Bedford’s Green Spaces are second to none. Russell Park is situated on the picturesque Embankment in Bedford Town Centre and is a large open park offering tennis courts, football pitches and play areas for children as well as The Kiosk, a very popular outdoor cafe serving fantastic coffee and great homemade cakes. Grab a blanket and a chair and enjoy a hot chocolate while the kids enjoy the books and games and a natural fruit juice.
For more information on Bedford Parks contact – Simon Fisher (Parks and Countryside Officer) on 01234 718453
Priory Marina Country Park
Priory Marina Country Park is 300 acres of beautiful country park within walking distance from the Embankment and Town Centre. This gorgeous country park features a marina with it’s own gift shop situated next to a bar, restaurant and a Travel Lodge.The Priory Marina offers many riverside walks, cycle path routes, boating facilities, bird watching huts and much more. It’s a fabulous place to walk your dog and your kids at the same time. Plenty of wildlife to see, beautiful flora and fauna and in the summer it is a favourite paddling spot for the whole family.
Bedford’s café culture has expanded in the last few years so coffee and cake lovers can enjoy a variety of independent cafes, great food, homemade cakes in a great atmosphere.The Pavilion in Bedford Park Café has recently restored the old Pavilion building, and set in stunning surroundings, you can enjoy a well-earned fair trade coffee as well as hot and cold food and homemade soups and cakes while the kids play and the dogs socialise.
Image by Angelo Marin.
Addison Howard Park, Kempston
Addison Howard Park in Kempston sits in the grounds of Grange House, which was donated to the people of Kempston by the Howard family. The park has superb sports facilities including tennis courts and basketball courts.There are also activities in the park throughout the year such as fun fairs, Kempston Fun Day and Chill in the Park.
Image © Bedford Borough Council.
Allen Park is accessed from Old Ford End Road and lies between the allotments and the Hockey Centre. It is also used by several local schools in the Queens Park area.Facilities include a toddlers’s play area, tennis courts, basketball courts, a bowling green, and seasonally, football and cricket pitches.
Image © Bedford Borough Council.
Jubilee Park is central to the Kingsbrook Ward. Facilities include children’s play areas and sports pitches.
Image © Bedford Borough Council.
Harrold Country Park
Harrold Country Park is on Carlton Road between Harrold and Odell. There are 144 acres of fabulous award winning parkland to explore, including two lakes and a nature reserve. The reserve has clear paths and a hide for bird watching. The River Ouse also runs through the park.
The park is served by Tea-Zels Café, which is open 9am – 4pm every day (except Christmas & New Year) for breakfast, coffee or lunch. There are also picnic areas (no barbecues).
Contact Park Office & Tea-Zels Café: 01234 720016
Image © Bedford Borough Council.
Mowsbury Park has more outdoor sports pitches than any other park in the borough as well as a neigbouring municipal golf course and squash centre. There are also dedicated age specific play areas and BMX biking facilities.For the more peaceful minded, Putnoe Wood is accessible from the rear of the park.
Image © Bedford Borough Council.
The Embankment and
River Great Ouse
Bedford’s stunning Embankment is one of the most beautiful places in the centre of town. Just a few minutes’ walk from the town centre, you can get away from the hustle and bustle and enjoy a countryside walk. The recently restored Victorian bandstand is a stunning landmark in the middle of the beautiful tree lined walk along the riverbank. Until quite recently, open air concerts were held in the bandstand most afternoons.
The River Ouse has many iconic bridges, the Suspension bridge probably being the mot famous. Opened in 1888, it links the Embankment and Mill Meadows.
The Bedford River Festival is held every two years, with the bandstand in constant use, and there i also an annual regatta on the river.
The Embankment is a very popular part of the town, enjoyed by ramblers, dog walkers, joggers and pinickers alike.
Image © Dragontree, Waymarking.com.
Russell Park on the Embankment provides sports pitches, open space for play and beautiful herbaceous gardens. It was opened as a recreation ground at the end of the 19th century about 10 years after the widening of the river and opening of the Suspension Bridge.The Kiosk in Russell Park is a little oasis on a cold rainy day – beautiful coffee, fabulous cakes and even a blanket for your knees.
Image © Bedford Borough Council.
Ironically, the Danish Camp is a Norwegian log cabin onthe banks of the Ouse surrounded by woodland walks and nature trails. Situated in Willington about 4 miles east of Bedford, it is the perfect stopping point for walkers and also cyclists using Route 51. There is also a great café with hot and cold food.
Chapel Lane, Willington, Bedford MK44 3QG
Image © Bedford Borough Council.
