Bedfordshire Probate Records, 1484-1858

British Record Society volumes 104 & 105

Published 1993

Locating the original documents

Where are the originals held?

The original wills are held at Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service.

To purchase a copy of the will, contact the archives with all of the references from the index including the publication title. They will then advise you of the cost.

What information from the document do I need to locate the original?

  • Testator's name
  • Year of will or administration
  • Reference from the index

About the Bedfordshire Probate Records, 1484-1858

This index covers all wills and administations proved in the courts of the Archdeaconry of Bedford, the Peculiar of Biggleswade, and the Peculiar of Leighton Buzzard, it also includes papers mentioned in the contemporary index but no longer surviving.

These 2 volumes (British Record Society Volumes 104 & 105) are based on the Bedfordshire Record Office card index prepared in 1950-1953 by Alan Cirket.

Note - wills proved between 1649 and 1660 will be found in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) since during the civil war the church courts were abolished and a single centralised probate system was established. Between this time all wills were proved and all grants of administration made, at one central Court of Probate in London. This was really just the PCC under a different name and thus wills etc proved during this period will be found indexed within the PCC. See PCC volumes BRS 54, BRS 61, and Matthews 1-9 for this period.

Of particular note: the registers are lacking for the years 1552-4, 1571-5, 1623-37, and 1641-1703 and the records of administrations are incomplete, with a total gap for the years 1692-1700.

Which diocese is involved?

Bedfordshire originally formed the archdeaconry of Bedford in the diocese of Lincoln, and covered more or less the same area as the County. The archdeaconry was transferred first to the Diocese of Ely in 1837, and then in 1914 (some time after the closure of the ecclesiastical courts in 1858) to St. Albans.

Abbreviations and Editorial Notes

Abbreviation  Meaning
ABP 1Archdeaconry of Bedford Probate Records (general papers re jurisdiction over wills, 21 items)
admons.Letters of Administration
ARAdmon register (followed by date, register no. and folio no.)
BHRSBedfordshire Historical Rccord Society
BROBedfordshire Record Office
BRSBritish Record Society
BwBiggleswade Peculiar
d.dorso (for folio numbers or registers)
Fac.Facsimile (BRO reference for copies)
FFHSFederation of Family History Societies
LBLeighton Buzzard Peculiar
PCCPrerogative Court of Canterbury
RRegister of wills or admons. (followed by date, register no., and folio no.
RORecord Office (so BRO is Bedfordshire Record Office)

Editorial Changes

The British Record society have used a number of editorial conventions for this index. They are as follows:

  • BRO reference prefixes are omitted for ABP wills and admons.
    • Will only - just date/number, e.g. 1745/36
    • Register only - R - [date], |register number], (folio number - T omitted, but "d" always given|, e.g. R1523: 2/23 or R 1560: 15/104d
    • Admon. - A [date/number], e.g. 1703/37
    • Admon. register only - AR 1703: 3/203
  • BRO reference prefixes for the peculiars of Biggleswade (Bw) and Leighton Buzzard (LB) have been retained, in shortened form:
    • Biggleswade (Bw)
    • Registered wills - prefix BwR (date], [register number], [folio number], e.g. BwR 1540: 1/ld
    • Wills - prefix Bw, date/number, e.g. Bw 1726/21
    • Admons. - prefix BwA, date/number, e.g. BwA 1749/14
    • Leighton Buzzard (LB)
    • Registered wills - prefix LBR [date|, [register number], [folio number], e.g. LBR 1545: 1/11
    • Wills - prefix LB, date/number, e.g. LB 1745/15
    • Admons. - prefix LBA, date/number, e.g. LBA 1803/35
    • Admon. registers - LBAR 1803: 1/62
    • Facsimile copies - Fac., date: 9/n if will; and Fac., A date: 9/n if admon; e.g. Fac. 1756 9/39 and Fac. A 1731 9/29.
  • Inventories have been cross referenced to the main entries where possible, and listed separately as necessary. The conventions are:
    • Archdeaconry Inventories
    • Inventories filed with wills or admons. - T added after reference.
    • Peculiar inventories
    • Biggleswade and Leighton Buzzard - mainly with wills, and denoted only by "I" after reference.

