Biggleswade is located about 40 miles (60 km) north of Central London and 20 miles (30 km) to the west-south-west of Cambridge. Situated with a station on the East Coast Main Line, Biggleswade is around half-an-hour from the capital city by train. In 2011 the population of the town was about 16,550. The Biggleswade civil parish also includes the nearby hamlet of Holme, Bedfordshire.
The town lies just off the A1, Britain's "Great North Road" between London and Edinburgh - and the B1040, which leads to Potton in the north, runs through the town. Biggleswade is also situated on the A6001, which leads to Langford and Henlow to the south.
At the north end of Biggleswade past Shortmead House lies a solar power farm, whilst a wind farm of ten turbines sits beyond the south end of the town, towards Langford.
The area around Biggleswade is thought to have been inhabited from around 10,000 BC, with arrowheads dating from this period believed to have been found in the region. In Roman times, a loop road known as the White Way passed through Biggleswade (possibly along the course of the present-day Drove Road), linking up with the Ermine Way at Godmanchester.
Biggleswade is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The entry reads Bichelesuuade/Pichelsuuade: Ralph de l'Isle. 2 mills Variations on spelling include Bykeleswad, in 1396.
See also Hundred of Biggleswade
In the 5th century AD, Saxon invaders settled here – the name Biggleswade is thought to be derived from Biceil, an Anglo-Saxon personal name and Waed, the Saxon word for ford. The spelling "Bykleswade" and its variations occur in Law records of the 15th century, e.g. in 1430.
In 2001 a gold coin bearing the name Coenwulf was discovered at Biggleswade on a footpath beside the River Ivel. The 4.33 g (0.15 oz) mancus, worth about 30 silver pennies, is only the eighth known Anglo-Saxon gold coin dating to the mid to late Anglo-Saxon period. The coin's inscription, "DE VICO LVNDONIAE", indicates that it was minted in London. Initially sold to American collector Allan Davisson for £230,000 at an auction held by Spink auction house in October of that year, the British Government subsequently put in place an export ban in the hope of saving it for the British public. In February 2006 the coin was bought by the British Museum for £357,832 with the help of funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the British Museum Friends making it the most expensive British coin purchased until that date.
In 1132, Henry I granted the manor of Biggleswade to Bishop Alexander – Alexander the Magnificent – of Lincoln to help endow Lincoln Cathedral. The town was granted a charter to hold a market during the reign of King John (1196–1216) – a market is still held in the market place in the centre of the town every Tuesday and Saturday. The medieval Church of St Andrew is the town's parish church and contains the monumental brass of John Rudying with a Figure of Death. Biggleswade Castle existed in earlier times, as did a manor at Stratton Park Moated Enclosure.
On 16 June 1785 there was a large fire in the town. The fire started at the Crown Inn and spread rapidly through the neighbouring streets. By the time the fire had been brought under control, nearly one-third of the town had been destroyed, including 103 houses leaving 332 people homeless. A national appeal was launched to raise funds for the many people who had lost their homes and their livelihoods. In the local parish church there is a stained glass window depicting the fire.
The Great Northern Railway opened in 1850, and Biggleswade was for a time the first and only town in Bedfordshire to have a mainline station. Later it was one of three towns in the county to have one (on the East Coast Main Line), along with Bedford and Dunstable.
The town was bypassed by road in 1960.
Buses in the town were provided by Eastern National until 1952 when the western division of Eastern National was handed over to United Counties. The company had a garage in Shortmead Street opposite Ivel Gardens until 1989 when it was sold for redevelopment into flats. United Counties was acquired by Stagecoach in November 1987 and moved to the current site in Hitchin Street in 1989, which was acquired from Charles Cook. Other bus operators based in Biggleswade included Charles Cook European Travel who operated in the area between 1947 and 1998 and Fairway Coaches although both of these operators have ceased to operate.
Traditionally, Biggleswade has been a vegetable- and produce-growing area with trains often taking daily loads of vegetables to London's produce markets. Even though much of this has now stopped, Bedfordshire Growers, based on the outskirts of the town, still supplies major supermarkets with UK-grown potatoes and onions.
Biggleswade is also the base of the Jordan's cereals business who produce their own brand of breakfast Muesli, Country Crisp and Crunchy Oats and Frusli cereal bars which are sold across Europe as well as in Canada. There used to be a Felix cat food factory located on Potton Road. However, this moved away in 1970. There also used to be a glass bottle factory on Brunts Lane which was destroyed by fire in 2000.
The town was also home to the Ivel Cycle Works, founded by Dan Albone. This factory ultimately produced bicycles, motorbikes and light tractors. It went into receivership in 1920.
