The name of the town is thought to derive from the name of a Saxon chief called Beda, and a ford crossing the River Great Ouse. Bedford was a market town for the surrounding agricultural region from the early Middle Ages The Anglo-Saxon King Offa of Mercia was buried in the town in 796 but his tomb was soon lost to the river. In 886 it became a boundary town separating Wessex and Danelaw. It was the seat of the Barony of Bedford. In 919 Edward the Elder built the town's first known fortress, on the south side of the River Great Ouse and there received the area's submission. This fortress was destroyed by the Danes. William II gave the barony of Bedford to Paine de Beauchamp who built a new, strong castle.
Bedford traces its borough charter in 1166 by Henry II and elected two members to the unreformed House of Commons. It remained a small agricultural town, with wool being an important industry in the area for much of the Middle Ages. The new Bedford Castle was razed in 1224 and today only a mound remains. From the 16th century Bedford and much of Bedfordshire became one of the main centres of England's lace industry, and lace continued to be an important industry in Bedford until the early 20th century. In 1660 John Bunyan was imprisoned for 12 years in Bedford Gaol. It was here that he wrote The Pilgrim's Progress. The River Great Ouse became navigable as far as Bedford in 1689. Wool declined in importance with brewing becoming a major industry in the town. The 19th century saw Bedford transform into an important engineering hub. In 1832 gas lighting was introduced, and the railway reached Bedford in 1846. The first corn exchange was built 1849, and the first drains and sewers were dug in 1864.
Bedford is the largest settlement in Borough of Bedford. The borough council is led by a directly elected mayor who holds the title 'Mayor of Bedford', an office which was first held by Frank Branston, until his death in 2009. The current Mayor of Bedford is Dave Hodgson from the Liberal Democrat Party.
Bedford itself is divided into 10 wards: Brickhill, Castle, Cauldwell, De Parys, Goldington, Harpur, Kingsbrook, Newnham, Putnoe and Queens Park. Brickhill elects its own parish council, while the rest (and majority) of Bedford is an unparished area.
Bedford is served by Bedfordshire Police. The Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner of that force is Kathryn Holloway.
Bedford forms part of the Bedford constituency, represented in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom Parliament. The current Member of Parliament (MP) for Bedford is Richard Fuller, who is a member of the Conservative Party.
The town of Kempston is adjacent to Bedford, as are the villages of Elstow, Renhold and Ravensden. Wixams is a new town which is being developed to the south of Bedford. Villages in the Borough of Bedford with populations of more than 2,000 as of 2005 were Biddenham, Bromham, Clapham, Elstow, Oakley, Sharnbrook, Shortstown, Wilstead, and Wootton. There are also many smaller villages in the borough. The villages in the borough are popular with commuters to Bedford, and also with people who commute to Milton Keynes, London and towns in Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire.
Nearby small towns include Ampthill, Biggleswade, Flitwick, and Sandy, all of which are in Central Bedfordshire, as well as Rushden in Northamptonshire and St Neots in Cambridgeshire. The nearest towns and cities with larger populations than Bedford are Northampton to the north west, Cambridge to the east, Milton Keynes to the south west, and Luton to the south, all of which have urban area populations of 150,000 or more.
As with the rest of the United Kingdom, Bedford has a maritime climate, with a limited range of temperatures, and generally even rainfall throughout the year. The nearest Met Office weather station to Bedford is Bedford (Thurleigh) airport, about 6.5 miles north of Bedford town centre at an elevation of 85 metres. Since 1980, temperature extremes at the site have ranged from 35.9 °C(97F) in August 2003 and 35.3 °C(95F) during July 2006 down to −15.3 °C(4F) in January 1982. However, such extremes would likely be superseded if longer term records were available – Historically, the nearest weather station to Bedford was Cardington about 2.4 miles south south east of the town centre with an elevation of 30 metres. This location recorded a minimum of −18.3 °C(-1F) during January 1963.
Rainfall averages around 585mm (23.03in) a year, with an excess of 1mm (.04in) falling on 109 days.
Sunshine at around 1500 hours a year is typical of inland areas of southern-central England.
Bedford is home to one of the largest concentrations of Italian immigrants in the United Kingdom. According to the 2001 census, almost 30% of Bedford's population were of at least partial Italian descent. This is mainly as a result of labour recruitment in the early 1950s by the London Brick Company from Southern Italy. Bedford's Little Italy feel is enhanced by a wide variety of Italian bars, restaurants and social clubs throughout the town, as well as a large number of delis and grocery shops selling Italian and continental produce – and by the large Italian mission church run by the Scalabrini Fathers order. From 1954 to 2008 Bedford had its own Italian vice-consulate.
In addition to Italian immigrants, Bedford has also been the recipient of significant immigration from South Asia (8.1% of Bedford's population; Indians began arriving from the late 1950s onwards from the Punjab area & many worked at the London Brick Company), Eastern Europe (particularly in the 2000s), Greece, Cyprus, the Middle East and Africa (3% of Bedford's population is of Sub-Saharan descent), making it one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse towns in the United Kingdom in proportion to its size.The population of Bedford together with Kempston is 107,590, but it is 163,924 for the urban area.
