is the county town
. It is a large town and the administrative centre for the Bedford
borough. According to Bedfordshire County Council's estimates, the town had a population of 79,190 in mid 2005, with 19,720 in the adjacent town of Kempston
. The wider borough, including a rural area, had a population of 153,000.
Bedford was a market town for the surrounding agricultural region from the early Middle Ages
. The Anglo-Saxon
King Offa of Mercia
was buried in the town in 796. In 886 it became a boundary town separating Wessex
. It was the seat of the Barony of Bedford
. In 919 Edward the Elder
built the town's first known fortress, on the south side of the River Ouse and there received the area's submission. This fortress was destroyed by the Danes. William II
gave the barony of Bedford to Paine de Beauchamp
who built a new, strong castle. The new Bedford Castle
was razed in 1224 and today only a mound remains.
Bedford traces its borough charter in 1166 by Henry II and elected two members to the unreformed House of Commons.
Bedford remained a small agricultural town, with wool being an important industry in the area for much of the Middle Ages. From the 1560s Bedford and much of Bedfordshire became one of the main centres of England's Lace industry, with skilled lace-makers such as the Flemings, and then later the Huguenots emigrating from Europe to settle in the town and surrounding county. Lace continued to be an important industry in Bedford up until the early 20th century.
The River Ouse became navigable as far as Bedford in 1689. Wool declined in importance with brewing becoming a major industry in the town.
In 1660 John Bunyan was imprisoned for 12 years in Bedford Gaol, it was here that he wrote The Pilgrim's Progress.
The 19th Century saw Bedford transform into an important engineering hub. In 1832 Gas lighting was introduced, and the railway reached Bedford in 1846. The first Corn Exchange was built 1849, and the first drains and sewers were dug in 1864.
Features and events
The River Great Ouse passes through the town centre (see also ford (crossing)), and is lined with attractive gardens known as The Embankment. Within these gardens stands a war memorial to the fallen of the First World War, opposite Rothsay Gardens. The memorial was designed in 1921 by the sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger and depicts a Knight vanquishing a dragon.. The inscription reads
1914 † 1919
TO BEDFORDIANS WHO DIED, MANY IN EARLY YOUTH, SOME FULL OF YEARS AND HONOUR, BUT WHO ALL ALIKE GAVE THEIR LIVES FOR THEIR COUNTRY.|30px|30px||
Every two years, an event called "The River Festival" is held near the river in Bedford during early July. The event lasts for two days and regularly attracts about 250,000 visitors. The event includes sports, funfairs and live music. It is the second largest regular outdoor event in the UK beaten in numbers only by the Notting Hill Carnival. The Bedford Regatta each May is Britain's largest one-day river rowing regatta.
Other annual events include 'Bedford By The Sea' (when large quantities of sand are deposited in the town centre) and the 'Bedford Kite Festival' in June. 'Proms In The Park', held in early August, is a popular musical event.
The Cecil Higgins Gallery
, housed in the recreated Victorian home of the Higgins family of Victorian
brewers and in a modern extension, has notable collections of watercolours, prints and drawings, ceramics, glass and lace. Adjacent to the Cecil Higgins Gallery is Bedford Museum
, which has local history collections.
The Bedford Corn Exchange is the largest entertainment venue in the town and plays host to a variety of performances, meetings, conferences, concerts and private functions. The Corn Exchange also operates the Harpur Suite exhibition hall and the Bedford Civic Theatre which plays host to the 'Bedfringe festival', a pre-Edinburgh Fringe festival. The University of Bedfordshire Theatre is the largest theatre in Bedford and hosts many larger productions as well as projects from the university. There is an active amdram (community theatre) scene, with groups such as the Swan Theatre Company, Bedford Dramatic Club (BDC), Bedford Marianettes and ShowCo Bedford producing plays and musicals in venues like the Civic Theatre and the Corn Exchange. The Bedford Pantomime Company produces a traditional pantomime at the Civic Theatre each Christmas. Esquires (one of the town's premier live music venues) regularly plays host to many notable bands and acts from all over the UK as well as showcasing local live music.
Bedford has two rugby union
teams called Bedford Blues
and Bedford Athletic
, and, since 2004, has also a rugby league
team; Bedford Tigers
, who compete one tier below the National Conference
. Bedford Blues
are currently in the second tier
of English rugby, but have previously been in the top division. Taking into account the size of its overall urban area, it is one of the largest towns in England without a fully professional football
team. Bedford Town F.C.
currently plays at the seventh level of the English football league system
and Bedford Valerio United F.C.
play at the 11th level.