The Bishop of Bedford
Richard William Bryant Atkinson OBE (born 17 December 1958) is Bishop of Bedford in the Diocese of St Albans. He serves the Anglican churches of the Bedford Archdeaconry.Appointed in 2012, Bishop Atkinson previously held the post of Archdeacon of Leicester for 10 years. He follows The Right Revd Richard Inwoo, who retired in 2012 to the Diocese of Derby.
Father Kevin Goss, Vicar of St Paul’s, Bedford
Father Kevin was inaugurated as Vicar St Paul’s on 10th July 2014. He grew up in Sussex and studied at Royal Academy of Music in London, where he gained a music degree and also professional diplomas in clarinet, organ and piano. He also found faith here, and Father Kevin was ordained in 1992. He quickly rose through the ranks of the Anglican Church, starting out as Assistant Chaplain T one of the Woodard Schools, Ardingly College. He was also curate of the local parish. He then became Precentor of Canterbury Cathedral, where he was responsible for organising services at the cathedral and overseeing special events and occasions. In 2004, Father Kevin became parish priest in Hockerill, Bishops Stortford and also Chaplain of the Herts and Essex Community Hospital. His duties also included a rural deansip.
St Pauls Square, Bedford MK40 1SQ01234 340163
Julia Jarman (b.1946)
Julia Jarman is an author of childrens’ books and teen literature. She was born in Peterborough and now lives in Riseley in Bedfordshire.
Her works include Squonk, Crow Haunting, Haunting of Nadia, Ghost Writer, the Jessame stories and the series of books, Time-Travelling Cat.
Born in 1939, Waite – humanitarian, hostage negotiator, and writer – is connected to the town via another famous Bedfordian – John Bunyan. While negotiating the release of western captives held in the Lebanon in 1987, Waite himself was taken hostage and held for 1,763 days, the majority of which he spent in total solitary confinement.
Etienne attended Biddenham Upper School. He learned to paddle on the River Great Ouse with St. Andrews Scouts, and developed his slalom skills with Viking Kayak Club. In 2012 Summer Olympics, London he won a Gold Medal in the Mens C2 . Etienne was named Bedford Sports Personality of the Year in 2008. Twitter@EtienneStott
Paula Jane Radcliffe, MBE is an English long-distance runner. She is the current women’s world record holder in the marathon with her time of 2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds. When Radcliffe was aged 12, the family moved to Oakley, Bedfordshire and she became a member of Bedford & County Athletics Club. Her joining the club coincided with a talented and dedicated coach, Alex Stanton, building the women’s and girls’ sections into one of the strongest in the country, in spite of Bedford’s relatively small size. Radcliffe attended Sharnbrook Upper School and Community College.
Martin Bayfield (1966)
Bayfield – born in Bedford- is famous for being a notable rugby union player for such teams as Northamptonshire Saints, Bedford Blues and England (gaining 31 caps).
Bayfield’s height of 6ft 10in has made him a formidable sportsman; he made his debut in 1991 and played in numerous tours and Five Nations competitions until injury forced his retirement in 1998.
Since retirement Bayfield has worked as a journalist and an after dinner speaker, as well as appearing in the Harry Potter films as a body double for the giant Hagrid.
Matt Skelton (1967)
Bedford born Skelton is the 2006 British and World Boxing Union (WBU) Heavyweight champion with an impressive professional record of 18 wins and 18 fights, 17 of which were by knockout.
Skelton was late in becoming a boxer – he turned professional at the age of 35 – yet he honed his skills in the ring as a kick boxer, winning the International Kickboxing Federation World Title in 2000, such achievements have stood him in good stead for the transition to the world of boxing.
In 2006 Skelton won the Commonwealth Heavyweight Championship.
Gail Emms (1977)
Emms began playing badminton at the age of four and has achieved international success in doubles tournaments. She first played for England in 1995 and has represented the country in the sport ever since.
Her successes have been in the doubles and mixed doubles, winning gold at the 2004 European Championships and silver in the 2004 Olympic Games. The 2006 Commonwealth Games saw Emms win three medals – Bronze in the woman’s doubles, Silver in the team event and Gold in the mixed doubles.
Emms, born in Bedford and educated at Dame Alice Harpur School, is ranked number one in mixed doubles (2006).
Alastair Cook (1984)
Born in Gloucester, it was while a pupil at Bedford School – under the tutelage of former England International Derek Randall – that Cook began his cricketing career.
Cook was captain of England’s Under-19 Team during the 2004 Under-19 World Cup.
He is the only England player to score three test centuries before turning 22, and his England debut in India during 2006 saw him becoming the 16th player in test cricket history to hit a century on his debut.
Bedfordshire Police Chief Constable, Colette Paul
Colette Paul started her career with the Metropolitan Police Service after graduating from Keele University and first walked the beat in Edmonton, North London and progressed to CID, where she spent a large part of her career as a detective.
