The River Ouzel at Great Billington
Billington shown within Bedfordshire
|OS grid reference|
|Civil parish||Great Billington|
|Unitary authority||Central Bedfordshire|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Post town||LEIGHTON BUZZARD|
|Fire||Bedfordshire and Luton|
|Ambulance||East of England|
|EU Parliament||East of England|
|UK Parliament||South West Bedfordshire|
Billington is a civil parish in Bedfordshire about 3 miles (4.8 km) south of Leighton Buzzard. There are two settlements: Little Billington (a hamlet in the west of the parish) and one that is now called Great Billington (straddling the A4146). The village is known for its high density of Travellers, who outnumber the settled community. This community live in privately owned, but permissive, sites in the village, three in Little Billington and one between Billington and the nearby village of Stanbridge.
At the 2001 census, the parish had a population of 632, although by 2009 Central Bedfordshire Council estimated that this had fallen to 330. The name of the parish is recorded in 1196 as Billendon, and may come from Anglo-Saxon language Billan dūn = "hill of a man named Billa". Another theorized original meaning is "hill with a sharp ridge". The spelling Billyngdon appears in a legal record, dated 1440, where Hugh and Thomas Billyngdon of Billyngdon, Beds, gentlemen, are mentioned.
The centre of Great Billington is Billington Hill, on top of which is the small parish church. An Iron Age fort and settlement once occupied this site. The church was originally a small mediaeval chapel; however, in the late 1860s it was enlarged to a church, and a rectory built next to it to house the first incumbent. This was when Billington was first recorded as a parish in its own right. The bell turret of the church (it has no tower) came to the church secondhand, from the church at nearby Linslade, which too was being enlarged at the time. The interior of the church is very simple; a small stained glass window in the west wall commemorates Edward Bradshaw, the first rector.
The village once had a common, where the peasants cultivated their own strips of land; the name 'common' still survives as a field name. It was enclosed at the time of the enclosures, and is today part of a local farm.
The village contains some half-timbered thatched cottages, in the area around the summit of the hill, and also some old farmhouses and cottages. One of the thatched cottages on top of the hill has the dubious honour of having featured on countless chocolate boxes and biscuit tins. One of the most attractive houses in the village is Walkers Farm, a brick and timber house dating from the 16th century. Its once-thatched roof is now tiled.
During the late 1870s and early 1880 large areas of the village were bought by Arthur Macnamara who built at this time the manor house, and transformed the village into a typical Victorian estate village. The village school, halfway up the hill, was built at this time also. It closed as a school in the 1950s.
In the early 20th century a point-to-point course was built on the estate, people came from all over England to attend the race meeting held there. Edward VIII when Prince of Wales was a frequent competitor at the races, on one occasion breaking his collar bone in a fall from a horse. The races discontinued after World War II.
At one time Great Billington had two public houses and a post office; however, today all are closed and converted to houses. In spite of this lack of amenities the village has a thriving community based on the church, and the village hall with its adjacent green and tennis courts.
Use of the name Great Billington
Mapmakers, from Thomas Jefferys in 1765 to the Ordnance Survey in 2006, have consistently written the word "Billington" next to the settlement by the church and the words "Little Billington" next to the hamlet of that name.
In the 1990s, there was a campaign by villagers to use the name "Great Billington", with a claim that it was always used historically. This is not the case in most books on local history and place-names, but there are examples of earlier use in a will dated 1543, Kelly's Directory ("comprising Great and Little Billington"), the Victoria County History ("hamlets of Great and Little Billington"), and the Royal Mail Postcode Directory (either "Great" or "Little" in the official postal addresses). As a result of the campaign, the county council unveiled a new "Great Billington" village sign on 20 June 1997, and some of the road signs at entrances to the settlement now use the name.
2012 slavery case
On 11 July 2012, four members from one family were convicted of keeping workers in a state of servitude and forcing them to perform unpaid work. The family, who lived on one of the three travellers' site in Little Billington, were found to have controlled, exploited, verbally abused and beaten the men for financial gain. The case was the first successful conviction under new slavery laws, following their introduction in 2010. The men, many of them homeless and addicted to alcohol or other drugs, were recruited outside jobcentres or at soup kitchens, and were promised paid work, food and lodgings. On arrival at the site, their heads were shaved, and they were forced to work up to 19 hours a day in the family's paving business. They were routinely abused, underfed, and housed in littered, cramped sheds or horseboxes that were unfit for human habitation, with no heating or running water. One victim was paid just £80 during the 15 years he was with the family. Victims who had managed to escape informed police. In September 2011 armed police raided the site with sniffer dogs and helicopter support, removing 23 men. Although some of the released men subsequently returned to the site, eight testified against the family in court. Two of the accused, a husband and wife, were jailed for 11 years and 4 years respectively.
- Leighton Buzzard Observer of 11 June 2013
- "Census 2001: Parish Headcounts: South Bedfordshire". Neighbourhood Statistics. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
- "Eaton Bray". Central Bedfordshire Ward Profiles 2011. Central Bedfordshire Council. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
- Plea Roll, Court of Common Pleas; CP 40/717; National Archives; http://aalt.law.uh.edu/AALT1/H6/CP40no717/bCP40no717dorses/IMG_1518.htm 4th entry
- Thomas Jefferys, The County of Bedford, reprinted by Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, 1983.
- Ordnance Survey, OS Landranger Map 165, edition D1, 2006.
- Will of Richard Marten of Great Byllington, Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Record Service reference ABP/R11/38.
- 1890 Kelly's Directory - Billington, with the same wording in directories from 1885 to 1940.
- William Page (editor), The Victoria history of the county of Bedford, vol. III, Constable, 1912, p. 400.
- The Thomson Directory: Luton, Dunstable, Leighton Buzzard area, 1992.
- For an example, see The District of South Bedfordshire (Electoral Changes) Order 2001.
- Billington Parish Council, Minutes of a meeting held at the Village Hall on 6th July 2006, item 11. "A resident of Little Billington has brought to the Parish Councils attention that all Parish Council documentation is in the name of Great Billington and it was felt that Little Billington was not included. This was discussed and it was agreed that as from now, all Parish Council correspondence would be headed Billington Parish Council."
- Central Bedfordshire Council, Billington Parish Council - Key Contacts.
- Church of England, St Michael & All Angels, Billington.
- Topping, Alexandra (11 July 2012). "Four Face Jail After First Conviction Under New 'Slavery' Laws". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 July 2012.
- "Couple Jailed for Forcing Destitute Men into Servitude". The Guardian (London). 12 July 2012. Retrieved 12 July 2012.