The following, written by the late Peter Harwood, is reprinted from the Shefford Market Charter Celebrations programme issued in 1975 to celebrate 750 years of Shefford Market.
Typical of many ancient towns and villages in England, Shefford has developed slowly by a process of evolution rather then revolution. the earliest mention recorded is in the 13th century although it is known, through archaelogical discoveries, that the Romans were here at about the 1st century A.D. and that one of the two sites discovered yielded pottery of a later Anglo-Saxon period, possibly about the 6th century.
At this time, it can be assumed that the immediate area was mainly swampland and, running east to west as it did, afforded few crossing places for travellers or shepherds moving between higher land to the north and south. It was probably around the time of the Danes' invasion of this country in the 9th century that the shepherds found this point the easiest to cross the river with their flocks and the name Sheep Ford was born.
In 1225 a Charter was granted to hold a market at the settlement by the sheep ford thus establishing this tiny hamlet of less than one hundred population as a market town. Eighty seven years later, in 1312, another Royal Charter was granted to Shefford - the right to hold an annual fair. This was held at Michaelmas and although at least two more fairs were established in the town at later dates, only this one, held as a street fair on the 11th October each year, remains today.
Most towns and villages owe their history to some wealthy family close by and although the D'Albini family at Cainhoe (near Beadlow) and the Beauchamps at Chicksands may have had some local influence, both lines died out in the thirteenth century and records of the town became very scant for the next hundred years or so.
The oldest structure remaining today can be found in part of the church tower. this is the remains of a chapel built in the 14th century as a chapel of ease to be the parish church of Campton. From this time and for another four hundred years or so Shefford remained in the manor of Campton and the town was divided between the neighbouring parishes of Campton, Meppershall, Southill and Clifton. This state of affairs remained until the late 19th century and even today some parts of Shefford are outside the parish boundary. Until the mid-19th century the town was known as Shefford-cum-Campton.
Against this background it could be expected that Shefford would suffer from an administrative point and this could well have occurred had it not been for one Robert Lucas who died during the reign of Elizabeth I and left a large amount of freehold property in feoffement trust to be administered for the benefit of the township. This trust, known locally as the 'Feoffees', is still active today.
Of all who have lived in Shefford, only Robert Bloomfield the poet has attained national fame. Bloomfield was born near Bury St Edmunds in 1766 and came to live in Shefford in 1799. a plaque marks the house in Northbridge Street in which he lived until his death in 1823. His grave is in Campton churchyard and his name perpetuated by the Robert Bloomfield School. His most famous work was 'The Farmer's Boy', of which he sold over 26,000 copies.
The 19th century saw an upsurge of development. with steam being used more and more as a means of power, the need for coal to be brought to the area cheaply became more urgent. The first plans for a canal from Shefford to Biggleswade were drawn up in 1806, but nothing materialised and a second plan was made in 1820. the canal was built in 1822 and gave the town the status of an inland port with a navigable waterway to Kings Lynn on the Wash. the main wharf was situated just below North Bridge with a smaller wharf near South Bridge to serve the tannery situated on the north bank of the river. The town and canal prospered for some 50 years but with the advent of the railway the Ivel Navigation Trust began to incur heavy losses and in 1876 the Trust was wound up and the waterway closed.
Work on the railway started in the mid-1850's and the line was opened in 1859. for a time it was the main Midland Railway Company's line from Leicester to London, linking with the Great Northern line at Hitchin. Although this line ceased to be a main line some years later, it continued to play an important part in the life of the town until its closure in 1963.
The land enclosures at the end of the 18th century had defined a clear parish boundary and although remaining in the parish of Campton, this was clearly shown on the Shefford awards map of 1777. the final act in creating a township and parish in its own right came about in 1894 with the enforcement of the Local Government Act and the election of a Parish Council and a County Councillor for Shefford.
The population in 1906 was 874, slightly fewer than in 1900, and this trend was to continue for the next twenty five years. with people moving away from the rural areas, a noticeable decline in trade occurred and in 1910 the market closed for the second time in nearly seven hundred years. At the same time the last of the many inns disappeared from the High Street. By 1931 the population had fallen to 715 although the residential parts of the town had spread into the neighbouring parishes. Two years earlier a special commission had recommended the extension of the boundaries to take in these overlapping areas and on 1st April 1933 the recommendations were approved and came into force. This raised the total acreage from 144 to 758 and the population to 1,723.
Since that time the town has made steady progress and has so far managed to combine its past history with modern demands. One good example of this was the re-introduction in the 1960's of the market, thus reviving one of the oldest links with the past, which still takes place in the town centre to this day every Friday. The Farmer's market also takes place in the town this first weekend of each month.
If you have an interest in local history check out The Bedfordshire Family History Society
or if you would like more information about Robert Bloomfield visit The Robert Bloomfield Society.