In 2000, she was appointed as Detective Superintendent of the Anti-Terrorist Branch and set up its War Crimes Unit and the Counter Terrorist Intelligence Cell.
Ms Paul joined South Wales Police and spent the past five years as Assistant Chief Constable, then Deputy Chief Constable.
The diverse nature of Bedfordshire – the mix of multi-cultural Bedford and Luton, small market towns and rural Central Beds was among what attracted Colette Paul to the county and she joined Bedfordshire Police on 1 July 2013, bringing with her a wealth of policing experience.
Chief Fire Officer Paul Fuller QFSM MSc BSc MIFireE MInstLM – Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. Born in St Albans, Hertfordshire in 1960, Paul Fuller joined Bedfordshire and Luton Fire and Rescue Service as Chief Fire Officer in 2002. Paul currently serves on a number of national bodies including Chair of CFOA Services Limited, deputy Chair of Fire Sector Federation, CFOA Vice President and Trustee of the national charity the Children’s Burns Trust. He is a member of Bedfordshire St John Council, the Police Partnership Board and the Strategic Steering Group for the Regional and World Children’s Burns Camp. He is also Chair of the Bedfordshire and Luton Chief Executive Forum, Shared Services Board and of the CFOA Eastern Region. Chief Officer Fuller was awarded The Queen’s Fire Service Medal for exemplary service in the Birthday Honours 2008.
Our service vision is to provide an excellent fire and rescue service for the communities of Bedfordshire and Luton. We aspire to achieve this vision, not only now but into the future.(01234) 845000
Southfields Road, Kempston, Bedford, MK42 7NR
Dr Anthony Marsh Chief Executive of West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust.
Anthony is currently Chief Executive of West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (WMAS) and is combining his new role at East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust whilst continuing to be in charge of WMAS. You can write to the Chair or Chief Executive at the head office.0845 601 3733
East of England Ambulance Headquarters, Whiting Way, Melbourn, Cambridgeshire SG8 6EN
Stephen Conroy Chief Executive Bedford Hospital NHS Trust
Stephen was appointed as substantive chief executive in January 2014, having been acting chief executive from March 2013. He joined the Trust in 2011 as director of strategy and service development.
Before coming to Bedford, he spent ten years in North Central London, including a period as CEO of a primary care trust and programme director for the NCL acute services review. He has 15 years of board level experience in the NHS (acute, community and PCT), and has worked at senior level in local government.
Stephen has spent five years working as a consultant to the NHS on strategic change and process re-engineering.
Charles Wells was born in Bedford in 1842. After leaving school at 14, he away to sea on board the India-bound frigate, The Devonshire. Wells rose up the naval ranks and in the late 1860s, he was promoted to Chief Officer. But his naval career came to an end when he asked his sweethert, Josephine Grimbley to marry him. Josephine’s father refused the proposal on the grounds that he would not allow his daughter’s husband to be away at see for long periods of time. Forced to choose, love won out and Charles Wells left the navy. In 1876 he established the Charles Wells Family Brewery providing beer for the people of Bedfordshire. His family continue to do so to this day; Bedfordians owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Grimbley!
Synonymous with the town of Bedford, John Bunyan is probably the most famous Bedfordian. His statue stands at the corner of St. Peter’s Street and there is a museum
in Mill Street which tells his life story. John Bunyan was born in Elstow in 1628, and despite having almost no education, he wrote Pilgrims Progress in 1660. When Bunyan was sixteen, the English Civil war was in full flow and he joined the Parliamentary army. He returned to the family’s tinker business when he was 19.
Around that time, Bunyan became a preacher for a nonconformist group in Bedford. However the non-conformist movement was deemed illegal and Bunyan was arrested because he refused to give up preaching. He was sent to prison and spent the next 12 years in Bedford Gaol. It was here, in a tiny cell that he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the most prolifically published English language books. By 1938 there had been 1,300 editions printed.
John Bunyan was released from prison in 1661, but was soon re-encarcerated. However, he had made significant money from both his book and his preaching and was able to live quite comfortably in prison and latterly in Elstow. He died in 1688, after becoming ill whilst traveling to London. He is buried in Bunhill Fields.
9 May 1939 – 14 August 2009
Frank Branston is was the first directly elected mayor of Bedford, serving from 2002 until his death in 2009. But he is probably best remembers as the owner and editor of the Bedfordshire on Sunday newspaper. Frank Branston was an investigative journalist long before the phrase was coined. He also wrote two books: Sergeant Ritchie’s Conscience and An Up and Coming Man. In December 2009, a section of the Bedford bypass running along the A428 from the A421 past Bedford was named The Branston Way in his memory.
