In Search of Bentleys
As if we didn't get enough driving yesterday, we again had a road trip today, to the Bedford area, which took a couple of hours. To break up the drive I stopped to let the boys take a few turns around a go-kart course, all kitted out with blue jumpsuits and helmets. This was a big jump from racing cars on the computer, and I was pleased that Nick resisted his natural impulse to crash into things.
In Bedford, we passed through another street market in the town center in order to hit the tourist infomation office, to get directions to the County Records Hall. We lunched at Mill Yard Cafe, sequestered back in a little lane, whose owner reminded me quite a bit of my grandfather in his younger days. Realizing that the John Bunyan Museum was just a couple of blocks away, I diverted us there and I'm glad I did: Bunyan, author of "Pilgrim's Progress," was the son of Margaret Bentley, herself the daughter of William and Mary Bentley, the earliest Bentleys I have been able to trace with any surety. In the museum were a number of amazing artifacts, including the key to his house, his anvil (he was a tinker by trade), the chair he used when preaching, and the flute he carved from a broom handle when incarcerated for preaching illegally. The docents were impressed that I was related, and pulled out a biography of Bunyan that listed William's mother as being named Mary -- information I had not had to date.
We walked along the swan-filled river to the Records Hall; the boys remained outside while I nipped in to try and dig up some parish records for Elstow and Ampthill, where the Bentleys lived and died. William and Mary were so early that there was no record of their births (primarily I was trying to establish William's parents), but there was plenty of corroboration for their children's births, marriages, and so on. The young guy helping me also looked at tax records and finally at wills -- whereupon miraculously he brought me a manila folder with Mary's will (dated 1632) - written in brown ink on very fragile paper. I got a photocopy of this.
From Bedford we drove over the river to the village of Elstow, birthplace of William Bentley (1573) and John Bunyan. This small suburb still has a nimber of half-timber buildings, an ancient moot-hall, and the church where Bunyan was baptised. We wandered the churchyard looking for Bentleys and Bunyans, to no avail. It also has a creek running through it that supposedly was the inspiration for his "Slough of Despond," and it looks the part, much overgrown with weeds and overhung by trees. The boys were getting hot, tired, and hungry (translation: irritable) and so we stopped at the Swan pub, where we were treated kindly by the barmaid; we had a lovely curry in the well-flowered back garden.
Before heading home (it was now about 5 PM) we continued onward a couple of miles to Ampthill, where the Bentleys settled and whence some eventually departed for America. It contains the church (St. Andrew's) where they were buried, but again, so early that no gravestones exist -- but we prowled about it anyway. The town was pretty much shut down except for a pub or two, and was not as picturesque as Elstow, and as we were pretty tired we headed home.
It was Nick's turn in the front seat as navigator, and unfortunately he steered us several miles out of our way, through Luton, which wouldn't have been too bad except there were extensive roadworks (bane of my existence) in the middle of town, and we had to do quite a bit of circuitous (and often signless) driving to get back on the right road. At one point we went right through the Muslim section of town, past a mosque that had been featured on the news the night before with regard to the London bombings.