and a parish in Bedfordshire. The village stands on a branch of the river Ouse, 1¼ mile S by W of Bedford, and has a post office under Bedford; money order and telegraph office, Bedford; and fairs on 15 May and 5 Nov. A Benedictine nunnery was founded here, in the time of William the Conqueror, by Judith, the Conqueror's niece, the Countess of Huntingdon; is said to have been very beautiful, and was called (after St Helena, the mother of Constantine, to whom, in conjunction with St Mary the Virgin, the church was dedicated) Helenstow, ultimately Elstow. John Bunyan, the author of the ''Pilgrim's Progress," was a native of this village, and his cottage, in a renovated condition, is still standing. The parish comprises 1617 acres; population, 478. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Ely; gross value, £80. The church belonged to the nunnery, is Norman, with a steeple, has two brasses of 1427 and 1530, and includes a chapter-house.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyBedfordshire 
Ecclesiastical parishElstow St. Mary and St. Helen 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records

The parish register dates from the year 1640.

The Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service (BLARS) hold the registers for Elstow: Baptisms 1641-2000, Marriages 1641-1981, Burials 1641-1984, Banns 1754-1997. Transcripts in either book or microfiche form for registers prior to 1813 can be purchased from the BLARS (see website for details).


Church of England

SS. Mary and Helena (parish church)

The church of SS. Mary and Helena, anciently attached to the Benedictine abbey, is chiefly a building of the Norman period, with some portions of Early English date, and consists of a chancel, or choir, with clerestory, lofty clerestoried nave, aisles, north porch, a vaulted chamber on the north-west and a noble detached tower on the north-west with low spire, containing a clock and 6 bells; five of the bells were rehung and the sixth added in 1909: there are several ancient monuments and two marble mural tablets to the two co-heiresses of the late William Hillersdon esq. the former owner of the manor, whose ancestors possessed it for many generations; there are brasses to Elizabeth Hervey, an abbess, and to one of the nuns: the beautiful Early English vaulted room, now used as a vestry, has a slender column of Purbeck marble in the centre: the north porch is an interesting example of Norman work; the font is Early English and the ceiling Perpendicular: in 1882 the church was thoroughly restored at the expense of Samuel Whitbread esq. under the direction of T. J . Jackson, of Bedford, at a cost of upwards of £6,000, and the tower at the expense of Francis Spencer Wigram esq. by whom also the chancel was refitted in 1905, from designs by the present vicar: at the east end of the south aisle are two memorial windows to John Bunyan, and there are three others, one of which was erected in commemoration of the Jubilee of Her late Majesty Queen Victoria: the church also contains some armour worn at Floddenfield.

Civil Registration

For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.

Elstow was in Bedford Registration District from 1837 to 1974

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Elstow from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Bedfordshire is available to browse.


Online maps of Elstow are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Bedfordshire papers online:

Poor Law

Elstow was in Bedford Poor Law Union. For further detailed history of the Bedford Union see Peter Higginbotham's excellent resource: Bedford Poor Law Union and Workhouse.

Visitations Heraldic

A full transcript of the Visitations of Bedfordshire 1566, 1582, and 1634 is available online.

Postal districtMK42
Post TownBedford