Lady Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509)
Born at Bletsoe Castle, Lady Margaret – her mother being the widow of Oliver St John 3rd Beauchamp of Bletsoe – was a rich heiress and important landowner due to her family ties.
Lady Margaret’s marriage to Edmund Tudor resulted in the birth of a son, Henry Tudor, in 1457 when she was just 13. Henry would go on to become King Henry VII after defeating Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field. Margaret Beaufort Middle School in Riseley carries her name. Following her death in 1509, Lady Margaret was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Samuel Whitbread (1st) (1720-1796)
Born in Cardington, Whitbread left for London at the age of 14 and became an apprentice at the brewers John Whitman. In 1742 he continued to work in the brewing industry by going into partnership with Thomas Shewell. By 1760 their business had become the second largest brewery in London, and in 1765 – after Whitbread had brought Shewell’s share in the business, it became the biggest in London. Whitbread is noted as being one of the first men to raise the issue of slavery in the House of Commons.
Southill, in Bedfordshire, is a charming estate village dominated by Southill Park, and has been home to the Whitbread family since 1795
William Hale White (Mark Rutherford) (1831-1891)
Born in Bedford, White wrote under the name of Mark Rutherford. Educated at Bedford Modern School, he entered the Civil Service in 1854, remaining there until his retirement in 1891.
The Mark Rutherford Collection is housed in the Heritage Room at Bedford Central Library.
John Howard was the leading prison and hospital reformer of his age. He ran an estate in Cardington which he managed and was a thoughtful and inciteful landlord. He became High Sheriff of Bedford and after a visit to Bedford Gaol he was so disgusted by the conditions that it became his life’s mission to record and report conditions across the countries gaols. He went on major expeditions all over the world clocking up 500,000 miles, notebook in hand, visiting prisons, hospitals, lazarettos, schools and workhouses, speaking with authorities, measuring rooms and even tasting the provisions. He published the State of the Prisons in England and Wales (1777) and An Account of the Principal Lazarettos in Europe (1789). A statue of John Howard stands in the Market Place in Bedford next to St Paul’s Church.
Bishop Trevor Huddleston
He was born in Bedford in1913. His statue in Silver Street was unveiled by Nelson Mandela himself in 2000.
He was an English Anglican bishop who went out to South Africa and over the course of 13 years in Sophiatown, Huddleston developed into a much-loved priest and respected anti-apartheid activist, earning him the nickname Makhalipile (“dauntless one”).
He fought fiercely and tirelessly against the apartheid laws. Among other work, he established the African Children’s Feeding Scheme (which still exists today) and raised money for the Orlando Swimming Pools – the only place black children could swim in Johannesburg (until after 1994).
There are many South Africans whose lives were changed by Huddleston such as Hugh Masekela for whom Huddleston provided his first trumpet as a 14 year old pupil in South Africa. Soon after the ‘Huddleston Jazz Band’ was formed, sparking a career of untold proportions across the globe for Masekela and his fellow South African, Jonas Gwangwa.
Other notable persons who credit Huddleston with influencing their lives include Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Huddleston was close to O R Tambo, ANC President during the years of exile from 1962-1990. They hosted many conferences, protests and actions together, in the face of fierce opposition from both Margaret Thatcher and the South African government and their allies. The quote by Nelson Mandela on the statue reads: ‘No white person has done more for South Africa than Trevor Huddleston – Nelson Mandela’.
Huddleston died at Mirfield, West Yorkshire, England, in 1998.
Sir William Harpur
Sir William Harpur (c. 1496 – 27 February 1574) was a merchant from Bedford who moved to London, amassed a large fortune, and became Lord Mayor of London. In 1566 he and his wife Dame Alice gave an endowment to support certain charities including education in Bedford. The endowment became the Harpur Trust, which governs five schools in Bedford today , Bedford Academy, Bedford Girls’ School, Bedford School, Bedford Modern School and Pilgrims Pre-Preparatory School.The schools have been attended by many famous celebrities and politicians such as Al Murray, Alastair Cook, Christopher Fry, Paddy Ashdown, Monty Panesar and Jean Muir. He died in 1574, aged 77. He was buried, according to his wishes, in the churchyard of St Paul’s Church, Bedford.
Glenn Miller 1904 – 1944
During WWII, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra were based in Bedford as a safer alternative to London, and they regularly used RAF Twinwood Airfield . On August 27th 1944, Glenn Miller performed a special concert at RAF Twinwood which was the only outdoor concert he performed at a British base. Later that year, on December 15th 1944, Major Glenn Miller was due to leave England for France. He boarded an aircraft outside Twinwood Control Tower, and he was never seen again. This sparked a mystery that has fascinated the world ever since. A bronze bust of Glenn Miller can be seen in an alcove on the façade of Bedford Corn Exchange.
