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Chicksands History


  Chicksands, on the edge of Shefford, now a Joint Services base for the United Kingdom,
  has a long history of military involvement stretching back to the Civil War in the 17th Century.
  Its history, however, stretches further back with a mention in the Domesday Survey of
  1086 of a manor at Chicksands. Payne de Beauchamp, Baron of Bedford inherited the
  property in the first half of the 12th Century.


  In 1147 the manor was given to the Gilbertine Order - the Gilbertines being the only true
  religious order - for the building of a religious house. the founder himself, Gilbert, died
  in 1189. The Priory originally consisted of a pair of adjacent cloisters - one for men and
  one for women - with a dividing wall.

  Thomas a Becket, as Archbishop of Canterbury, took refuge in Chicksands in 1164 in
  the disguise of a canon. He later went into exile in France, after which a Pope's
  intervention led to his return to England and his subsequent murder in Canterbury
  Cathedral prior to his canonisation in 1173. A chapel of rest for pilgrims on their way to
  Canterbury was built near Meppershall 2 miles from Shefford). The remains are still visible.

  There is a legend of a tunnel between the Priory and what is now Barclays Bank in
  North Bridge Street Shefford (possibly a hostel for the Priory). No evidence has been
  found. It may have been a drainage tunnel.
  Following the economic depression of the Black Death in the 14th Century the Priory
  was expanded in the 15th Century and massive oak beams from that time still remain.

  In 1531 Henry VIII proclaimed himself head of the church in England and set about
  dissociating all churches from Rome. He then dissolved all religious houses and their lands
  in favour of the Crown. Following a visit of the King's lawyers and a report that two nuns were
  pregnant, the Prior of Chicksands signed a deed of surrender in 1538, thus bringing the
  religious era to an end. There is a story, dating to the lawyer's report of a walled-up
  disgraced nun whose ghost still haunts the Priory to this day.

  Following ownership by the Crown, the Priory and lands were sold to Richard Snowe
  whose son, Daniel, bequeathed it to Mary Osborne. In 1598 title to the Chicksands estate
  passed to the Osbornes who held it in the family until 1936. Sir Peter Osborne was born in
  1585, married Lady Dorothy Danvers in 1609 and was later appointed Royal Governor of
  Guernsey. Of their eight children one of the five survivors was a daughter called Dorothy after
  her mother.

  In 1643 with the Civil War raging, Sir Peter left Chicksands for Guernsey to support his
  king, financing the operation personally. Intrigue from a so-called- family friend , sir
  George Carteret, diverted the Crown's contribution to Jersey. The Roundheads meanwhile
  occupied Bedfordshire and Lady Dorothy was obliged to sell her jewelry to support her
   husband - again with the majority finding its way to Jersey! Sir Peter abandoned Guernsey in
   1645 and joined his wife who had previously moved to France.

  It was during a Channel crossing that William Temple of a prominent Roundhead family
  met Dorothy Osborne (Sir Peter's daughter) and fell in love. Both families disapproved
  of the relationship and the couple did not meet again for two years. After the beheading
  of the King and the virtual surrender of Sir Peter he returned to Chicksands where,
  after the death of his wife, he was nursed by Dorothy until he died in 1653. During this time
  Dorothy had established a clandestine correspondence with William Temple  which was to
  run to 77 letters and which give a rare insight into life at that time.

  After her father's death Chicksands became the home of her elder brother John. The
  Temple family finally relented and the pair were married on Christmas Day 1654. Of
  nine children of the marriage, seven died at birth or infancy and one at 14, leaving only
  one to survive to maturity, only to commit suicide at the age of 21 leaving however two
  daughters. Lady Dorothy died in 1695 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

  Upon the death of his father, Dorothy's brother John inherited the estate in1654. From
  thenceforward the Osbornes continued to hold Chicksands until 1935 when Sir
  Algernon placed it on the market and the family no longer feature in the Priory's history.

  In 1753 with help from his brother-in-law the Earl of Halifax, Sir Danvers Osborne
  became Governor of New York. Following a hostile reception, Sir Danvers, in a fit of
  depression hanged himself. a monument to the Earl of Halifax is situated on the main
  path through Chicksands Wood.

  The 4th Baronet, Sir George Osborne served in the American War of Independence,
  following which he served as a member of Parliament. He carried out many
  improvements to the Priory. He died in 1818 and is interred in the family vault at
  Campton church.

  The 6th Baronet, Sir George Robert, built the three Chicksands lodges and his initials
  "GRO" with family crest can still be seen on their walls. In 1889 his son Henry was lost
  at sea in the collision of the steamer "Comtesse de Flandres" with the steamer "Princess
  Henriette". a monument commemorating the accident can be seen towards the South East
  of Chicksands Wood.

  Sir George Robert's grandson Algernon, saved in the shipwreck became heir and
  subsequently 7th Baronet in 1892. He married Beatrice Greenfield of Haynes Park, who,
   as Lady Beatrice was hostess to wounded soldiers at the Priory during the 1914-1918 war.
  In 1936 the estate was bought by the Crown with the Air Ministry as executive
  custodians. After a brief leasing to private tenants the Air Ministry began developing
  Chicksands as a secret service station and played a large part in the reception of
  signals for transfer to Bletchley Park in the breaking of the German Enigma code.
  In 1950 the US Air Force required a permanent Security Service base in Britain and the
  6940th Radio Squadron was formed at RAF Chicksands. The base continued to be
 operated by the US Air Force until 30th September 1995 when the combination of
  modern technology and the lessening of East-West tension made the function redundant

 The circular AN/FLR-9 antenna, known affectionately locally as the "Elephant Cage",
 and providing a landmark of doubtful aesthetic appeal was dismantled during 1996.
 Chicksands has now been acquired by the Ministry of Defence as a Joint Services Base
 with personnel moving in from late 1996.