Coming from Bedford, we pass on the left Fenlake Barns, a fine old half-timbered barn, and recall that Fenlake Barns was a manor belonging to Newnham Priory. The river runs close beside the road, and indeed it is a pleasant riverside walk from Bedford to Cardington. We shall no longer find the old mill, which was burnt down some years ago; but at the crossroads we find a cross of 1796, restored 1837; and pause to note also the stump of the old cross not far distant.
At the brook we pass over a bridge designed by John Smeaton, and find a spacious green lined with elms and pleasant old houses. Many have the initials S.W. Young Samuel Whitbread went from Cardington in 1734 to London to be apprenticed to brewing; later he set up on his own account, working hard, and reading his Bible as he watched the brewhouse copper at night. Soon he was able to buy most of Cardington, which he set himself to improve, as did his kinsman, John Howard, born in London, lived in a gracious 18th century house (still standing) near the green. These two were mainly responsible for the Cardington we see today. The diarist John Byng wrote "They strive which shall most benefit and adorn it." Later the Whitbreads moved to Southill.
Howard was an Independent or Congregationalist and worshipped in Bedford where he built a house in Mill Street (still standing) to stay over Sunday. Much of his time was spent in travel. In early life he was taken prisoner of war by the French. When in 1773 he became sheriff of Bedfordshire, and so responsible for the county gaol, he was horrified at conditions there, and most of all at the fact that the gaoler depended for his living on fees exacted from released prisoners. "I rode into several neighbouring counties, but I soon learned that the same injustice was practised in them." Howard then went further afield, and in 1777 produced his great work State of the Prisons, which brought the whole matter before the public conscience. He travelled ever more widely, exposing the cruelties of European prisons, and finally died of gaol fever (typhoid) at Kherson in Russia in 1790. The tomb put up to him by the Russians was inscribed, "Whosoever thou art, thou standest at the grave of thy friend."
Silhouetted against the skyline are great sheds. These were built for airships when the Government in 1924 took over works set up in 1917 by Short Brothers. Here was made the R101, which in 1930 set off, as was hoped, for India, and crashed near Beauvais with a loss of 46 lives.
On the road to Warden stood till recently the old manor house where once lived the Gascoigne family, to which belonged the Elizabethan poet and dramatist, George Gascoigne.
The church was rebuilt about 1900, and incorporates reminders of the old building, including piscinas, mediaeval coffin lids, a Tudor communion table which has at some time been shortened (mutilating the inscription), and a mahogany pulpit canopy, not in use. There are also brasses. One is to Sir William Gascoigne (1540) and his two wives, all in heraldic dress. That to Sir Jarrate Harvye (1638) and his wife (a Gascoigne heiress) is a later appropriation of an earlier tomb. In the Whitbread chapel is a marble memorial to Samuel Whitbread (1796), recumbent on a Greek couch with a mourner beside him, and others to other Whitbreads; also a 1783 Wedgwood font of black basalt. On the south wall is the torn RAF ensign of the ill-fated R101; those who met their death in her are buried together in the churchyard extension across the road.