Riseley, Bedfordshire

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Church of All Saints, Riseley, Bedfordshire.jpg
All Saints' Church, Riseley
Grid reference: TL048644
Location: 52°15’5"N, 0°28’37"W
Population: 1,284  (2011)
Post town: Bedford
Postcode: MK44
Dialling code: 01234
Local Government
Council: Bedford
North East Bedfordshire

Riseley is a village in the very north of Bedfordshire, close to such other villages as Bletsoe, Sharnbrook, Pertenhall, Keysoe, Thurleigh and Melchbourne, and the detached Huntingdonshire village of Swineshead.

The nearest towns to Riseley is Rushden in the neighbouring county, Northamptonshire, approximately 8 miles to the northwest, and Bedford, 9 miles to the south. The village has one watercourse, which is a tributary of the Great Ouse,[1] flowing through it known locally as the 'Brook' around which in mediæval times the village was built.

The village name has had alternative spellings in the past such as Rislau, Riseleg, Riselai and Risely.[1]

Parish church

The parish church is All Saints. The oldest part of this church, the south wall of the south aisle dates as far back as the twelfth century.[1] Riseley's church along with the rectory and some land in the village was once owned by the Knights Hospitallers.[2]

A Methodist church was built in the village in 1807 at a cost of £130.[3] Moravian and Baptist chapels were built in the village in 1810 and 1838, respectively.[3] However these are all no longer used though there are two redundant Chapels in Riseley High Street.

The Methodist Chapel opposite The Barns, this chapel was rebuilt in the 1990s and now serves as a very characterful private residence. The other chapel was a Moravian chapel which later became, for many years, the Chapel Art Gallery and is situated in the High Street close to Maple Gardens. The site of a third chapel, is now a grass ameniety area opposite Riseley's only shop on the Keysoe Road/High Street junction only has a few gravestones remaining as an indicator that a Baptist chapel was sited there.


The village's one pub is The Fox and Hounds.

In past ages, Riseley had as many as eight pubs. The White Horse in the High Street closed in the early 1970s. The Royal Oak in the High Street near Maple Gardens closed in the 1960s and is now a very attractive thatched, old cottage style building. The George and Dragon was on what is now Waldocks Close. The Red Lion on the corner of Church Lane and Gold Street is now a family home. The Five Bells on the High Street closed in December 2008 and is now a family home, as is The Boot. There was also a tiny pub, The Swan, halfway along the High street, which closed in the 1960s.


Riseley appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 where the village's name is spelt Riselai. The village is listed under the Stodden Hundred, and records that Riseley contained twenty five households (considered large for a village of the time).[4] The survey also states that before the Norman Conquest the Manor of Riseley was owned by Godric the Sheriff.

Riseley in the Middle Ages

Much of Riseley's Mediæval history involves the Knights Hospitallers who in 1279 gained possession of land and manors in Riseley as well as possessions in surrounding areas. The knights owned both Harvies Manor and the Manor of Lawrence (which was controlled by the Lawrence family). The Knights also had rights of free warren. Some of Riseley's history also involves the Knights Templar they are involved in Riseley because the aforementioned Harvies Manor can be first separately identified back in 1279 when Walter son of Geoffrey de Riseley held 4 hides of land in Riseley of the Knights Templar.[1] Seeing as how both the Knights Hospitaller and Knights Templar are involved in Riseley history back in 1279 it has been suggested that the two organisations have been confused for each other somewhere along the line.

There is evidence of Riseley being affected by the Black Death back in 1351 when 300 acres of arable land became worthless due to them being uncultivated and no one occupying them.[1] During the Middle Ages, 1346 to be exact, Riseley was also home to a murder when William Petersoil, a member of a family which owned a manor in Riseley named the manor of Petersoills (or Petersoyles), was murdered.[1]

Brick making in Riseley

Riseley has a long tradition of brick and tile making, dating back to at least 1558,[3] due in part to its clay rich soil. During the nineteenth century the village was home to a brickworks[5] and brickmaking became one of the village's main industries with 12 brickmakers recorded living in the village in the 1841 census and 15 brickmakers living there according to both the 1851 and 1861 censuses.[3]

The village also had a history of lace making with 80 of the 118 houses in the village being involved in the activity in 1851.[6]

Riseley in the War

During the Second World War, Riseley was used by the USAAF as a base to store and fill bombs which were then forwarded to local American air bases. A large camp was set up at the top of the Carriage Drive to Melchbourne House to house the troops. The camp included a cinema. The American airmen stationed in Riseley Camp occasionally held parties for local children and there are still residents living in Riseley who can recall attending the children's parties on the camp. A 'Forward Filling Station' was set up in the woods at the top of the carriage drive where bombs were filled with gas.