Joe Clough (1887-1977)
Clough came to Britain as an immigrant from the West Indies. He settled in London where he became Britain’s first black bus driver. Clough later moved to Bedford where he continued to drive buses and also became a taxi driver.
Clough was a much-loved figure in the town and is also the subject of a poem by Abraham Gibson.
John Fowles (1926-2005)
A critically acclaimed author, Fowles was a boarder at Bedford School from the ages of 13-18. He became a full time writer in 1963 after a period as a teacher. Some of his novels include The Collector, The Magus, and – perhaps his most famous – The French Lieutenants Woman – all of which were made into films.
James Hanratty (1936-1962)
Hanratty’s connection with Bedford is due to the notorious 1961 “A6 Murder”. The killing of Michael Gregsten and the rape of Valerie Stone took place at Deadman’s Hill near Clophill. Hanratty’s case was controversial in that – after he was found guilty and hanged – new evidence came to light that cast some doubt on the original findings. The case came to the attention of the appeal court, and in 2002, thanks to advances in forensic science and DNA testing, the guilty verdict was upheld.
Ronald William George “Ronnie” Barker
Ronald William George “Ronnie” Barker OBE (25 September 1929 – 3 October 2005) He was an English actor, comedian and writer. He was born in Garfield Street, Bedford and was known for roles in British comedy television series such as Porridge, The Two Ronnies and Open All Hours. He won a BAFTA for best light entertainment performance four times, among other awards, and received an OBE in 1978.
John Le Mesurier
John Le Mesurier was born in Chaucer Road Bedford in 1912 and is most famously noted for his role in Dad’s Army as Sergeant Arthur Wilson and had a prolific acting career starring in over 100 movies. He died in 1983.
HM Lord-Lieutenant of Bedfordshire, Helen Nellis
The office of the Lord-Lieutenant of a county is appointed by the Crown by “Letters Patent” under the Great Seal and the encumbant is the Queen’s permanent representative of the Crown in that county. The post was originally created to manage a county’s armed forces, but nowadays the Lord-Lieutenant’s duties are mainly ceremonial.
The Lord-Lieutenant does however still retain the traditional right of recommending the Commission of the Peace for the County. Lord-Lieutenants undertake a wide range of voluntary activity, championing and connecting local voluntary organisations and activities. Bedfordshire’s Lord-Lieutenant is Helen Nellis and her formal title is: “Her Majesty’s Lieutenant of and in the County of Bedfordshire”. When addressing the Lord-Lieutenant, one should use the address “Her Majesty’s Lieutenant” or “Lord-Lieutenant”.
Although the county is split into three separate and independent councils, The Lord-Lieutenant represents the whole of Bedfordshire.
She also represents each of the 6 MPS that cover Bedfordshire. In the royal charter, the Lord-Lieutenant of the county ranks higher than the Mayor, who is first citizen of the Borough. However, the customary protocol is to defer seniority to the Mayor when in Bedford.
The post of Lord-Lieutenant of Bedfordshire was created by royal charter by Henry VIII in 1549 when William Parr, the 1st Marquess of Northampton was appointed. Helen Nellis is the 30th Lord-Lieutenant and the first female to hold the post in 463 years. Helen has lived in the county for 30 years and her career has covered the health, education and commercial sectors. She has also worked as a barrister. Helen Nellis has held multiple chairmanships including chairman of Bedfordshire Health Authority, vice-chairman of the University of Luton, vice chairman of the University of Bedfordshire, and chairman of Bedford Hospital Trust. Her charity and community work include a stint in Ghana, where she helped support health, education and farming programmes vital to the future of the local community.
Helen is married to Professor Joe Nellis, a former vice-chancellor at the University of Cranfield, and who now works as director of community at Cranfield Business School.
Holders of the Bedfordshire Lieutenancy
2012: Helen Nellis
1991: Sir Samuel Whitbread KCVO JP
1978: Lieutenant Colonel Hanmer Cecil Hanbury
1957: Major Simon Whitbread
1943: Lieutenant Colonel Dealtry C Part
1936: George, 1st Baron Luke
1912: Samuel Howard Whitbread
1905: Beauchamp, 16th Baron St John
1861: Francis, 7th Earl Cowper
1859: Francis, 7th Duke of Bedford
1818: Thomas, 3rd Baron Grantham, afterwards 2nd Earl de Grey and 5th Baron Lucas
1771: John, 2nd Earl of Upper Ossory
1747: John, 4th Duke of Bedford
1711: Henry, 1st Duke of Kent
1701: Wriothesley, 2nd Duke of Bedford
1700: Lord Edward Russell during minority of Wriothesley, 2nd Duke of Bedford
1689: William, 5th Earl and 1st Duke of Bedford
1685: Thomas, 2nd Earl of Ailesbury
1667: Robert, 1st Earl of Ailesbury
1651: Post Not Held
1646: Henry, 10th Earl of Kent
1643: Oliver, 4th Baron St John of Bletso, 1st Earl Bolingbroke
1639: Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Cleveland
1629: Henry Grey, 8th Earl of Kent
1615: Charles Grey, 7th Earl of Kent
1586: Henry Grey, 6th Earl of Kent
1560: Oliver St John, 1st Baron St John of Bletso
1549: William Parr, 1st Marquess of Northampton
Walking along Bedford’s streets, if you look out for them, you can see commemorative plaques – some blue, some brown, older ones in bronze, even some carved on pavement slabs – hinting at people and events in the town’s fascinating history. The older ones tend to record significant events such as the rebuilding of the town bridge in 1813, the ending of its toll charges in 1835 or its widening in 1938-40.
