Timber framed building, Elstow
A timber-framed building, Elstow

Elstow is a small village about two miles south of Bedford, known for its connection with John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim's Progress. Bunyan was born here and was christened in the Abbey Church of St Helena and St Mary in 1628. Bunyan's parents and sister are buried in the graveyard.

The parish church is all that is left of a larger monastic church begun in 1078. There is a striking detached bell tower, one of only two in Bedfordshire, which features in Bunyan's novel Pilgrim's Progress, as the place from which Beelzebub shot arrows.

Beside the church are the remains of Elstow Place and Hillersden Mansion, a 17th-century manor house built by Thomas Hillersden out of the monastic cloister range. Not much is left of the house now, beyond some wonderfully atmospheric walls and arches.

Site of Bunyan's Cottage on High Street
The site of Bunyan's Cottage
on High Street

The parish church overlooks the village green, as does Moot Hall, a picturesque 15th-century building of brick and timber which now houses a museum of 17th-century life with a focus on the life and career of John Bunyan. At one end of the green is the stump of a medieval market cross, where the youthful Bunyan used to play games like 'tip cat'.

The High Street has some very attractive timber-framed buildings, including Bunyan's Mead, opposite the entrance to Church End. This row of 'black and white' cottages was bought by the Bedford Borough Council in 1979 for the symbolic sum of £1 and converted to sheltered housing.

Further along High Street is the Red Lion pub, another attractive period property, and the Old School, which moved here from the Moot Hall in 1873. But the most historically interesting site on High Street is scarcely there; it is the site of Bunyan Cottage, where the poet lived after he left the army and got married. Only a plaque, half covered by encroaching plants when I visited, now marks the spot.

The name "Elstow" derives from "Helen Stow" or St. Helena's stockade. The St. Helena in question was the mother of Emperor Constantine and patron saint of the nunnery founded here in 1075 by Judith, niece of William the Conqueror.

Summing Up

Elstow is a small place, a backwater, almost but not quite swallowed by the expanding city of Bedford. There is a wonderful sense of timelessness here, and you can imagine, just for a moment, the young John Bunyan trudging along on his daily round, playing on the village green, and worshipping in the abbey church. Its a slice of history, blessedly preserved.

The Moot Hall
The Moot Hall
Elstow Abbey church
Elstow Abbey church
The medieval market cross on the green
The market cross
and Moot Hall
Timber framed cottages on High Street
Timber framed cottages
on High Street
Ruined archway, Hillersden Mansion
Ruined archway,
Hillersden Mansion

Elstow Abbey

About Elstow
Address: Elstow, Bedfordshire, England
Attraction Type: Village
Location: Just north of the A6/A421 junction, or off the A5134. There is parking along the village green, near the Moot Hall. If you are feeling energetic you can walk from the centre of Bedford, about 1 mile to the north.
Location map
OS: TL052 465
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

Elstow Moot Hall - 0.6 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

Elstow Abbey - 0.6 miles (Abbey) Heritage Rating

Bedford, St John the Baptist Church - 1.7 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Bedford, St Mary's Church - 1.8 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Bedford, St. Paul Church - 1.9 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

Bedford Castle - 2 miles (Castle) Heritage Rating

Higgins Art Gallery & Museum - 2 miles (Museum) Heritage Rating

St. Peter de Merton - 2.5 miles (Historic Church) Heritage Rating

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