The last remaining containers of gas were removed in the 1970s. However remnants of deadly mustard agent and its breakdown products still remain in part of Coppice Wood near Riseley in an area which is currently fenced off and surrounded by warning signs about toxic chemicals. This mustard gas was mean to have been removed in 1988[3] and then again in 1998 but some of it still remains in the wood.[7] Bombs were also stored on the then closed Sharnbrook Road just past the junction with the Butts.

In October 1943 a B17 Flying Fortress aircraft returning from a bombing raid in Germany, crashed in a cottage garden at the north end of the High Street. The crew had bailed out before the crash as the plane had been seriously damaged by a German fighter aircraft on its return from Germany.[8] During the war, a British fighter plane crashed when it ran out of fuel at the bottom end of the village. The crew bailed out safely and no-one was harmed in the incident.

A dummy airfield is also located just outside the village which was used during the Second World War.

Riseley High Street

Riseley High Street runs more or less North South for a distance of one mile from end to end and was designated as a Turnpike in May 1802. A widened area in the grass verge at the southern end of the High Street where the High Street is joined by Sharnbrook Road marks where the tollbooth stood. This road junction is still known as Tollbar Corner. A Blue Plaque mounted on the end wall facing the High Street of the cottage adjoining 76 High Street commemorates the placing of the plaque 200 years after the toll road designation.

Riseley High Street has been the scene of flooding over the years, when sudden downpours of rain have caused the Brook to 'come out' starting at a point opposite the blacksmiths. The water has been known the rise up to the height of a small car and stretch as far as the Gold Street bridge in the south and Brook House in the north. Recent regular clearing of reeds by Anglian Water has dramatically reduced the frequency of these events.

Riseley High Street contains a large proportion of the houses in the village and is approximately a mile long. There is no obvious centre to the village, with the church, shop, schools and village hall, all spread out over the village and some along the high street. For many areas along the high street the village is a single street with houses on either side. This makes Riseley an example of a linear village.


One of the most popular of local stories is that of Catherine of Aragon stayed in the village, on her way to Castle Ashby. There is a stone placed underneath the main sign of Riseley, opposite "The Five Bells" public house, which rumour says she sat on in order to have a rest when the horses of her carriage stopped to drink.

Ghost stories abound too: the ghost of Tom Knocker is supposed to haunt a pond (conveniently named Tom Knocker's Pond) into which it is said he fell off his horse and drowned.[9] A ghost of a nurse is also said to haunt the village's last remaining public house 'The Fox and Hounds' she is said to have been run over by a coach as she crossed the road and was taken into the pub. The haunting of the pub is said to involve lights turning off and on, the sound of footsteps and the occasional ghostly cough.[9] In the 1950s it was said that one of the farms in the village was haunted; supposedly lamps would light up of their own accord, a dark figure and a door would appear where a solid wall should be and doors which were locked would somehow manage to open in the night. The story also goes that six inch nails were placed into the door to prevent it opening in the night but in the morning the door was somehow opened and the nails were still in place.[9] Other ghost stories in the village involve a ghostly horse which could only be heard and then dived into a hedgerow[9] and in the 1970s it was reported that a family walking near the village church late at night saw it in ruins and could see straight through it to the altar.[9]

Big Society

There are many clubs and associations active in Riseley, including a Historical Association, Bowling Club, Cricket, football and badminton clubs, amateur dramatics club, Women's Institute, as well as a local branch of the WEA.

Springtime in Riseley

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Riseley, Bedfordshire)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Parishes - Risely or Riseley - A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3
  2. House of Knights Hospitallers - The preceptory of Melchbourne - A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 1 (pp. 394)}}
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 http://www.galaxy.bedfordshire.gov.uk/webingres/bedfordshire/vlib/0.digitised_resources/riseley_timeline.htm
  4. "Riseley | Domesday Book". Domesdaymap.co.uk. http://www.domesdaymap.co.uk/place/TL0462/riseley/. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  5. "The Industrial Revolution in St Neots". Bernardoconnor.org.uk. http://www.bernardoconnor.org.uk/Publications/Stneots/Brickstilesgravel.htm. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  6. Thirsk, Joan (1985). The Agrarian history of England and Wales: 1640-1750 Regional farming systems, Volume 1; Volume 5. CUP Archive. p. 268. 
  7. "New chemical alert shock for villagers |". Bedfordshire-news.co.uk. http://www.bedfordshire-news.co.uk/News/New-chemical-alert-shock-for-villagers.htm. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  8. Riseley Brick
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 William H. King. "LPS - Riseley Paranormal Sites". Lutonparanormal.com. http://www.lutonparanormal.com/bedfordshire/popups/riseley.html. Retrieved 6 May 2014.