John Bunyan, the town’s world-famous religious author of the 1600s, is recorded at numerous places. At St John House in St John’s Street, where he was ‘born again’, a joint plaque records that he came under the influence of the Protestant minister John Gifford. His adult baptism by immersion in the river is marked at Duckmill Weir. The site of the cottage where he lived with his second wife and daughter (when not imprisoned for illegal preaching) is to be found in St Cuthbert Street. In Silver Street, a pavement plaque close to the ‘Reflections of Bedford’ sculpture marks the site where he suffered his 12 years of imprisonment in the County Gaol.
Bedford’s other two outstanding sons, immortalised in St Paul’s Square, not only have plaques but also statues, namely Sir William Harpur, the town’s great benefactor, and John Howard, the prison reformer, after whom the present-day Howard League for Penal Reform is named.
Working forward to more modern times, two well-known twentieth century entertainers were born or lived for a time in Bedford – comedy actor Ronnie Barker (of the Two Ronnies) and actor John Le Mesurier of Dad’s Army fame. Sportsmen Harold Abrahams, Olympic athlete (now remembered through the Chariots of Fire film) is remembered and Stephen ‘Etienne’ Stott, the Olympic canoeist is celebrated by a small plaque on the gold post box in St Paul’s Square. An unusual plastic canopy over the entrance to Church Arcade commemorates the names of other Bedford sportsmen and women: Martin Bayfield, Stephanie Cook, Gail Emms, Tim Foster, Geoffrey Millman, Derek ‘Budge’ Rogers and Matt Skelton. (Paula Radcliffe, Bedford’s world-class runner, is immortalised by a road sign on the Clapham side of the town on a stretch of the A6 road known as the Paula Radcliffe Way.)
For a land-locked county it is perhaps surprising that there are connections with Admiral William Smyth, sailor and astronomer and two famous polar explorers, recorded by commemorative wall plaques where they lived for a time in Bedford: Apsley Cherry-Garrard and Aeneas Macintosh.
The First World War is remembered by a plaque in St John’s Street to the only Bedford-born recipient of the Victoria Cross, Private William Buckingham, an unassuming hero who was raised in Bedford Workhouse as a child. Close to that plaque is the sculptured relief of a mythical bird with a plaque recording the Great Flood of November 1823, on the wall of what used to be The Phoenix public house.
Life in Bedford during the Second World War is recognised with a plaque recording the BBC’s music residency here in the early 1940s with a blue plaque on the Corn Exchange façade. The nearby bust of American band leader Glenn Millar is another reminder of the importance of music in maintaining morale during those difficult wartime years. Although it was secret at the time, we now know what a vital part Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes played in the war, listening in to enemy forces’ communications and decoding them. Bedford had its part in this through hosting intensive Japanese language training courses for specialist recruits. A plaque in De Parys Avenue commemorates both this and the BBC Staff Club from that wartime period.
Trevor Huddleston, archbishop and anti-apartheid campaigner, not only has a bust sculpture in Silver Street but also a plaque at 44 Chaucer Road. Mark Rutherford, after whom the local secondary school is named, was the pen-name of Victorian writer William Hale White. Unusually, he has two plaques close together, an old one and a newer one, on the High Street, facing the Howard statue. There are also two plaques to a childhood resident who became world-famous, at houses where the Italian scientist and radio pioneer, Guglielmo Marconi, lived at 42 Harpur Street and at 79 Bromham Road.
Local nineteenth century architect John Usher, whose distinctive houses you can see in the town, has a plaque at Holly Lodge, a lovely private residence in The Grove. There are plaques also to buildings which have since disappeared such as the medieval Bedford Castle on the Embankment and to the Art-Deco Granada cinema on St Peter’s Street, now the site of a Lidl supermarket.
