Here at Serene Media we enjoy what we do, developing cutting-edge websites and working our magic on SEO in Bedford; a town with such a rich cultural history, so we thought we’d share some of it with you. As a historic county town in Bedfordshire, Bedford is located near Cambridge, Oxford, and London. The town has plenty of places for arts, leisure, cultural and historical monuments.
Bedford has a rich cultural history that dates to the early 5th century. It’s believed that Bedford was named after an unknown Saxon chief named Beda. Beda and his followers had settled at the ford of the River Great Ouse. Their settlement happened thirteen centuries ago. History has it that in 796, Offa, the King of Mercia at the time, passed away and was buried in Bedford and a Church was dedicated to a Saxon saint, St Cuthbert.
John Bunyan was a famous writer whose famous book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, was written while he was imprisoned in one of Bedford’s jail between 1660 and 1672.
In 919, Alfred the Great’s son, King Edward the Elder, went to Bedford at a time when there was war with the Danes. There, he started a settlement that was south of the River Great Ouse. As a way of protecting the town of Bedford south of the river, he ordered for the King’s Ditch to be dug. The town prospered, and the Danes retaliated by unsuccessfully trying to attack Bedford two years later. In 1010, the Danes returned to cause more ruin to Bedford town and pillaged it.
Middle Age Bedford
Bedford was a relatively small market town in the Middle Ages. The town’s population at this age was around 1,500. This is, of course, a very small number if you considered Bedford’s population right now. However, during the Middle Age, Bedford was not an important town.
The Normans would later build a wooden castle. The purpose of the castle was to help the people of Bedford to live in order. In 1224, the wooden castle was held against the king by a rebellious baron. At the time of its recovery, the castle had already been ruined.
1166 saw Bedford get a charter. The charter granted Bedford town certain rights. It was during this period that Bedford started having an annual fair and a weekly market. Since the fair was annual, Bedford would experience a high number of visitors who would come from all over to attend the fair.
Wool was the most successful industry at the time. The weaving of the wool happened in the town before it was fulled and dyed.
The friars arrived in England in the 13th century. The friars were considered to be monks with the only difference being that they preached to people. In 1238, the Franciscan friars settled in Bedford. They wore grey costumes which made people refer to them as the grey friars.
Just outside Bedford, there was a small religious house that was called Caldwell Priory and a hostel that had been dedicated to St Leonard. 1295 saw Bedford send two MPs to their parliament.
1500 – 1800 Bedford
The priory and the friary in Bedford were closed by Henry VIII. Between 1575-1576 and 1578-1579, Bedford experienced an outbreak of the plague which killed a large number of people. Still, the town’s population continued to grow between the 16th and 17th centuries. By the mid-17th century, the town’s population was at 2,000.
In 1554, Bedford was granted permission to have an additional weekly market and annual fairs. This meant that the town had two fairs in a year. In 1566, Sir William Harpur established a school in Bedford town.
There was a civil war in 1642 between the Parliament and the king. Having sent two MPs to parliament in 1295, the people of Bedford gave their full support to Parliament. In 1643, the royalists seized Bedford despite it having a fort built around it. However, they didn’t hold the town for long and withdrew after a short period of time.
The Great River Ouse was made more navigable all the way to Bedford in the year 1689. This, of course, had a great positive impact on the town of Bedford. Road transport had been the major means of transportation of goods as it was much cheaper and easily accessible. Opening up the Great River Ouse meant that it was now easier to transport goods in and out of Bedford. This led to the rapid growth of Bedford.
John Howard was made the High Sheriff in 1773 of the Bedford town. After his appointment, he was shocked by the jail conditions in the town that he worked tirelessly to become a prison reformer.
Wool continued to be the main industry for the people of Bedford all through the 16th century. In the 17th century, the industry began declining, and in the 18th century, the brewing industry began taking over. The first bank opened its doors in Bedford in 1799.
19th Century Bedford
Bedford’s population had been growing rapidly. In 1801, Bedford town still had a relatively small population of 3,948 people. Still, in the 19th century, the population doubled and was at 6,959.
As the town’s population continued to grow, a second jail was built in Bedford in 1801. As the population grew, there was a need for better street lighting in Bedford. Through an Act of Parliament, there was a body of men that was created known as the improvement Commissioners. The purpose of the Improvement Commissioners was to pave the way for the street lights. In their quest, some of the old Bedford buildings were demolished so as to decongest the town.
It’s in the 19th century that social amenities in Bedford begun to improve. The town got a gaslight in 1832 and in 1834, there was the construction of Assembly Rooms for the card and ball games. The construction of the corn exchange in 1849 made it easier for people to buy and sell corn. The Bunyan Meeting House was constructed in 1850.
A common similarity in most towns in the 19th century was that they were dirty and unhygienic. Bedford wasn’t an exemption. This led to cholera outbreaks in 1832 and 1849.
