Parish church of St Michael and All Angels, 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 and not far from the Buckinghamshire border. 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).
At the 2001 census, the parish had a population of 632, although by the 2011 Census the population had fallen to 290. 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. It is traversed by two public footpaths.
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 more 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 court. Community activities have included sponsored walks, apple days, barn dances, Harvest suppers, barbeques, murder mystery nights, all usually to raise money for the church, for the Village Hall, or for the Christmas tree lighting events.
In the early years, the fields around the village green were all orchards growing a particular variety of plum, which became known as the Billington Plum, used as a dye in the hat industry, as well as jam making. It now has two new orchards with apple, pear and plum trees, all planted by members of the village P3 group.
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.
- 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.