Plaques to outstanding women in the town have until recently been almost non-existent. Margaret Stansfeld was remembered by her former physical-training teacher students with a plaque in Lansdowne Road. Now, Dora Carrington, the early-twentieth century artist whose life was dramatized in the film “Carrington”, has a plaque in De Parys Avenue where she lived while attending the Girls High School. Dame Bertha Phillpotts, the Scandinavian scholar, Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge University and an active proponent of higher education for women, has a plaque at the Horne Lane entrance to the new Riverside Square.
Other significant women with Bedford connections who have been recognised nationally but not celebrated locally are to be finally commemorated in the town in 2018. This is appropriate since it is the year of centenary celebrations of women getting the vote in this country. It is hoped that plaques will be unveiled to Amy Walmsley, the educationalist who devoted her life to developing primary education; Theresa Stannard, the popular watercolour painter of garden scenes; Charlotte Bousfield, the nineteenth century diarist and temperance campaigner; Sister Fanny Eagles, the Church of England deaconess who founded St Etheldreda’s Home for Orphans in Bedford; and Hester Hawkins, astronomer and hymn writer.
It is easy to walk past commemorative plaques when intent on getting from A to B but just to take our time and look out for them as we walk around Bedford can be very rewarding and introduce us to people, places and events worth finding more about. Fortunately, local historian Stuart Antrobus has listed them all and where to find them. Just look online via Bedfordshire Virtual Library, under Local History/Places/Bedford and you will find over 50 plaques
.Thanks to Bedford town guide David Fowler there are also free-standing illustrated history interpretation boards located on pavements about the town, giving fascinating insights into the historic buildings and street scenes you can see around you. Treat yourself to a good look around Bedford’s streets, looking for these – you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn while enjoying a pleasant stroll round the county town.
Statue by Joseph Boehm was completed in 1874. It was unveiled on 10 June at St Peter’s Green, Bedford, by Lady Augusta Stanley, before a crowd of 10,000.
“The Meeting” or “The Kids’ Statue” is a bronze statue by sculptor John Mills of a group of schoolchildren outside the Harpur Centre
Statue in bronze, erected in 1890, St Pauls Square, Bedford by Victorian artist Alfred Gilbert (1854–1934)
Trevor Huddleston statue Silver Street Bedford. The statue in his honour was unveiled by Nelson Mandela on his visit to Bedford in 2000, who said at the time: No white man has done more for Africa than Trevor Huddleston.
The Italian Statue – by Professor Giuseppe Martignetti, Greyfriars roundabout. This large, striking and unusual, semi-abstract group sculpture in the Futurist style represents young families from the predominantly rural south of Italy (hence the animals) symbolically striding forward to a new life abroad. It caused a lot of controversy as many Italians reported to the Beds on Sunday local paper that they would have preferred to see a statue that was relevant to the brick works and not farmers and peasants. It is made of reinforced concrete covered with a metallic sheen and protected with an acrylic overglaze. Its title is Verso Domani, which means Towards Tomorrow. Its situation on a busy roundabout prevents us from safely taking a close look at it. The accompanying plaque reads (in the English translation): “In Memory of the Italian immigrants who came to Bedford. For those that left their home: our respect. For those who took a risk to find something better: our thanks. For those that are no longer with us: we remember them.” Its original temporary location, at the northern end of the town bridge, almost opposite the Swan Hotel and the South African War statue, from 13 September 2009, proved not to be suitable, due to vulnerability to vandalism and it was moved to its present position in August 2011. This is appropriate since the annual saints day procession from the Italian Church passes the spot, not far from where Italian immigrants first settled in Bedford, an area which became known as Little Italy.
Reflections of Bedford
Reflections Of Bedford, High Street end of Silver Street, Sculptor: Rick Kirby, 2009. This very large, five metre-high, abstract work in stainless welded-steel, featuring two enormous faces staring at each other, almost nose to nose, was erected on 12 December 2009. It was meant to represent the diversity of ethnic backgrounds in the town and its links with brick and lace. At night it is illuminated with coloured lights. The faces, etched with brick shapes and with a lace design, are designed to be viewed from the High Street, on entering the pedestrian precinct of Silver Street.
Black Tom is Bedford’s most famous ghost. Despite being hanged for his crimes, most Bedfordians have a soft spot for Tom, and few historians have anything bad to say about him. In fact, Tom’s demise highlighted terrible corruption in the justice system of the time, and prompted John Howard
‘s prison reform work.There have reputedly been many sightings of Black Tom around the Tavistock Street area, and many locals refer to the Prime Ministers’ streets as “Black Tom”. You can read his story here, and those of other local spooks.
Tavistock Street, Union Street and Clapham Road Intersection –
If there was ever such a thing as a “genial highwayman” than that would be Black Tom. But his criminal activities caught up with him and he was arrested and jailed in Bedford’s prison. As was usual in the 18th Century, people sentenced to death could plea for mercy, and if the plea was accepted, the convict was usually sent to the Australian penal colony instead. Because Tom was such a likeable fellow, many of the people of Bedford signed his petition.
