[bed-ferd-sheer, -sher]
Bedfordshire or Bedford, former county, central England. Also called Beds, it was abolished as a government authority in 2009. The county seat was Bedford. The county was a refuge for Protestants from the European continent during the English civil war.
Bedfordshire (abbreviated Beds.) is a county in England that forms part of the East of England region.

Its county town is Bedford. It borders Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire (and the Borough of Milton Keynes) and Hertfordshire.

The highest elevation point is 243 metres (797 feet) on Dunstable Downs in the Chilterns.

The county motto is "Constant Be", which is taken from the hymn To Be A Pilgrim by John Bunyan.

As part of a 2002 marketing campaign, the plant conservation charity Plantlife chose the Bee Orchid as the county flower.

The traditional nickname for people from Bedfordshire is "Bedfordshire Bulldogs" or "Clangers", this last deriving from a local dish comprising a suet crust dumpling filled with meat or jam or both.


The first recorded use of the name was in 1011 as "Bedanfordscir", meaning the shire or county of Bedford, which itself means "Beda's ford" (river crossing).

Bedfordshire was historically divided into the nine hundreds: Barford, Biggleswade, Clifton, Flitt, Manshead, Redbournestoke, Stodden, Willey, Wixamtree, along with the liberty and borough of Bedford. There have been several minor changes to the county boundary; for example, in 1897 Kensworth and part of Caddington were transferred from Hertfordshire to Bedfordshire.

Luton was a county borough from 1964 until 1974, and it has been a unitary authority since 1997. However, it remains part of the ceremonial county of Bedfordshire, with a single Lord Lieutenant representing the sovereign throughout this entire area. Except where otherwise indicated, this article relates to the whole Ceremonial County of Bedfordshire, including Luton.

Geography and geology

The southern end of the county is part of the chalk ridge known as the Chiltern Hills. The remainder is part of the broad drainage basin of the River Great Ouse and its tributaries.

Most of Bedfordshire's rocks are clays and sandstones from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, with some limestone. Local clay has been used for brick-making of Fletton style bricks in the Marston Vale.

Glacial erosion of chalk has left the hard flint nodules deposited as gravel – this has been commercially extracted in the past at pits which are now lakes, at Priory Country Park, Wyboston and Felmersham.

The Greensand Ridge is an escarpment across the country from near Leighton Buzzard to near Gamlingay in Cambridgeshire.


Bedfordshire is a shire county, mostly under the control of Bedfordshire County Council. This is divided into three local government districts, Bedford Borough, Mid Bedfordshire District and South Bedfordshire District.

Additionally, Luton Borough is a unitary authority that forms part of the county for various functions such as Lord Lieutenant and High Sheriff, but does not come under county council control.

The Department for Communities and Local Government considered reorganising Bedfordshire's administrative structure as part of the 2009 structural changes to local government in England. The four proposals considered were:

  • Proposal 1, To abolish the three districts within the county to create a Bedfordshire unitary authority. (Luton would remain a separate unitary authority.)
  • Proposal 2, To create two unitary authorities: one based on the existing Bedford Borough, and the other, to be known as Central Bedfordshire, a combination of Mid Bedfordshire and South Bedfordshire Districts. (Luton would remain a separate unitary authority.)
  • Proposal 3, To create two unitary authorities: one a combination of Bedford Borough and Mid Bedfordshire District, and one a combination of Luton Borough and South Bedfordshire District.
  • Proposal 4, To form an "enhanced two-tier" authority, with the four local councils under the control of the county council, but with different responsibilities.

On the 6th March 2008 the DCLG decided to implement Proposal 2. This means that from 1 April 2009 there will be three unitary authorities in Bedfordshire - Bedford, Luton and the new Central Bedfordshire. Bedfordshire County Council initially challenged this decision in the High Court, but on the 4th April 2008 it was announced the Judicial Review in the High Court had been unsuccessful, and the County Council declared that it would not be appealing the decision. The County Council will therefore be abolished as planned.


This is a chart of trend of regional gross value added of Bedfordshire at current basic prices published (pp.240-253) by Office for National Statistics with figures in millions of British Pounds Sterling.
Year Regional Gross Value Added Agriculture Industry Services
1995 4,109 81 1,584 2,444
2000 4,716 53 1,296 3,367
2003 5,466 52 1,311 4,102

Moto Hospitality is based at Toddington service station. The Kier Group is based in Sandy. Whitbread is based in Dunstable.


The state education system for all of Bedfordshire used to be organised by Bedfordshire County Council. When Luton became a unitary authority in 1997, education in Luton came under direct control of Luton Borough Council. This split has seen two distinct education systems evolve in the county over the years.


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. All of Bedfordshire's upper schools offer 6th form courses (such as A Levels), though Bedford College and Dunstable College also offer a range of further education courses.

There are a number of independent schools in the county, many of which have links to the Harpur Trust.


Luton also operates a three-tier education system though Luton's organisation of infant, junior and high schools mirrors the traditional transfer age into secondary education of 11 years. However most of Luton's high schools do not offer 6th form education. Instead this is handled by Luton Sixth Form College, though Barnfield College also offers a range of further education courses.

Higher Education

There are two universities based in the county - the University of Bedfordshire and Cranfield University. These institutions attract students from all over the UK and abroad, as well as from Bedfordshire.


Although not a major transport destination, Bedfordshire lies on many of the main transport routes which link London to the Midlands and Northern England.


Two of England's six main trunk roads pass through Bedfordshire:

To these was added in 1959 the M1 motorway, the London to Leeds motorway. This has three junctions around Luton, one serving Bedford and another serving Milton Keynes.

Former trunk roads, now Local Roads managed by the local highway authority include A428 running east-west through Bedford Borough, and A6 from Rushden to Luton.


Three of England's main lines pass through Bedfordshire:

There are rural services also running between Bedford and Bletchley along the Marston Vale Line.


Bedfordshire is served by a large number of taxi companies. Luton is reported to have the highest number of taxicabs per head of population in the United Kingdom with a number of firms competing for work in the town and from London Luton Airport.


The River Great Ouse links Bedfordshire to the Fenland waterways. As of 2004 there are plans by the Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway Trust to construct a canal linking the Great Ouse at Bedford to the Grand Union Canal at Milton Keynes, 23 km distant.


London Luton Airport has flights to many UK, Europe, North America and North African destinations, operated by low-cost airlines.

Towns and villages

Main article: List of places in Bedfordshire

Places of interest

List of notable Bedfordians

Bibliographic References

  • History of Bedfordshire 1066-1888 by Joyce Godber
  • A Bedfordshire Bibliography by L R Conisbe published in 1962 with a supplement in 1967
  • Bedfordshire Historical Record Society by H O White (published annually).
  • Guide to the Bedfordshire Record Office 1957 with supplements.
  • Guide to the Russell Estate Collections Published in 1966.
  • Elstow Moot Hall leaflets On John Bunyan and 17th Century Subjects
  • A Bedfordshire Flora by John Dony
  • Luton and the Hat Industry by John Dony
  • Pillow Lace in the East Midlands by Charles Freeman
  • Bedfordshire Magazine (Published Quarterley)


External links

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