However, Bedford’s sanitation begun getting better in the 19th century and there were major improvements. The year 1864 saw the Bedford Corporation dig several sewers and drains which were followed by the establishment of a water company in 1866 to enable the people of Bedford to get piped water. Moreover, in 1855, the first cemetery was opened in Bedford. The Shire Hall was constructed in 1882. The Bedford Parks and a hospital were opened in 1882 and in 1899 respectively.
The Great River Ouse was used to transport wool and grain from Bedford to other markets in other towns. Iron and coal were, on the other hand, brought to Bedford. The railway reached Bedford in 1846. This meant that the people of Bedford had alternative means of transporting their goods to and from Bedford.
Through the 19th century, Bedford was a highly agricultural market town. Farm implements and brewing were the main industries, and they continued to boom in this century.
20th Century Bedford
With all the massive developments that took place in the 19th century and the centuries before, Bedford grew quite fast in the 20th century.
Its population in 1901 was 35,000. When the century was coming to an end, the population had doubled and was at 74,000. The rapid growth is largely due to the extension of the Bedford boundaries. This happened in 1934. The extension of the Bedford boundaries was made to include Goldington. The inclusion of Manton Heights and Brickhill where new estates were established happened after 1945.
Even with all the developments, the town still remained deeply rooted in agriculture. There was the production of farm implements to boost the agricultural sector and other machines. In addition, Bedford started making bricks.
With the rapid population growth, there was a need for new and improved social amenities. This, of course, meant that the living and general conditions of the town continued to improve. As such, in 1935, Bedford town opened its first public library followed by the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery in 1949.
The annual fairs and the weekly markets had positioned Bedford town as a very important shopping centre. This led to the opening of the Harpur Center in 1976. The Harpur Center in Bedford is usually opened seven days a week, hosts over 30 trading stores and is one of the premier shopping places in the town.
The Bedford Museum was opened in 1962 while The Bunyan Museum first opened its doors in the year 1998.
21st Century Bedford
The early 21st century in Bedford saw the construction of the Trevor Huddleston statue in 2000 in Silver Street. He lived between 1918 – 1998 and had greatly fought against the apartheid system in South Africa.
Today, Bedford continues to grow and is one of the most flourishing towns in England with a population of more than 100,000.
With a long history of immigrants, the present Bedford is rich in culture and is home to more than 57 different ethnic groups and continues to have plenty of opportunities for its people. Italian immigrants are believed to make up about 14,000 of the entire population of Bedford.
Their large numbers in Bedford is attributed to the fact that after the war, Marston Valley Brick Company – located in Bedford – was short of labour. They urgently needed the labour for the reconstruction that was expected. As such, the better part of 1951 and early 1960s were spent recruiting men from Southern Italy. More than 7,500 men were hired while others came to look for opportunities.
Of course, the social amenities in Bedford are much better now than they were some five centuries ago. The town is rich in historical culture and places to visit. Due to how diverse the people of Bedford are, there are quite a number of Churches and Sikh temple. There are four mosques and one synagogue.
Famous People from Bedford
Just as it with every town’s history, there exist famous people whose names when mentioned are directly linked to a town’s history. Bedford has a number of those.
One of such is John Bunyan. The Bunyan Museum built in 1998 was named after him. He was born in Elstow, a town located a few kilometres from Bedford. John Bunyan was a famous writer whose famous book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, was written while he was imprisoned in one of Bedford’s jail between 1660 and 1672. His arrest was based on the fact that he completely refused to recognise the Church institution in Bedford.
After being appointed the High Sherriff, John Howard, worked to reform the prison conditions in Bedford. He was a landowner who changed the standards of the jails in Bedford. The Howard League for Penal Reform was named after him.
Trevor Huddleston is another famous figure from Bedford. Having fought against the apartheid system in South Africa, his statue was erected on Silver Street to honour him and was unveiled by the late Nelson Mandela.
William Harpur, hailing from Bedford, is an icon to many a people from Bedford. After being appointed the Lord Mayor of London, he went ahead and established a school in Bedford. Today, The Harpur Schools continue to thrive in Bedford. Moreover, the Harpur schools are home to five public schools that are under the management of the Harpur Trust Charity. Some famous celebrities and politicians such as Paddy Ashdown, Jean Muir, Alastair Cook and Al Murray received their education from there.
Glenn Miller, not originally from Bedford, resided in Bedford with his band. Some of his greatest hits were produced in Bedford before he went to entertain the troops in Europe during the war.
Culturally rich and with a large and diverse ethnic community, Bedford as a town has continued to flourish. Rising against the odds even when it severally got attacked, the town has stood the test of time.
Moreover, it’s strategically located and acts as a great tourist destination for people visiting the United Kingdom. From historical Museums to the Great River Ouse itself, there are lots of activities to do and indulge in.
The town has continued to maintain its landmarks and works to preserve them for generations to come. As the population continues to grow, Bedford’s importance in England is notable. Massive strides have been made by the people of Bedford to make the town what it is today.