Other goods which have been made in Biggleswade include Berkeley Caravans and Sportscars, who had a factory in the town, which was later used by Kayser Bondor who made ladies' underwear and stockings in the town until the mid-1990s. The factory was demolished and is now a housing estate, with roads named Berkeley Close and Kayser Court after the businesses that used the factory.
In 1966, a full-sized replica of FAB 1, based on a Chinese six-wheel (four front, two back) Bedford Duple Vega coach chassis, built to transport writers-producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson to the premiere of Thunderbirds Are Go in London was constructed by the company Toby Baxter Contracts in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire under Sylvia's supervision.
Other large factories included Maythorns who were coach builders. Their large site in the town centre was acquired by Deleney Galley and was latterly Gloster Saro, who made heat insulation materials for aircraft (including Concorde). Gloster Saro was renamed Insumat and relocated to London Road trading estate. It has now left the area. The original factory, which was owned by Mid Beds Council was demolished in 1987. The site of this factory was converted into shops and a car park.
A much larger employer in the town was Cincinnati Milacron who had a large site between Dells Lane and the Railway, the demolition of this factory took place in the mid-1980s and it now forms the 'Poets' estate (Tennyson Ave etc.).
The town had a large brewery, Wells and Winch, in the town centre for many decades; its last owners were Greene King but it closed down in October 1997 and the site is now occupied by an Asda supermarket.
Biggleswade Swimming Club celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2006. It now uses the new indoor Saxon Pool and Leisure Centre, which underwent expansion in 2015 to add a new sports hall to the back of the complex. There is also a small skatepark located behind the complex, next to the local park.
The town has two football clubs – Biggleswade Town, of the Southern League Premier Division, and Biggleswade United, of the Spartan South Midlands Premier Division. Biggleswade United has recently been given a boost in awareness by Sky Sports pundit Guillem Balague's appointment as Director of Football.
Biggleswade Rugby Club plays in the Midlands 3 East (South) league, and has 3 senior sides alongside active Mini and Youth sides from under 7 to 17 years.
Biggleswade Karate Club is located on Market Square in their own dojo, and is affiliated to the national body (BKK) and international organisation (IFK). They practice the kyokushin style of karate, and provide fitness classes.
Biggleswade Cricket Club provides teams for all ages including youth teams. The club's adult teams compete in league cricket on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the season.
The Swiss Garden in Old Warden Park was created in the early 19th century, and charges a fee for entry. Over time, the gardens have seen additions by the Shuttleworth family, including major renovations in 2013/14. It is promoted by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Biggleswade Ivel Badminton (@clubivel) club plays every Tuesday night at Stratton Upper School starting at 8pm. The club is always looking for new players to compete in local leagues.
The town is mentioned twice in the diaries of Samuel Pepys. On 22 July 1661, Pepys stopped off in Biggleswade (called 'Bigglesworth' by Pepys) to buy a pair of warm woollen stockings. John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington often refers to the town and the Sun Inn. There are six churches in Biggleswade, which are represented by the umbrella organisation Churches Together in Biggleswade.
Nearby is the Shuttleworth Collection of vintage aeroplanes, sometimes referred to as Biggleswade Airfield. The organisation also operates the Swiss Garden and a large play area on the premises.
Biggleswade is mentioned on the TV Series Monty Python's Flying Circus during the famous Piranha Brothers Sketch
Biggleswade, as part of Central Bedfordshire, has a three-tier schooling system with lower schools catering for ages between 5 and 9, middle schools from 9 to 13 and Stratton Upper School continuing education up and into Sixth Form. Two of the local schools, Stratton Upper School and Biggleswade Academy, attained Academy status in 2011.Stratton Upper School and Community College (formerly Stratton Grammar Technical School)
Biggleswade Academy (merger of Holmemead Middle, Southlands Lower, and Brigham Pre-School)
Edward Peake Middle School
St Andrew's Lower School (including new satellite school on King's Reach development)
Lawnside Lower School
Ivel Valley School, a special school for children with moderate or severe learning difficulties, which also operates within other local schools.
Erlensee, Germany since 2000.
Dan Albone, inventor, manufacturer and cyclist, credited with making the first practical farm tractor, 'The Ivel Agricultural Motor'.
Chris Roycroft-Davis, journalist
Philip E. High, science fiction writer
Charles Penrose, radio comedian and singer of The Laughing Policeman.
Henry Ryland, Pre-Raphaelite painter born in Biggleswade in 1856.
Stevie V, dance act famous for the song Dirty Cash (Money Talks), that reached No. 2 in the UK Top 40 in 1990.
Richard Walker, angling journalist, author and photographer.
Pam Rhodes, novelist and BBC Songs of Praise presenter