From Kemestun to Kempston

A Brief History

By Lu Hurry

Kemestun, meaning bent or curved, was part of the Northern border of Alfred the Great. The territory was taken and then retaken in the tenth and eleventh centuries during various collisions with the Danes along the River Ouse. The origin of the name Kemestun represented, when coined, “the enclosed settlement on the bend” associated to the sharp bends of the River Great Ouse.

Kemestun soon became Camestone, and took its first appearance of this name in the Domesday Book. The Domesday Book was endorsed in December 1085 by William the Conqueror. The first draft was completed in August 1086 and contained records for 13,418 settlements in the English counties south of the rivers Ribble and Tees. After the Norman Conquest, King William gave Camestone to his niece, the Countess Judith de Balliol who built the first church here. In 1086 in the Elstow village, Judith founded the Benedictine Convent for Nuns. Her procurement of both these places is recorded in the Domesday Book. It was also recorded that Camestone had a 6th century Anglo Saxon burial site, now home to what we know as the Saxon Centre.

Historically there was no central village in Camestone, but instead, the settlement was divided between a number of hamlets called “Ends”; Up End, Wood End and Box End. Later on Kempston was split between the three sisters of John le Scot, Earl of Chester and Huntingdon. Margaret took Kempston Daubeney, Isobel took Brucebury and Ada took Kempston Hastingsbury.

The old industries of Kempston and the surrounding places were mainly connected with agriculture, with the craft of lace making which is said to have been unveiled by Queen Catherine, Henry VIII wife, during her stay at Ampthill. Famous residents with Kempston affiliations are remembered in street and school names today. Henry III visited Kempston in 1224 whilst at the siege of Bedford Castle and is reputed to have stayed at the Daubeney Manor House. Balliol Road was named after John de Balliol who founded the college of the same name in Oxford and married Devorguilla, a descendant of Countess Judith. Cater Street was named after William Cater who bought the Kempston Greys Estate in 1624; and Dennis Road was named after William Dennis, a London merchant who bought the Daubeney and St. Johns manors in 1603 for £7,356.00.

Recent history is recorded with some of the street names in Hillgrounds being named after those who had given their lives during the World Wars. Memorabilia and Anglo Saxon finds are on display in the British Museum in Bedford. The importance of these finds show that Kempston has its own famous history to tell and was a thriving place to live prior to the birth of Bedford.


Kempston Town Council

Towns in Britain