The principal rivers in this county are the Ouse and the Ivel. The circuitous course of the Ouse seems to have been much exaggerated, Fuller says that its course through the county 9which is only 18 miles in width) is no less that 80 miles; and the editors of the Magna Britannia state it to be 90 miles: but a it is described on Jeffries's map, which was made by trigonometrical survey, its course does not appear to be more than forty-five miles.
The Ouse enters this county, on its course from Buckinghamshire, in the parish of Turvey; from whence it passes between Carlton and Harold; between Odell and Chillington, near Felmersham, Sharnbrook, Bletsoe, Milton Ernest, and Oakley; between Bromham and Biddenham to Bedford, where it becomes navigable; thence near Goldington, Willington, Barford, Tempsford, Roxton, Little Barford, and Eaton-Socon: between the last mentioned place and St. Neots, it quits the county and enters Huntingdonshire. The principal bridges over the Ouse are Carlton, Radwell, Stafford bridge near Oakley, Bromham, Barford, and Tempsford. Over the last mentioned bridge passes the great road from London to Glasgow.
The fish of the Ouse are pike, perch, bream, chub, bleak, cray-fish, fine eels, dace roach, and gudgeon. Bleak abound particularly about Bedford Bridge. Eels are found in the great abundance, and of the largest size, at Stoke mill. The Ouse is esteemed a good river for trolling. The average depth of the Ouse is considered to be about 10 feet; at Sharnbrook it is not less than 24 feet, in a few places less than 4: there are, not withstanding, several fords; as at Odell, Pinchmill in the parish of Sharnbrook, Radwell, Oakley, Clapham, Kempston, Tempsford, &c.
The river Ouse is subject at all seasons of the year to sudden inundations, which are not only destructive to the produce of the rich meadows on it banks, but have in some instances been the cause of more extensive calamities, particularly at the town of Bedford in the year 1256, as recorded by Matthew Parish; and in 1570, as related by two pamphlets of the date. The effects of a dreadful storm, which happened in August 19, 1672, are related also in two pamphlets. The Cambridgeshire proverb of "the baliff of Bedford is coming," mentioned by Fuller, alludes to the inundations of the Ouse, a most rapacious distrainer of hay and cattle.
The Ivel rises near Baldock in Hertfordshire, and enters Bedfordshire near Stotfold, not far from Arlesey; it is augmented by a small stream called the Hiz: passing near Henlow to Langford, it is there joined by a rivulet, which conveys to it the waters of two smaller streams, which unite near Shefford. One of these streams passes through Sir George Osborn's grounds at Chicksand. At Biggleswade, the Ivel becomes navigable, and passes thence near Sandy and Blunham to Tempsford, where it falls into the Ouse. The only considerable bridges over the Ivel are at Girtford ( a hamlet of Sandy) and at Biggleswade. The bridge at Girtford was rebuilt with stone from the quarry in Sandy in 1781, that at Biggleswade in1796, both under the inspection of Sir Philip Monnoux. The fish of the Ivel are for the most part the same as those of the Ouse: it is particularly famous for gudgeon. An act of parliament passed in 1757, for making the Ivel and its branches navigable, from the Ouse at Tempsford to Shotling alias Burntmill, in the parish of Hitchin, and Blackhorse mill in the parish of Bygrave, Herts, and to the Northand South bridges in Shefford. Under this act the Ivel was in 1758 made navigable to Biggleswade, but the navigation has not yet been extended any farther.
The river Lea, whose course is principally through Hertfordshire, rises near Houghton-Regis in this county, and runs through the whole extent of Luton parish, feeding a fine piece of water in the marquis of Bute's park.
The river Ouzel rises not far from Whipsnade, and leaving Eaton bray on the right, separates this county from Buckinghamshire in its course to Leighton Busard.
No navigable canal passes through the county; but the Grand Junction Canal touches on its borders in the neighbourhood of Leighton Busard, and comes up to that town. It has been in contemplation to make a canal from Leighton to join the Ouse at Bedford.
Extract from: Lysons' Magna Britannia being a concise topographical account of several counties of Great Britain by the Rev. Daniel Lysons, A.M., F.R.S. F.A.and L.S. Rector of Rodmarton in Gloucestershire and Samuel Lysons, Esq., F.R.S. and F.A.S. Keeper of His Majesty's Records in the Tower of London, 1806
Page last updated: 23rd January 2014