Introduction to Original Volume

As probate jurisdictions go, those covering the administrative County of Bedford are relatively straightforward. Originally in the great mediaeval Diocese of Lincoln, the archdeaconry of Bedford covered more or less the same area as the County. Probate matters were effectively delegated to the archdeaconry court from an early date, and there are very few Bedfordshire wills among the Lincoln probate material. The archdeaconry was transferred first to the Diocese of Ely in 1837, and then in 1914 (some time after the closure of the ecclesiastical courts in 1858) to St. Albans (established in 1877).

Within the County there were two Peculiars with probate jurisdiction, at Biggleswade and Leighton Buzzard. The latter included the dependent chapelries of Billington, Eggington, Heath and Reach, and Stanbridge. Peculiar status was also claimed at Woburn, but testamentary matters were always dealt with in the archdeaconry court.

Other exceptions are those parishes which have been added to or removed from the Archdeaconry and County. These include:

Place and present County  Location of records
Caddington, Beds.Partly in Herts, until 1897. Probate records at BRO. An area of the Hertfordshire part now forms the parish of Markyate.
Eaton Socon, Cambs.Historically in Beds., and still in the Diocese of St. Albans and Archdeaconry of Bedford. Probate records at BRO.
Everton, Beds. & Hunts.In Archdeaconry of Huntingdon. The present parish includes Tetworth which was historically in Huntingdonshire. Probate records chiefly at Cambridgeshire CRO (Huntingdon branch). Some Everton probate material at Bedford.
Holwell, Herts.Originally in Bedfordshire and in the Archdeaconry of Bedford. Transferred to Herts, in 1897. Probate records at BRO.
Kensworth, Beds.Originally in Herts. Transferred to Beds, in 1897. Probate records in Huntingdon (Hitchin Division) at Herts. RO.
Linslade, Beds.Originally in Bucks. Transferred to Beds, in 1965. Still in Oxford Diocese. Wills proved in Archdcaconry of Buckingham, and now at Bucks. RO.
MarkyaleOriginally in Caddington, Herts. Probate material with Bedfordshire records.
StudhamPartly in Herts., but wholly in Bedford Archdeaconry. Probate records at BRO.
Swineshead, Hunts.In Archdcaconry of Huntingdon. Probate records at Cambridgeshire CRO (Huntingdon branch).
Tilbrook, Beds.Originally in Bedfordshire and in the Arch­ dcaconry of Bedford. Probate records at BRO.

Post 1858 wills

Ecclesiastical probate jurisdiction was abolished in 1858, and a civil probvate registry was established. The new arrangements came into effect on 11 January 1858. England was divided up into probate districts, each with a registry, and copies of all wills were submitted annually to the Principal Probate Registry in London. Bedford did not have its own probate registry, the nearest being that at Northampton to which the pre-1858 wills were transferred. Registered copies of Bedfordshire wills proved at Northampton since 1858 are held at the Northamptonshire Record Office.

There are no official copies of post-1858 wills at the Bedfordshire Record Office, although office copies and drafts often occur among privately deposited papers. There is a full name index of all wills in private collections - from the fourteenth century to recent times - in the Record Office search room.
The County Record Office also holds an incomplete set of the printed Calendars of Probate for the whole country, published annually by the Probate Registry. The series covers the period 1901 to 1935. Microfiche copies of the whole series from 1858 to 1935, with the printed calendars of PCC wills for 1853-1857, have been obtained. These do not necessarily include all Bedfordshire wills, as there was no requirement that wills for a given area should be proved in a particular registry.

Bedfordshire Probate Records

Archdeaconry of Beford

These records were originally kept in the Archdeacon's court at St. Paul's, Bedford. They were transferred to Northampton in 1857-8, and subsequently to Birmingham. They were deposited in the Bedfordshire Record Office in 1950. They were microfilmed (with the card index) by the Genealogical Society of Utah in 1954.

Biggleswade Peculiar

The Rectory of Biggleswade was attached to a prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral by 1132 when, together with the manor, it was granted to the Bishop of Lincoln.

Biggleswade thus became a peculiar with probate jurisdiction. Jeremy Gibson states that there is no Biggleswade material in the records at Lincoln (Gibson,1974, p.7). There are some 95 Biggleswade wills and 48 admons. among those proved in the Archdeacon's Court. The records of the Peculiar court were transferred to Northampton in 1858, and were deposited in the County Record Office in August 1950. Some further material from Lincoln and Hertford was added to the deposit in March 1956 and November 1974 respectively.