Bedford's principal church is St Paul's Church, Bedford
, in the square of the same name at the historic centre of the town. It has a tall spire which is one of the main features of the town. There was a church on the site by 1066 and work on the present structure began in the early 13th century, but little remains from that period. John Bunyan
and John Wesley
both preached in the church. In 1865-1868 the tower and spire were completely rebuilt and the two transepts added and lesser alterations have been made since. From 1941 to the end of the Second World War
's daily service was broadcast from St. Paul's. Another church of note is St. Peter's Church, Bedford
(Situated on St Peter's Street) which contains some of the oldest architectural remains in Bedford, the most ancient being the two monoliths
Film and TV links
- The popular BBC TV series Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em was filmed in and around Bedford during the 1970s.
- In the 2006 Comedy Central and DVD versions of Russell Peters' Outsourced, a good natured Bedfordian bears the brunt of Russell's comedic segment "I'm From England".
- In the 2005 motion picture Batman Begins scenes were filmed at the Cardington Hangers in Bedford and featured extras from Bedford. The sequel, 'The Dark Knight', was also partially filmed at the Hangers using the fake working name 'Rory's First Kiss' and members of the production cast stayed at various hotels around the Town.
Bedford has two railway stations
Bedford lies on the A6
trunk road, and two of the most important north-south routes in Great Britain, the A1 and the M1 motorway pass a few miles to the east and west respectively. Two road improvement schemes are currently in process to link the town to the M1 and A1 via dual carriageway. This will significantly improve access to the town, which currently requires the use of frequently congested single carriageway roads. Bedford has a southern bypass along the A421
and in September 2007, work started on the long awaited western bypass.
Bedford also has its own Park and ride operation situated to the south of the town near Elstow. Currently this is the only site which has been completed, but there are plans to develop more sites around the town.
Prior to bus deregulation
in 1986, bus services in and around Bedford were run by the United Counties subsidiary of the National Bus Company
. The United Counties business was bought by the Stagecoach Group
in the late 1980s and has since been branded Stagecoach in Bedford
The town's bus services and major bus routes run to Northampton, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Oxford and other towns in the region. Most of these services depart from the main bus station in the town. The bus station itself is due for major redevelopment as part of a scheme to renovate the town centre.
Local transport company, Cedar Coaches also runs services from Bedford to surrounding areas.
Bedford is home to one of the largest concentration of Italian immigrants in the UK. According to a 2001 census, 2 in 7 (1 in 3.5 or almost 30% of the town's population) of Bedford's population are of at least partial Italian descent. This is mainly as a result of labour recruitment in the early 1950s by the London Brick Company in the southern Italian regions of Puglia, Campania, Calabria, Molise, Abruzzo and Sicily. Bedford's Little Italy feel is enhanced by a wide variety of Italian bars, restaurants and social clubs throughout the town. as well as a large number of delis and grocery shops selling Italian and continental produce - and by the large Italian mission church run by the Scalabrini Fathers order. Bedford has, since 1954, had its own Italian vice-consulate.
In addition to Italian immigrants, Bedford has also been the recipient of significant immigration from South Asia (8.1% of Bedford's population), Eastern Europe (particularly in the last few years), Greece, Cyprus, the Middle East and Africa (3% of Bedford's population is of Sub-Saharan descent ), making it one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse towns in Britain and the world, particularly in proportion to its size. Bedford is home to over one hundred immigrant languages, including Italian, Punjabi, Turkish, Polish, Portuguese and both Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese.
Bedford also has a high number of Christian churches including four from the Newfrontiers network, several Polish and Italian Roman Catholic churches, and various independent churches that cater to the different ethnic and language groups. There are also Sikh, Muslim, Wiccan, Jewish and Jehovah's Witness communities. There is no longer a synagogue in Bedford, but Bedfordshire Progressive Synagogue , based in Luton, meets in Bedford once a month. The nearest Orthodox synagogue is the Luton Hebrew Congregation, a Lubavitch synagogue in Luton.
is a district general hospital that operates from two sites in the town, providing a wide range of services, although patients requiring highly advanced treatment are referred to specialist units, elsewhere, principally in Cambridge and London. Its catchment area is based on the Borough of Bedford and Mid Bedfordshire
. In 2006 there was controversy in the local media about alleged plans to downgrade Bedford Hospital's provision of acute care, as the government's current policy is that full service hospitals require a catchment area population of 300,000. Bedford Hospital's catchment population was less than that at that time, but it is expected to exceed it in the medium term as the area is experiencing above average population growth. Health secretary Patricia Hewitt
visited the town and made assurances about the future of the hospital, but failed to fully satisfy local concerns as to the government's intentions.
