Bedfordshire Probate Inventories before 1660

Probate inventories were the list of a person’s goods that had to be presented to the church court as part of the process of obtaining probate or letters of administration after death. It was long thought that only a handful of Bedfordshire probate inventories had survived and most had been published in volumes 20 and 32 of BHRS’s publications. However, a deposit was recently discovered by the editor in Lincolnshire Archives and they are presented here as a continuation of the earlier compilations.

This collection of 432 inventories covering just over one hundred years presents a vivid picture of daily life through the deceaseds’ possessions. Bedfordshire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was a rural county and the inventories focus predominantly on agricultural households, recording the crops, animals, farm equipment and often the amount of land under cultivation by farmers. It was also a county providing barley and malt to London and the surrounding area which is reflected in the extensive enterprises of several maltsters. Other highlights are the luxuriously furnished inn at Dunstable, a glimpse of pauper households and the Woburn and London homes of a local official of the Commonwealth government. The majority of inventories are, of course, for more ‘ordinary’ people.

Summaries of other evidence accompany many inventories, including from the medical notebooks of Forman and Napier, enabling the interpretation of their life styles to be broadened. Unexpectedly for such a small collection covering such a long period, there are inventories for several members of the same families.

An introduction discusses the administration of probate inventories and the principal features emerging from them. Analyses shows how much can be gleaned about the people and key features (houses, furniture and furnishings, crops, animals, debt) to build up a picture of Bedfordshire as a prosperous county whose inhabitants, generally, had comfortable homes.

There is a consolidated list of the inventories published by BHRS in this volume and volumes 20 and 32. A map and parish list show that inventories have survived for more than half the parishes.

The cover of the book visualises a sixteenth century village scene. Thanks are due to Alan Higgs whose modern interpretation of Agas’s contemporary survey of Toddington (held by the British Library) is faithful to the original and also recognisable as the village of today.

This page was added on 29/02/2024.

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