Family secrets unearthed in crypt at Houghton Regis church

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A survey of a family crypt at All Saints Church, Houghton Regis, has thrown up a mystery.

The Houghton Regis Heritage Society organised a geophysical survey of the chancel at the church which revealed evidence of burials of members of the Brandreth family in a crypt beneath the tombstones.

But one of the tombs, of Nehemiah Brandreth who died in 1719, appears to be empty.

From the mid-17th Century to the 20th Century, the Brandreth family played an important role in Houghton Regis. In the church there are 25 tombstones dating back to the 17th century and earlier, laid into the floor in the chancel, under the choir stalls and in front of the altar.

It was not known if there was a crypt below the church so the Houghton Regis Heritage Society, researching the history of the Brandreth family, and Michael Hunt, from the church Parochial Parish Council (PPC), set out to find if there is a vault and to document the tombstones to provide a public record.

The Heritage Society sought permission from the PPC to carry out a ground penetrating radar geophysical survey of the chancel.

The survey was carried out this month by Normal Bell of Allied Associates Ltd (Geophysical Instrumentation Specialists), based in Blackburn Road, Houghton Regis.

The results support the presence of the crypt, with evidence of burials under 24 of the stones.

However under Nehemiah’s tombstone there was no evidence of ground disturbance suggesting no burial had taken place.

The reason for this is so far unknown.

David Hill, chairman of the society, said that the society and the church are delighted with the survey but, as always, it raises more questions for the society historian to ponder over. The results will be collated and made available in a book to be published by the heritage society.

The Houghton Regis Heritage Society was formed in October 2012. It started with just nine individuals who were passionate about Houghton Regis history and wanted to preserve and record it for the benefit of the local community and its future generations.

> Henry Brandreth a rich London merchant purchased land including the Manor of Houghton, and the church of Houghton Regis in 1653/54.

In 1683 his son Nehemiah Brandreth, married Rebecca Price (an avid recipe collector) in Covent Garden, and then lived at the Manor House in Houghton (site unknown, but believed to be around present day Park Avenue).

Houghton Hall was built in 1700 for Alice and William Milard and passed to Alice’s nephew, Nehemiah Brandreth.

Houghton remained in the hands of the Brandreth family until 1750, when it was sold to the Duke of Bedford.