Bedford is home to five public schools run by the Harpur Trust charity
, endowed by Bedfordian Sir William Harpur
in the sixteenth century. These are:
Smaller private institutions include Rushmoor School (boys aged 3-16, girls 3-11) St. Andrew's School (girls aged 3-16, boys 3-9), and Polam School, none of which are part of the Harpur Trust.
Bedford hosts a campus of the University of Bedfordshire, which prior to a merger with the University of Luton in 2006 had been a campus of De Montfort University (itself now solely based in Leicester). For further education, the town is served by Bedford College.
Unlike most of the United Kingdom, Bedfordshire operates a three-tier education system which is arranged into lower, middle and upper schools, as recommended in the Plowden Report of 1967. The arrangement was put to the vote in 2006 with a view to moving to the two-tier model, but was rejected. State upper schools include Mark Rutherford Upper School, John Bunyan Upper School, St Thomas More Catholic Upper School and Biddenham Upper School,
Bedford is twinned with:
Areas within Bedford
The town of Bedford is divided into 10 wards -
Some of these wards elect their own urban community Council or parish council.
Relationship with nearby towns and villages
The town of Kempston is adjacent to Bedford. The villages in the Borough of Bedford with populations of more than 2,000 as of 2005 were Biddenham
, and Wootton
. There are also many smaller villages in the borough. The villages in the borough are popular with commuters to Bedford, and also with people who commute to Milton Keynes
and to London.
Nearby small towns include Ampthill, Biggleswade, Flitwick, and Sandy, all of which are in Mid Bedfordshire. The nearest towns and cities with larger populations than Bedford are Northampton to the north west, Cambridge to the east, Milton Keynes to the south west, and Luton to the south, all of which have urban area populations of 130,000 or more. Milton Keynes and Cambridge in particular are used by Bedfordians for services that are not available in Bedford, especially the shopping and leisure facilities in Milton Keynes, and advanced health services at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, a teaching hospital which has a partnership with Bedford Hospital.
It was the home and prison of John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim's Progress.
Prison Reformer John Howard, although born in London, was high Sheriff of Bedfordshire.
Other prominent Bedfordians include:
- Harold Abrahams, 1924 Olympic 100 metres champion and character in the film Chariots of Fire
- Sam Baldock, MK Dons footballer
- Ronnie Barker, the late comedian
- Matt Berry, comedian, star of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, The Mighty Boosh and The Peter Serafinowicz Show as well as the voice of George the talking volcano in the recent Volvic (mineral water) adverts
- Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, traveller
- Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Antarctic explorer
- Calum Davenport, West Ham United footballer
- Gail Emms badminton doubles 2004 Olympic silver medallist
- William Fitzhugh, also known as William the Immigrant, founder of an American dynasty that married into the lines of George Washington and General Lee
- Tim Foster, men's coxless fours Olympic gold medallist
- Lil Fuccillo, former footballer and manager
- Sir William Harpur, who became Lord Mayor of London.
- Bishop Trevor Huddleston
- Andy Johnson, England and Fulham F.C. footballer
- John Le Mesurier, actor and comedian
- Toby Litt, writer, went to Bedford Modern School and lived in nearby Ampthill.
- Alfred Mitchell-Innes, diplomat, who also served on Bedford Town Council for 23 years and resided there from 1920 until his death in 1950.
- John Oliver, Comedian and actor, now based in the United States. Correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
- Dame Bertha Phillpotts, Scandinavian scholar and pioneer of university education for women
- Matt Skelton, heavyweight boxer, commonwealth champion
- Carol Vorderman, born in Bedford, television personality best known for being a long-standing co-presenter of Channel 4 game show Countdown.
- Laura Wade, playwright
- Charles Wells, founder of Charles Wells Brewery, a company still located in the town
- William Hale White, a minor Victorian novelist who wrote under the pseudonym Mark Rutherford
And not born there but associated with Bedford:
Schooled in Bedford:
- Paddy Ashdown (now Lord Ashdown), former leader of the Liberal Democrats attended Bedford School
- Alastair Cook, England cricketer attended Bedford School
- Christopher Fry, playwright, attended Bedford Modern School
- Al Murray, actor, also known as The Pub Landlord attended Bedford School
- Monty Panesar, England cricketer, attended Bedford Modern School
- Jean Muir CBE FCSD, fashion designer, attended Dame Alice Harpur School