John Bunyan Museum

John Bunyan Museum

Elstow Moot Hall

Elstow Moot Hall


John Bunyan Museum is a museum primarily dedicated to the life, times and works of John Bunyan (and thus aptly named). The museum is located in Bedford, Bedfordshire. John Bunyan (1628 – 1688), a Christian writer and preacher, was born in Harrowden (one mile south-east of Bedford), in the Parish of Elstow, England. He wrote The Pilgrim's Progress, arguably the most famous published Christian allegory. In the Church of England he is remembered with a Lesser Festival on 30 August. In 1672, the congregation led by Bunyan purchased a barn which they used to conduct worship. Eventually, a church, which came to be called the Bunyan Meeting Free Church, was built on the site of the barn. In 1849, a second church was built which is still used for services. A separate museum building was constructed in the compound in 1998 and the Bunyan artefacts and memorabilia formerly housed in a small museum room in the church were moved into it.


By occupation Bunyan was a tinker, an itinerant mender of pots and pans. On display is the anvil he used when plying his trade. The anvil weighs some 60 lbs, and is inscribed "J. Bunyan, Helstowe, 1647". The anvil, or brazier's spike, has a pointed end, so that it could be pushed upright into the soft earth, and then the tinker could hammer out his living on its flat surface. It has been wondered how Bunyan could carry the anvil and his bag of tools as he went round the villages of Bedfordshire mending pots and pans. Bunyan was a big strong man, with broad shoulders, and he was too poor at that time to have afforded to keep a horse. So heavy as it was, he must have carried it on his shoulders; and as he bore the weight of it and felt the relief when he laid it down, it may have led him to write (in The Pilgrim's Progress) of Christian's sins as being a heavy burden that he had to carry on his back, until he lost it at the Cross


While Bunyan was in prison he had a three-legged stool in his cell, and is believed to have taken a leg from it, hollowed it out and made himself a flute. While the gaoler was absent, at the adjoining public house, Bunyan could have played on it. When the gaoler came round to find out where the sound of music was coming from, he would have put the leg back into the stool and sat on it, thus avoiding its discovery and confiscation. Bunyan must have been more than a humble tinker. He was fond of music, apparently making his own instrument, not of wood but of metal. His name is on the back of it, and you can see by its construction that the maker of it was not just a mender of pots and pans, but a skilled craftsman. Those who have played it say that it has a remarkably fine tone, considering that it is made of metal.


Religious prisoners such as Bunyan were allowed certain privileges. His wife and children were allowed to visit him, and bring him in one meal a day; and one of the most treasured relics in the Museum is a small salt-glazed stoneware jug said to have been used by his daughter Mary to bring his soup and ale. There are a number of other artefacts such as his Vestry Chair and John Bunyan's Will. The museum is wheelchair accessible and has disabled toilet facilities. Assistance dogs are welcome. Please note that whilst refurbishment work is being carried out on the roof and stonework, access to the Church Office, Museum and Meeting Rooms is via the entrance on St Cuthbert's roundabout.


Elstow Moot Hall


Moot Hall (or "The Green House") stands in isolation on Elstow village green. This Tudor timber-framed building was built in the 15th century, possibly by the Abbey's carpenter William Arnold, to provide both a courtroom and a market house. When first constructed, the timber frame would have been in-filled with wattle and daub, rather than brick. The original building was jettied on all four sides and had only four bays on the ground floor, the three westernmost each containing two small shops. Each shop had a separate door with a broad window, with a four-centred arch above. These windows may have had a hinged wooden panel that could be let down into the window opening and used as a serving counter. Parts of the partitions between the shops remain; slots in the ceiling and floor beams showing where the other vertical timbers once stood. The fourth bay contained a separate room, with an east–west ladder stairway to the upper storey, which consisted of one large hall. The external door to the fourth bay was probably at the southern end of the east wall.


The Abbesses of Elstow held the title of lord of the manor and acted as local magistrates, hence their need for the courtroom which, in the case of Moot Hall, was located in the main upper room. As well as being used as a manorial court, it would have been used as a Court of Piepowders for the settling of disputes arising during the Abbey's (and, after 1539, Elstow village's) large, four-day, May fairs. This upper room was probably also used through most of its history as a village meeting place, hence its present name ('Moot Hall' being the medieval term for a meeting place). Some early records refer to it as "The Green House". Whether it was also known in early times as "Moot Hall" is not known – the earliest known recorded instance of it being referred to as such is in Reverend John Brown's biography of John Bunyan, in which he refers to it as 'what we may call Moot Hall'. Two years after The Suppression of Religious Houses Act 1539, Elstow green and the Abbey were leased to Edmund Harvey, whose daughter, Isabel, subsequently married Sir Humphrey Radcliffe. In 1553, Edward VI gave the former Abbey's estate with all its manorial rights to Sir Humphrey. Radcliffe died 13 years later. A model of Elstow Place In 1616, Radcliffe's son Edward sold the Elstow estate to Sir Thomas Hillersden, who left £100 in his will so that his wife could convert part of the cloister building into a grand manor house, which was subsequently named Elstow Place. This magnificent building, its porch possibly designed by Inigo Jones, would have been seen every time the young John Bunyan walked into Elstow village and may have been the original inspiration for his 'House Beautiful' in "The Pilgrim's Progress".


Fairs continued to be held at Elstow throughout this period, though on a smaller scale, and Moot Hall continued to be used for court hearings. In 1554, Thomas Bonyon (John Bunyan's great-great-grandfather) was a member of the "homage" (the Manor Court’s presiding jury) when his wife was fined 1 penny for 'breaking the assize of ale'. (Mrs Bonyon also appears on subsequent manor court rolls for committing further offences involving the sale of ale or bread!) Moot Hall continued to be used for court hearings until the establishment of the magistrates' court system in the 19th century, when a courthouse was built in Bedford. By 1773, the Hillersden family consisted of just two sisters who, with their finances dwindling, let Moot Hall, its equipment and fair tolls to Thomas Coleman. During the 1790s, the Hillersden sisters moved out of Elstow Place into the smaller Elstow Lodge, leaving the mansion to fall into ruin, and then gradually they sold, piece by piece, the rest of their Elstow estate to Samuel Whitbread. The 1800 Enclosure Act allotted Elstow Green to Whitbread and, with it, the ancient right to hold fairs and exact tolls and rents on stallholders. Whitbread subsequently purchased further properties in Elstow, until he owned most of the village. The ground floor is wheelchair accessible. Access to the upper floor is by stairs or stair-lift. There are ancient timbers set into the ground floor, making some areas difficult to access for wheelchair users. Assistance dogs are welcome.


Location : John Bunyan Museum, Mill St, Bedford MK40 3EU

Location : Moot Hall, Church End, Elstow, Bedford MK42 9XT

Transport John Bunyan: Bedford (National Rail) then bus or 18 minutes. Bus Routes : 4, 5 and 7 stop nearby.

Transport Moot Hall: Bedford (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 44 and 81 stop nearby.

Opening Times John Bunyan Museum: Tuesday to Saturday 11:00 to 16:00

Opening Times Moot Hall: Saturdays + Bank Holidays 13:00 to 16:00

Tickets John Bunyan Museum: Free

Tickets Moot Hall: Small admission charge - posted on Village Notice Board

Tel John Bunyan Museum: 01234 270303

Tel Moot Hall: 01234 718044