Oakley's History

Oakley has a rich, varied history, as kindly outlined by Bill Knight

The village of Oakley is some four miles north west of the county town of Bedford, and lies upon the river Great Ouse. It has a history stretching back to pre- medieval times, when the population was less than 100. Today the number of people living within the Parish boundary has risen to 2,500.

Some of the earliest evidence of a settlement was found within the current village boundaries, and these were in the form of flint axes, arrow heads and labelled OAK(ley)and EAM(cdonald) circa 6-7,000BC. Iron Age (circa 50BC.)evidence was found when excavations were being undertaken for the Almshouses.

Oakley also featured in the Domesday book, and again prior to the Norman conquest, where the land was held by a Oswulf, a thane (companion) of King Edward.

In AD 851 in the area of Oakley, Aethewulf repelled and defeated the first Danish invasion in what was known as The Battle of Aclea (Oakley) – This piece of information was provided by James Nicholls of Runic Productions.

In 1166, the Lord of the manor was recorded as being one Simon de Bosard, and his brother was known to have had connections with the town now known as Leighton Buzzard. In 1200 it was recorded that the present Parish Church was built replacing an earlier one built of wood in Saxon times. nothing of this earlier church remains. In 1230 the first vicar was recorded, a Stephen de Castell. In 1278, a Richard de Bosard had no male heir, but his daughter married Thomas Reynes who took over Oakley thanks to his wife. It was known as Oakley Reynes certainly as far as the 1795 pre-enclosure map. The name is still with us today in “Reynes Drive”. The family also owned Clifton Reynes, just over the border into Buckinghamshire. In 1331, there was another Thomas Reynes recorded.

1349 saw the Black Death, and three vicars died in quick succession, D Walter, John Marshall and Robert Fox all in that year. The disease carried with it a high fatality rate of some 50%, and was caused by disease carrying fleas living on the Black Rat. The medieval cottages provided full accommodation for rats, in walls, thatch and under the earth floors. When rats died of the disease, the fleas attacked the human occupants. In 1451, John Reynes died and left no male heirs, so the village passed to the Taylard family. Again, in 1548 there were no male heirs to the Taylards, but the heiress married a Robert Brundenell, who took over. Oakley remained in the Brundenell family until 1648, when it passed to the Mordaunts. It is possible that after the Civil War had ended, the members of the losing side were made to pay heavily for their part in the conflict. Perhaps the Brundenells supported the King.

In 1671 a Window tax was introduced in the reign of Charles II, which inter alia recorded the population of Oakley as being 255 souls. In 1679 the Mordaunts sold Oakley to the Levinz family, who in their turn sold it in 1737 to John, the 4th Duke of Bedford.. The Duke, a leading politician in George II`s England, proved a most successful business man, and enlarged considerably the Ducal properties, buying Houghton House near Ampthill, as well as Oakley Manor House.

After the purchase of Oakley House by the 4th Duke, the old house was demolished and a new (present) one was built on its site. In 1795, the Oakley Reynes Pre-Enclosure map was drawn, and in 1803 Oakley`s Enclosure came about. As a matter of interest, records have been discovered that show the annual expenditure of the Church from Easter 1821 to Easter 1822 as being £2.7s.3d. (£2.36). There was widespread poverty in the early 19th century after the battle of Waterloo.

In 1839, the 6th Duke of Bedford died to be succeeded by the 7th Duke, who had a strong desire to improve the whole Bedford Estate, to cut out extravagance and waste and put the whole enterprise on a strong financial footing. In 1851, there was a census, which included details of Church attendance at the three places of worship in the village – the Parish Church of St. Mary, the Primitive Methodist Chapel and the Congregational Church (now demolished)

The 7th Duke decided in to build new cottages for the Estate tenants, and these were constructed of the best materials available to avoid needless repairs in the future. These properties were easy to clean, and had all facilities – gardens, water supply etc. Also the village map was re-drawn and the winding roads were straightened out. A new road was built – Station Road – running from Lovell Road to the where the Station stood. The High Street was straightened, likewise Duck End Road – now Church Lane. All the cottages in the High Street and Station Road were in blocks for economy, usually six to a block. Most have a stone inscription in the gable showing a Ducal coronet, a letter “B” for Bedford and the date of construction. Most of the earlier homes were of stone and thatch and were demolished when the new houses became available.

The old School, housed in two cottages in ruinous condition, was taken over by the Duke and the present building given to the village in 1842, the Duke taking over the cottages for his own use.

A village hall was built to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. This was paid for by the Dowager Duchess, the widow of the 10th Duke. This was situated at the end of what is now Reynes Drive. It provided the village with a reading room for meetings, entertainment, and a library. The Great War of 1914-1918 saw great change. The 11th Duke had served in Egypt, and he set up a military training camp in Ampthill Park at his own expense. This, together with the expenditure on the estate, exceeded the income, and together with increased taxation occasioned by the war, forced him to reduce his land holdings. Therefore, in 1918, the Oakley Estate was sold at auction by Knight, Frank and Rutley. Each tenant was given the opportunity of purchasing his own residence, and those who could afford it, did. From then on, Oakley ceased to be a Ducal estate, and went into private ownership.

During the 1920`s, Lovell Homes were built, together with bungalows to the North side of Church Lane. The 1930`s saw more building in Church Lane and in-filling in the High Street. After the 1939-45 war, building resumed. Grange Farm was sold to a farming partnership of Ibbett and McKie, with Ibbett providing the financial expertise, and McKie the agricultural experience.In due course, Jock McKie died, and the land passed into the sole ownership of the Ibbett family. A little while afterwards, Planning Permission for development on the farm was applied for, and granted.

As a result, the whole centre of the village became the subject of a large building project. By 1970, a number of houses had been constructed commencing with Ruffs Furze and Dewlands. 

The Grange Farm farmyard now has 38 large houses built upon it. The Parish Council now look very closely at any new developments proposed within the village environs, and in the main planning is only permitted for individual properties.

As a result of the new development, the population of the village has changed dramatically:

In 1921 it was……………..337

In 1931 it was……………..508

In 1951 it was……………..478

In 1961 it was……………..624

In 1971 it was……………..1,335

In 1981 it was……………..2,296

In 2001 it was……………..2,438

Oakley has grown from a small agricultural community to a substantial village with a strong independent identity.

Article courtesy of Bill Knight