Visit Bedford and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Bedford, Bedfordshire. This is the county town and, although a centre of industry, it has a great deal of interest both in its buildings and in the history connected with it. It has been a trading place for nearly 1,000 years and its position on the River Ouse, which divides the town in two, has added to its prosperity, as many of its manufactured agricultural implements were transported by barges.
The River Ouse has also given the town much of beauty, for around it has grown the Embankment, a fine street with public gardens on either side of the river. There are two bridges of note: one is Georgian, designed by Wing, with five segmental arches and stone balustrades; and the other, a suspension bridge for pedestrians only, is late Victorian.
Among the many old inns, the most notable is the Swan Hotel, at the northern end of the stone bridge. Built in 1794 for the Duke of Bedford, it is a gracious building, with a staircase believed to have been designed by Wren, with twisted balusters and a string, and taken from the dismantled Houghton Conquest House at Ampthill. Opposite the Swan Hotel on the south bank of the Ouse stands the tower block of the County Hotel.
The town's centre is St Paul's Square and the High Street, with the massive Church of St Paul, considerably restored in the last two centuries. The doorway of the church is Early English, but much of the rest seems to be 14th- and 15th-century with embattled clerestory and aisles and, on the upper floor, statue niches. Most of the interior was also restored in Victorian days but its most interesting feature is that the aisles are the same height as the nave with clerestory windows. The font has a decorated base and the ornate pulpit is 16th-century. The rood-screen is by Bodley. Monuments of particular interest include one to the south of the altar to Simon de Beauchamp, 1208, and to Sir William Harpur and his wife.
Bedford has always been one of the foremost centres for education, due mainly to Sir William Harpur, who eventually became Lord Mayor of London. Born in Bedford in 1496, he purchased land in London for a nominal sum and from the profits which accrued built the Bedford Grammar School. Just over 200 years later the value of the property had increased to £30,000 and the trust which administered it founded other schools, until, in 1866, 1,860 children were being educated from it. Part of a school house, built in 1756, is now the Town Hall, with Sir William's statue in the doorway. It is ashlar-faced and part of it was added in 1859. Behind the Town Hall are the new municipal offices, seven floors high.
The present Bedford School in De Parys Avenue is late Victorian, Gothic-styled with a turret, and in Harpur Street is Bedford Modern School. The 19th-century Public Library has a Greek Doric temple front. Bedford High School for Girls, of the same period, is one of the finest of the school buildings. In Tudor style, with giant pilasters in the centre, its corners have attractive half-domed bow-windows.
In Dame Alice Street is a long range of late Georgian, dark red-bricked almshouses (one range was demolished in 1968) and in the High Street is the Lion Hotel, of about the same time, stuccoed with large pilasters and first-floor balconies.
In Mill Street are buildings commemorating two of the town's most famous people, John Howard and John Bunyan. The stuccoed Congregational chapel is in memory of John Howard, born 1726, who spent his youth at Cardington, travelled the world widely and became High Sheriff of Bedfordshire. He learnt of the appalling conditions in Bedford prisons, which were due mainly to the fact that the gaoler was not paid a fixed wage but extorted money from prisoners before allowing them to go free. Howard's discoveries and complaints led to two bills being passed in the House of Commons reforming goals. A statue of John Howard stands in St Paul's Square.
Bunyan Meeting House with its fine bronze doors commemorates the man who, born a tinker, was a Cromwellian soldier and eventually acquired deep religious convictions, preaching all over the country. At the time of the Restoration, this was illegal for one not ordained, and as a result he spent many years in prison, where it is believed he wrote Pilgrim's Progress and other notable works. The Bunyan Museum, adjoining the Meeting House, is filled with articles of interest, including his iron fiddle and other musical instruments, and the Public Library has a valuable Bunyan collection. A statue of him stands on St Peter's Green and the town has several plaques to his memory, including one on the County Gaol. In the surrounding countryside people still refer proudly to the fact that it is ‘Bunyan country’.
In Kempston Road are the Victorian Britannia Ironworks, fine buildings with an interesting gateway.
Facing the river, close by Market Square, which has open markets twice a week, is Shire Hall, a late Victorian building of red brick and terracotta, with a Gothic porch and Elizabethan windows. Across the river is the new County Hall complex with council chamber, library and record office. Nearby is the Corn Exchange with an attic upon which are four massive chimneys. The mid-Georgian prison, with three pavilions and an archway in the middle, was designed by Wing and has been twice extended. The north wing of the Bedford General Hospital, in Kimbolton Road, incorporates the former l8th-century workhouse and has a hipped roof and an 11-bay brick front.
There are numerous medieval, Victorian and modern churches, St Peter's being the largest. St Merton de Merton shows evidence of Anglo-Saxon workmanship. It has a central Norman tower with twin bell-openings, and a Norman south doorway. The present chancel was the nave of the Anglo-Saxon church. The octagonal font is large with quatrefoils and motifs. St Mary's Church, in St Mary's Square, is also partly Norman, with a crossing tower containing large twin bell-openings. It has a simple but charming plaster and whitewash interior with plain Georgian benches and a sculptured Norman head.
The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery has a superb collection of paintings and prints, sculpture, including works by Epstein and Henry Moore, l8th-century furniture and old lace and embroidery. There is also a fine collection of English and Continental porcelain.
Bedford Museum tells the county's history, with Iron Age and Roman archaeological finds, works from Anglo-Saxon times, local animals and birds, and specimens of lace-making and strawplaiting.
Nearby towns: Biggleswade, Eaton Socon, Hitchin, Luton, Milton Keynes, Newport Pagnell, Olney, Sandy, St Neots, Wellingborough.
Nearby villages: Ampthill, Clophill, Cranfield, Great Barford, Sandy, Stagsden, Stewartby, Wilstead.
Have you decided to visit Bedford or the surrounding villages? Please look above for somewhere to stay in:
- a Bedford bed and breakfast (a Bedford B&B or Bedford b and b)
- a Bedford guesthouse
- a Bedford hotel (or motel)
- a Bedford self-catering establishment, or
- other Bedford accommodation