The Higgins Bedford will re-open from dawn to dusk on 21st June 2013
The much anticipated opening of The Higgins Bedford will take
place on the longest day of the year, Friday 21st June, in an
amazing dawn to dusk launch.
The transformed art gallery and museum is located in the
historic buildings of Castle Brewery and the adjoining Victorian
family home, both built by the Higgins family in the mid-19th
The Higgins Bedford will bring together an internationally
renowned art collection with a brand new visitor experience of
national significance, that does justice to the stories behind the
people, places and collections associated with both the former
museum and art gallery. The £5.8 million project also features a
hugely expanded floorspace for exhibitions, state-of-the-art modern
facilities and the latest technology to enable people of all ages
to enjoy the displays.
Finishing work is now taking place in preparation for the
opening in what is set to be one of the cultural highlights of the
year, with the longest day of the year chosen for the start of the
next stage in the life of this remarkable, free, family-orientated
The Mayor of Bedford Borough, Dave Hodgson, said: “The opening
of The Higgins Bedford is a tremendously exciting event for Bedford
town centre, marking the creation of a major cultural attraction
for local residents and visitors to enjoy. Internationally renowned
art will be on display in the very best modern facilities, while
the story of Bedford Borough will be brought to life in the
state-of-the-art surroundings. The redeveloped Higgins Bedford
belongs to us all, and I hope local people of all ages will come
along time and again to enjoy what is on offer.
“In the face of extremely challenging economic conditions we
have a stream of town centre regeneration projects coming to
fruition, bucking the trend of decline for high streets elsewhere.
Together these projects and the major investment in our town centre
will increase footfall dramatically and send the clear message that
Bedford town centre is a vibrant, enjoyable place to
Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England,
who have supported the project with a £959,000 grant said: “It's
exciting to see this project come to fruition. These are wonderful
collections and it's fantastic that they are going to once more be
available for those who know them from old as well as whole new
One of the first exhibitions at the redeveloped facility will be
A Sense of Place; an exhibition of artwork by ten community groups
that have worked with The Higgins Bedford over the course of the
redevelopment. Curated by artists Alex Julyan and Lucy Wilson, the
exhibition explores the groups’ responses to ‘a sense of place’.
The show will feature works by Aragon Lacemakers, Barford Avenue
textile group, Pavenham Rushwork, Beds Garden Carers and many
Already new displays have been prepared, and many familiar (and
less familiar) objects are returning to the building. The Zodiac
Settle, designed by William Burges, will be on display for the
first time since it was acquired in 2011. The settle (a kind of
canopied bench) will be displayed in the new Burges Gallery, a
hexagonal room with a dramatic vaulted ceiling, alongside the rest
of the spectacular collection of his furniture.
The opening of The Higgins Bedford provides the finishing touch
to the Cultural Quarter in the Castle Quay area of Bedford Town
Centre. The redeveloped facility completes a comprehensive
regeneration which has already seen the exposure and interpretation
of archaeology in the grounds of Bedford Castle and newly opened
restaurants, bars and shops adding to the vibrant atmosphere.
The major transformation and successful redevelopment of the
Higgins Bedford has only been possible thanks to the commitment and
support of donors and trustees, and Bedford Borough Council would
like to thank them for championing this project throughout.
1.The Higgins Bedford - Heritage
The Higgins Bedford will unite three previous cultural venues on
one site: Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford Museum and Bedford
Gallery. Following the merging of staffing and operations in 2005,
the £5.8m project has allowed the buildings to be joined together
and redeveloped throughout.
The Higgins family, the site at Castle Close and the development
of the art gallery and museum are intrinsically linked. The Higgins
family moved to Bedford in the 1820s, founding the brewery at
Castle Close, the site today. The brewery remained in the Higgins
family until 1928 when Cecil Higgins decided to sell it to Wells
& Winch Ltd. in order to focus on his ambition to create a
museum art collection ‘for the benefit, interest and education of
the inhabitants of, and visitors to Bedford’. Cecil Higgins Art
Gallery opened in 1949 in the house that had been his family home.
Bedford Museum moved into the former Higgins & Sons Brewery in
When it reopens The Higgins Bedford will feature new displays,
temporary exhibitions and extensive learning and events programmes,
redeveloped galleries and large activity spaces.
The Higgins Bedford will explore the inspiring stories of local
people and encourage a ‘sense of place’ for Bedford and the
surrounding area. It will also showcase the wonderful and varied
collections left for the enjoyment of local people.
It is hoped that The Higgins Bedford will attract a wider range
of visitors to Bedford Borough, as well as being an excellent
resource for local people. It will be more than an art gallery and
museum – the plan is for it to become a ‘hub’ at the centre of
Bedford, used as a venue for a wide range of activities, including
family events, social functions for local communities, talks and
2. The Higgins Bedford - Collections
The site will showcase the Cecil Higgins Collection of fine and
decorative arts, including a wonderful and varied print collection
from world-famous artists such as Picasso; a first-class
watercolour collection by artists including Turner, Constable,
Cotman and Blake; and unique groups of work in dedicated galleries
by the designers William Burges and Edward Bawden.
The Higgins Bedford will also exhibit the collections of Bedford
Borough Council and the former Bedford Modern School Museum. These
social history, archaeology, natural history and ethnography
collections tell the stories of the people and places that have
shaped Bedford Borough and its relationship with the wider world,
from prehistory to the present day. Displays will feature the
growth of the town from a small but busy medieval market to a
centre of industry and business in more recent times.
3. The Redevelopment Project
The redevelopment project has been made possible by £3.2 million
funding from Bedford Borough Council, as well as a grant of
£959,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £100,000 from the Trustees
of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, £500,000 from the Wixamtree
Trust, £500,000 from The Harpur Trust, £350,000 from the Monument
Trust, and £200,000 from Charles Wells Ltd, in addition to funding
from a number of other sources.
4. The Heritage Lottery Fund
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage
Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage,
people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient
heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to
archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest
in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost
35,000 projects with more than £5.3bn across the UK, including £360
million to over 3,200 project in the East of England alone.
5. The Harpur trust
The Harpur Trust has one goal - to help and support the people
who live in and around Bedford. Even though we’re one of the
largest Charities in the UK, everything we do is for the Bedford
area. Using the legacy of Sir William Harpur, our founder in 1566,
our aims are clear and simple. We’re here to inspire and support
people in the Borough of Bedford to improve their lives by:
• providing and promoting education
• offering help and relief to anyone who is sick, in need,
hardship or distress
• providing recreational facilities with a social welfare
In the last year we gave over £1,900,000 in grants to projects
based in and around Bedford. This money helped local organisations
and individuals to make a difference to their own lives or those of
others in the local area.
To find out more about The Harpur
Trust visit http://www.harpurtrust.org.uk/