Leighton Buzzard Peculiar

The church at Leighton Buzzard was attached to the royal manor of Leighton, and at the time of Domesday in 1086 it was held by Rcmigius, Bishop of Lincoln. During the episcopate of Hugh of Wells, Bishop of Lincoln from 1209 to 1235, Leighton became a prebend of Lincoln Cathedral. From this came its position as a peculiar with probate jurisdiction. The peculiar included the chapelries of Billington, Eggington, Heath & Reach and Stanbridge.

The records of the Leighlon Buzzard Peculiar Court were deposited at the County Record Office with the other probate material in 1950. Some additional records were received from the Bodleian Library in 1959 (Gibson, 1974, p. 8). They had been transferred to Northampton in 1858.


The thanks of the Society and of the County Record Office are due to a large number of people whose contributions have made possible the publication of this index. These can only be expressed adequately by recounting the events along the way.

The probate records were deposited in the Bedfordshire Record Office in August 1950. They were collected from the Birmingham Probate Registry in a County Council van by Alan Cirket and Freddie Stitt (later County Archivist in Staffordshire). The card index of names, places and occupations was compiled between 1950 and 1953 mainly by Alan Cirket, assisted by various helpers including Peter Renouf, Freddie Stitt and Joan Sinar. The actual typing of cards was done by Alan Cirket. On completion, the index was microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah.

Miss Joyce Godber, as County Archivist from 1945 to 1968, was responsible for securing the deposit of the wills in 1950. She oversaw the indexing, and it was under her auspices, and those of Marc Fitch as Chairman of the British Record Society, that the process of preparing the index for publication began in July 1959.

Patricia Bell, County Archivist 1968-1986, re-activated the project in 1970. Work began on typing the index from the cards and from the microfilm, and continued until a draft index for surnames A to H had been completed. Those who helped with the work included Fiona Reynolds (pre-1970), Andrea Bumage (from Feb. 1972), Leona Parkinson (Aug. 1970 to Feb. 1972), Sheila Holgate, Mrs Fisher (1974), and Debbie Radusin (1975). At that stage work was abandoned. Following an approach from the Society in 1984, work again re-started and I inherited the still unfinished task from Patricia Bell in 1986.

It has not been a straightforward job. It is never easy to take forward a job someone else has begun, and breaks in continuity have caused a number of problems. It may well have been easier, given advances in technology, to have made a fresh start but on the whole it was felt that too much had been done for this to be justifiable. Fortunately, willing volunteers were at hand to take on the challenge and see through the work to completion. Without the hard work of our editors - Joan Stuart and Peggy Wells - this index would not have been published.

Initially, they re-checked and corrected the typescript version of the index for surnames A-H. Using print-outs of the cards kindly supplied by Dr F.G. Emmison, they then checked the remainder of the will index, sorting out any problems as they arose. They also checked the index cards for the admons., and for the wills and admons. of the Peculiars. Alan Hunter kindly cross referenced the probate inventories. When the index had been word-processed, Joan and Peggy checked the copy for the entire volume.

Special thanks are due to Moira Coleman, for patiently persevering with what has been a frustratingly awkward job, coping with poor copy, working from separate sets of papers to amalgamate entries, and carefully fine-tuning the final copy.

Those who have been involved on behalf of the Society include Marc Fitch, the Hon. Guy Strutt, Dr Peter Spufford, and lastly Mrs Nesta Evans. Given the complexity of the task, it is inevitable that some errors will remain. For these, the joint compilers must accept responsibility and offer their apologies. Lastly, the British Record Society gratefully acknowledges a grant made towards the cost of publication by the Whitbread Trust. Thanks are also due to Dr F.G. Emmison for a generous personal contribution and for assigning his royalties on sales of copies of the volumes in the Bedfordshire Parish Registers Seriestowards the project. The cost of producing the maps - prepared by the drawing office, Beds. County Planning Department - has been borne by the Bedfordshire County Record Office.

Bedford - June 1993
Christopher J. Pickford, FSA
(County Archivist)