The modern parish of Streatley is part of South Bedfordshire District. It is bordered by the Borough of Luton to the south, the Bedfordshire parishes of Sundon to the west, Harlington to the north west, Barton to the north east and the Hertfordshire parishes of Hexton and Lilley to the east. The population is formed from the village of Streatley and the hamlet of Sharpenhoe together with a small part of the Bushmead area on the edge of Luton.
There is no sign of permanent settlement until the village of Streatley is mentioned in the Domesday Book, recording 13 villeins, 12 bordars and 5 serfs living in the area, these are the heads of households and it may be assumed that the population was approximately 150. Streatley with Sharpenhoe was mostly given to pasture or jointly managed arable fields with areas of woodland.
Streatley means “the clearing by the street”, which indicates that an important road or track (possibly Roman) may have passed the village. Sharpenhoe (scearpan-hoge) means “sharp spur of land” and refers to the Clappers below which the village lies. The villages were badly affected by the recession in the later medieval era, when the Black Death was rife and a shortage of food added to the misery, this led to a drop on the population for some time.
By the 19th century Streatley was a rather loose arrangement consisting of a Church, four main farmsteads and other houses and cottages strung along the road. Streatley house was built in the mid 18th Century and was originally owned by the vicar. The Chequers was rebuilt following a fire in 1908 but there has been a licensed premises on the site since 1822.
Records suggest that Top Farm was present in the early 19th century as was Streatleybury Farm, which housed the lords of the Manor of Streatley. What is now Bury House (late 18th Century), used to be Middle Farm. Streatley Hall, the Old Forge, the Thatched Cottage and Long Thatch were all present at this time and no.s 70 and 72 Sharpenhoe Road were erected in the 1830’s as the Red Lion Public House (this ceased trading during the First World War).
Streatley has never been a large settlement. The buildings on the slope between the Church and Streatleybury farm are the result of infilling over time rather than being the remains of a much shrunken medieval settlement. Until recent times Streatley was really an expanded hamlet consisting of several straggling but loosely linked elements rather than a village with any discernable plan or form.
Sharpenhoe is a small hamlet of some 40 houses lying to the north of an outcrop of the Chilterns known as the Clappers, which now belongs to the National Trust. This spur used to be a rabbit warren for the production of food and pelts, indeed the word Clappers derives from the French for rabbit warren. On the Clappers is evidence of fortified habitation during the Iron Age. Sharpenhoe Manor, now called the Bury, was a moated farm house dating from 1197, traces of the moat still remain. The most notable owner was Thomas Norton (1532-84), he was active in political, legal and literary circles and was employed by Walsingham to torture Catholics – he was known as The Rackmaster General! When he died he bequeathed an annual charge on the estate of £10 to pay for a schoolmaster to educate the children of Sharpenhoe. The school continued until 1900 when it was closed and transferred to Streatley. A Chantry existed in Sharpenhoe from 1234 to 1571 and a number of buildings carry the name Chantry.
Bunyan was a frequent visitor to the area and was arrested nearby and taken to Bedford Gaol. It is thought that the Clappers was his “Delectable Mountain”.
Most of the above information was obtained from STREATLEY WITH SHARPENHOE 7 Bedfordshire Parish Surveys Historic Landscape and Archaeology written by Stephen Coleman of the Conservation section of the Planning Department. Thanks also to Councillor Derek Helps who has researched the history of Sharpenhoe.