BOOK REVIEW by Bob Ricketts CBE

Pride of Peacocks:
A memoir of a Bedford firm of auctioneers,
estate agents and surveyors.

Author: Keith Lazenby.

454 pages. Published by Bedfordshire Historical Record Society (volume 93 in the series) in 2014. ISBN 978-0-85155-080-0.
Otainable from B.H.R.S.

Illustration of book cover

‘Peacocks’ has been part of Bedford life since its foundation in 1901 by Walter Peacock – as auctioneers, estate agents, valuers and surveyors. This ‘memoir’ provides an authorative, but personal insight into the history one of the town’s best-known companies, spanning the years 1902 (when W. & H. Peacock was formed) to 1988 (when the business was sold to TSB, forming part of TSB Property Services Ltd.). The author, Keith worked for Peacocks for nearly sixty years, and was a partner for twenty-four years, giving him an in-depth knowledge of the firm’s culture and development. This volume is, however, more than just a local business history. It describes the post-Victorian local property history of Bedford and neighbouring villages – key to understanding their development – and provdes fascinating insights into social conditions, when most housing was rented. Informative, well-written, well-indexed and accessible, this is a very welcome addition to B.H.R.S.’s portfolio.

It starts with a useful brief history of the development of auctions and auction houses in England – setting the subsequent development of ‘Peacocks’ in context. The first chapter describes the foundation of the firm by Walter Molesworth Peacock and Bedford’s property market in the early 1900s. Rents varied from about 3/- per week for a small town cottage to £1 a week for larger houses in the ‘Saints’ area. If you were wealthy, you could rent Roseleigh, a large nine bedroom house in Shakespeare Road, with servants’ quarters and two tennis courts, for £120 a year, or buy it outright for £2,250. In 1902 Harry Peacock joined his brother to form W. & H. Peacock, with sale rooms in Lime Street and offices in the High Street. In 1915, following the requisition of the Cattle Market by the Highland Division, weekly sales were transferred to the Horne Lane sale yards. The business expanded substantially in the inter-war years, with new estate agency offices in Dame Alice Street and offices at Biggleswade and Baldock.

Subsequent chapters describe in more detail the development of the Horne Lane Sale Yards, 10 Lime Street, the sale rooms in Lime Street, the estate agency at 6 Dame Alice Street, 58 St. Loyes Street, 26 Newnham Street, Peacocks’ Egg Packing Station in Horne Lane and their furniture depository in Rutland Road. There follow thematic chapters focusing on different aspects of the firm’s activities – property auction sales, lettings and property management, and advertising and publicity – concluding with an insight into what it was like to work for ‘Peacocks’ – the firm’s annual cricket match, celebrating the Festival of Britain in 1951, outings, dinners and parties. Lastly – an invaluable source for family and local historians – extracts from the firm’s property auction records from 1902 to 1988. These set out considerable detail for the properties handled, listing the auction date, sale venue, property, price and – where relevant – the names of tenants. Several examples should suffice.

Date of Auction.





Lion Hotel.

As Above.

As Above.


30 & 32 Ford End Road, Bedford, 2 houses.

The Lilacs, 9 Bushmead Road & 10 shares in the Bedford Steam Laundry.

105 Tavistock Street, Bedford, shop, residence, slaughter house, goodwill of butcher’s business.






Occupied by Mrs. Walden & Mr. H. Cooper; total rental £31 p.a.

On the instructions of the executors of Mrs. Cranfield.


If you’re interested in tracing your family’s history, or that of your house, or Bedford’s social and urban development, this is an invaluable reference book.
If you’ve ever attended an auction at Peacocks, or have a connection with the firm, this is a ‘good read’. Strongly recommended.