Elstow is a small village just a few miles south of Bedford, with strong connections to John Bunyan. This nonconformist preacher and author of The Pilgrim's Progress was born in Elstow in 1628. The humble cottage where he was born has long since disappeared, and the site is now identified by a simple stone plaque on a wall in the High Street.
Timber Framed Cottages on the High Street © TAB
A number of old buildings in the village, including a row of fine timber frame and stone cottages along the main street, signify its affiliations with the 13th, 14th and 16th century. Several of these cottages once contained one-room shops and in Medieval times the village held a chartered market, (granted by Henry I in the 11th-c), indicated by the stump of a Medieval Market Cross on the green near the Abbey Church. The only retail outlet in the village today however is a small post office.
St Helena and St Mary © TAB
The Abbey Church of St Helena and St Mary contains the font where Bunyan was baptised. Its unusual detached tower contains a 16th-c monument with effigies and a brasses. To the south-west of the church stands the ruins of Hillersden Mansion. Built with materials from the old Abbey in 1625, it was partly demolished in the late 18th-c. Several features, including a carved stone, two storey porch and several mullion windows are still visible.
Elstow Moot Hall © TAB
The splendid 16th-c red bricked and half-timbered market house, called a Moot Hall (or court house), still stands on the village green. The hall currently houses a small museum dedicated to the life and times of Bunyan. The hall's upper floor was once used a meeting-place for Bunyan's followers and as a school. The lower floor was originally used for market traders. The hall has connections with the famous May Fair at Elstow, organised by nuns from the local Abbey. It is believed that Bunyan had these celebrations in mind when he described the worldly 'Vanity Fair' in The Pilgrim's Progress. Traditional May Day celebrations are still held in the village to this day.