History and Characters
Characters and Events from Bedford's Past
Bedford is an ancient county town, grown from
a settlement dating back to before Saxon times. It is said that
Offa, King of Mercia, founded St. Cuthbert's Church in Bedford, and
was buried in the town. King Henry II granted a charter to the
burgesses of Bedford in 1166, thus awarding the town Borough
The first reference to a Mayor of Bedford is
in the Close Roll of 1264, and the Borough's two coats of arms (one
of which can be seen at the top of this page) have been in use
been greatly influenced by the legacy of Sir William and Dame Alice
Harpur. William was a local man who made good in London as a
merchant tailor, and eventually became Mayor of London. In 1566, he
made a gift to Bedford of two plots of land together valued at £42.
One was the site of a school he had built in Bedford 14 years
earlier. The other was in the Middlesex countryside - now Holborn -
and brings more than two and a half million pounds into the Harpur
Trust each year. The Harpur Trust promotes education, the provision
of recreational facilities and provides relief to the aged, sick
Bedford is particularly famous for its
connection with John Bunyan, the 17th century non-conformist writer
and preacher, who was born just outside the town in Elstow.
Bunyan's famous work, The Pilgrim's Progress was written while
imprisoned in the county gaol, and is reputedly the most widely
read book of all time, after the Bible.
Bunyan wrote more than 60 books and pamphlets
on the Christian faith and gained a national reputation as a
The Bunyan Meeting House and Museum hold many
of Bunyan's personal possessions and other relics.
The Meeting House has a number of stained
glass windows depicting scenes from The Pilgrim's Progress, which
proved an inspiration to Terry Waite when he himself was
incarcerated in a Beirut prison.
The eminent philanthropist and penal reformer,
John Howard, was High Sheriff of Bedfordshire in the mid-1700's. He
was appalled at the conditions in the county gaol, and was
horrified to find similar malpractice in gaols up and down the
country. He travelled widely throughout Europe reporting on prison
conditions in every country he visited; John Wesley described him
as "one of the greatest men in Europe".
Cardington is famous for its connections with
the airship industry. The huge hangars, which were built to house
the R100 and R101 airships, are visible from miles around. A
memorial to the victims of the disaster which befell the R101 on
its maiden voyage can be seen at the local cemetery.
Another popular, although "adopted",
Bedfordian was US band leader Glenn Miller who was stationed here
during the Second World War. Although it is more than 50 years
since his plane mysteriously disappeared, there are regular
concerts performed in his memory.
Archbishop Trevor Huddleston was born in
Bedford in 1913 and christened in St Paul's Church. He was
recognised for his work against apartheid in South Africa. Nelson
Mandela, ex-premier of South Africa visited Bedford to pay tribute
to the Archbishop and unveiled a bust of him on Silver Street.