Alas, this was to no avail, he was sentenced to death anyway. As he was led to the gallows on a cart, Black Tom was stopped by a local landlord, who offered the condemned man a bottle of wine. Black Tom drank a glass, then handed the rest of the bottle to the many friends and family gathered in the streets, saying “I’ll pay for it on my way back”. But he didn’t return, and those words were Tom’s last joke. Tom was fully expecting to return, but Bedford Prison’s gaoler was a corrupt man. He had chosen not to pass Tom’s petition on, and his plea had therefore not been heard. The reason was that Black Tom’s friends had not given the gaoler a big enough bribe.
Local gentleman and philanthropist, John Howard, was appalled that this was allowed to happen, and he took up Tom’s case, albeit too late to save the highwayman. He discovered that gaolers were not paid; rather they extorted their money from prisoners and their families, receiving bribes in exchange for basics such as food and drink for the prisoners. John Howard’s work eventually led to the Prison Reform Act of 1774, mandating that food, water and basic sanitation should be afforded to all prisoners, and that gaolers should be paid.
Black Tom was hanged at the spot where the roundabout now stands linking Clapham Road, Roff Avenue, Tavistock Street and Union Street. He was also buried here, with a stake driven through his heart, which people believed would prevent him returning. But it didn’t. There have been many many sightings of Black Tom since his death, sometimes alone, sometimes with another ghost. Sometimes Tom simply stands quietly, head bowed, beside the road; others he staggers along, his neck broken. Most witnesses say they thought saw a drunk in fancy dress until he vanished. One of the most documented sightings happened in the 1960s. It was a busy daytime and there were many witnesses, all with similar stories.
Bedford Hospital: The Gliding Girl
In the early 1970s, two nurses followed a beautiful girl into the toilets. She was wearing a long dress and a coat. When they went in, the toilet was empty. Both nurses gave the same description of the woman. Over a quarter of a century later, 3 members of staff reported seeing a woman walk through the wall of a store room – she was wearing a long dress. It is also reported that the sound of footsteps shuffling can be heard on The Shand Ward.
Bedford School: Samuel Whitbread
The name Samuel Whitbread is more associated with another Bedford school, but a Samuel Whitbread was the headmaster of Bedford School in 1903, when he met an untimely death. Several sighting have been made on the upper floors of the main school building – rooms which he had commissioned. Sightings are mostly at night, and he frequently asks visitors the way out. One boy reported leading him politely to the exit before he suddenly disappeared.
Cecil Higgins Art Gallery
The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery is allegedly home to many ghosts, with several sightings reported throughout the gallery’s history.
Among them are a man in a dark suit, a dappily dressed man from the 1930s, complete with bowler hat, and a child, probably a stable boy, who haunts the library.
For some reason, there seem to be a lot of nun ghosts. Cineworld was built on the site of the Newnham priory, so it is not surprising that a lot of paranormal activity has been reported. Reportings include a hooded figure in Screen 4 and in the toilets, as well as several instances of strange and unexplained sounds and sudden drops in temperature.
Newnham Avenue Methodist Church
There are several contradictory ghostly reportings in the church, so it is difficult to ascertain exactly how haunted it is. A gentleman dressed in tweed, and a “well dressed” gentleman could both be the same ghost. One was seen wandering around and the other creeping along the back of the church before walking through the wall in a puff of smoke.
The King’s Arms, St Mary’s Street
Well, the pub was built on the site of a mortuary, there are bound to be ghosts! Again, the many reports conflict, and there could be one, two or several ghosts.
The cellar is reputed to be haunted by an elderly gentleman whilst a much younger ghost frequents the street level areas of the pub.
Ghosts in Private Residences
A Tavistock Street, the resident came home from work several times to discover that the furniture had been rearranged. He thought nothing of it until the day he arrived home and his music system was on, and a record playing.
Many people report seeing family members after their deaths, but the story told by a resident in Ram Yard is more comforting than spooky. She woke up in the middle of the night, and her grandmother was sitting by her bed. The lady momentarily forgot that her grandmother had in fact died two years earlier. She then realised that there was a car on fire outside the flat, the exit was blocked by the flames, and the apartment was starting to fill with smoke. To this day the lady believes that her grandmother saved her life.
A more sinister ghost was reported by a woman in Chaucer Road. She was awoken by the sound of her baby screaming. She noticed a shadowy hand – we don’t know if it was attached to a shadowy body or not – crossing the wall of the room before coming to rest on her baby’s face. She was able to grab her baby and run, but from that day on, mother and child shared the same bed.