Discovering the Past: A Walk through Linslade and Leighton Buzzard

by Mike Moran

On Saturday 14 September 2013 a small group of walkers set off from the entrance to Tiddenfoot Waterside Park. Unfortunately the weather was unkind, and rain meant that there were only six walkers in the party. The first stop for the hardy group was the hedge along Mentmore Road, where volunteers from the Friends of Tiddenfoot Waterside Park had put the ancient craft of hedgelaying back into practice last winter to tidy up the overgrown boundary.
The party then paused at the benches overlooking the wharf on the Grand Union Canal where hoppers used to be brought by rail to load sand onto waiting narrowboats. From there it was a short walk to the “Green Bridge” and the newest feature adjacent to Tiddenfoot Waterside Park – the Peace Meadow. This landscaped area with picnic tables commemorates the Treaty of Yttingaford, signed at a spot close to the River Ouzel in 906AD between Edward the Elder, a son of Alfred the Great, and his Danish/Viking enemies. The peace only lasted a year before the Danes, Vikings and Welsh attacked again and it wasn’t until 920 that Edward, aided by his formidable sister Aethelflaed, was accepted as King of England by the King of Scotland, the Welsh Prince, and Viking and Danish nobility.
At the former railway bridge across the canal the walkers examined the rise and fall of the railway line that stretched from Leighton Buzzard to Welwyn via Dunstable, Luton and Harpenden in pre-Beeching days (though a cyclist with an aversion to using brakes nearly cut the story short). A walk along the footpath where the track once ran brought the party to Grovebury Road. Between here and Billington Road there were once six sidings, mainly for loading the all-important sand onto railway trucks but also to supply Leighton Buzzard gasworks with coking coal. At Grovebury Road there used to be a large signal box, storage sheds and more sidings, all controlled by a manager, though nothing remains of it; the complex was described in Kelly’s Directory of 1903 as Leighton Buzzard’s goods station.
Along Grovebury Road was the site of the factory built in 1915 to manufacture steel anti-torpedo nets which could be swung out to protect the hulls of battleships. Unfortunately these were totally useless, as the Germans attached wire-cutters to torpedo warheads and the Turkish Navy used mines which floated under the nets. The walking party then turned to the site of the Union Workhouse – despite its baleful history now used a surgery – before crossing the bridge over Clipstone Brook. In 1645 this was the scene of much slaughter when a troop of Parliamentary Cavalry wiped out a Royalist outpost and set fire to part of Leighton Buzzard High Street.

Cutting the pleach

Friends at work on previous conservation action days

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