The River Great Ouse passes through the town centre and is lined with gardens known as the Embankment. Within these gardens, opposite Rothsay Road, stands a war memorial to the men of the town killed in the First World War. The memorial was designed in 1921 by the sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger and depicts a knight killing a dragon. The inscription reads
Bedford Castle Mound is the remnant of Bedford's medieval castle, located close to the centre of the modern town, less than a hundred yards from Bedford Bridge and the High Street. In around 2000 Bedford Borough Council built a sloping retaining wall on the south side, facing the river. Although almost completely modern, the wall does incorporate a few pieces of historic masonry. A paved path leads round the side of the mound up to the top, which is a flat circular grassy area. A small wooden structure of the same date at the top of the wall, much like a bus shelter, protects tourists from the rain while they view the river embankment.
Bedford's principal church is St Paul's, in the square of the same name at the historic centre of the town. It is the Civic Church of the Borough of Bedford and County of Bedfordshire and has a tall, iconic spire which is one of the dominant features of the town. There was an early Minster church on the site by 1066 and work on the present structure began in the early 13th century, but little remains from that period. John Bunyan and John Wesley both preached in the church. In 1865–1868 the tower and spire were completely rebuilt and the two transepts added and lesser alterations have been made since. From 1941 to the end of the Second World War the BBC's daily service was broadcast from St. Paul's. Another notable local church is St Peter's, on St Peter's Street, which contains some of the oldest architectural remains in Bedford, the most ancient being the two monoliths.
Bedford Park is the town's largest urban park and is located directly to the north of the town centre. The park retains many original features from its Victorian design and construction, including a cricket pavilion and bandstand which are both still in use. Priory Country Park is a large country park located on the northern bank of the River Great Ouse in eastern Bedford. Both parks have been awarded Green Flag status.
Just outside the town lie the Cardington airship hangars. The hangars have been used to shoot scenes for movies such as Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and Inception. The hangars can be seen from the Bedford Bypass.
Despite being far upriver from the sea, seals have occasionally been reported as swimming as far inland as Bedford.
Transport in Bedford provides links between the town and other parts of England. Road access to the town is provided by the A6 road. The town is served by two railway stations and a network of bus services.
Bedford bus station serves the town of Bedford, The bus station is part owned by the Stagecoach in Bedford and Bedford Borough Council and is situated in the town centre on All Hallows just off Greyfriars.
The main operator at Bedford bus station is Stagecoach in Bedford and Stagecoach in Northants.
Unlike most of England, Bedford Borough operates a three-tier education system in some of the area, which is arranged into lower, middle and upper schools, as recommended in the Plowden Report of 1967. The arrangement was put to the vote in 2006 with a view to moving to the two-tier model, but was rejected. On 17 November 2009, borough councillors voted 19 to 17 in favour of a two tier system, which would then be phased in. However, following the defeat of the Labour Government in 2010, the new coalition government announced that the funding necessary for the switch to a two-tier system would no longer be available. As a result, the switch proceeded on a school by school basis where council funds allowed, as national funding was due to cover most of the cost. As of September 2015 Bedford Academy, Bedford Free School, Biddenham International School, Mark Rutherford School and St Thomas More Catholic School are all secondary schools, while some middle and lower schools continue to operate in the town.
Bedford is home to four private schools run by the Harpur Trust charity, endowed by Bedfordian Sir William Harpur in the 16th century. These are:Bedford School for boys aged 7–18
Bedford Modern School, a former boys' school which became co-educational in 2003 for pupils aged 7–18
Bedford Girls' School for girls aged 7–18. (Merged September 2012 – Formerly Bedford High School for Girls and Dame Alice Harpur School)
Pilgrims Pre-Preparatory School
Smaller private institutions include Rushmoor School (boys aged 3–16, girls 3–11) St. Andrew's School (girls aged 3–16, boys 3–9), and Polam School (boys and girls aged 12 months to 9 years), none of which are part of the Harpur Trust.
Bedford hosts a campus of the University of Bedfordshire, which prior to a merger with the University of Luton in 2006 had been a campus of De Montfort University (itself now solely based in Leicester). For further education, the town is served by Bedford College. Additionally, Stella Mann College is a private college, which offers a range of further education courses relating to the performing arts.
The town has a high number of Christian churches: including the Civic and County Church of St Paul's and the Church of St Peter's, both already noted above. There are also four from the Newfrontiers network, several Polish and Italian Roman Catholic churches, LDS (Mormon) meetinghouses, and various independent churches that cater to the different ethnic and language groups. There are also four mosques located in the town.
Bedford has the largest Sikh temple in the United Kingdom outside London, alongside two other Sikh temples; one of which is in Kempston. Bedford also has Guru Ravidass and Valmiki temples.
There are also Quaker, Jehovah's Witness and Wiccan communities who meet in the town. There is no longer a synagogue in Bedford, but Bedfordshire Progressive Synagogue, based in Luton, meets in Bedford once a month for the town's Jewish community. The nearest Orthodox synagogue is the Luton Hebrew Congregation, a Lubavitch synagogue in Luton. Bedford is also the former headquarters of the Panacea Society who believed that the town would have an important role in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and also that Bedford was the original location of the Garden of Eden.
The Higgins Art Gallery & Museum, Bedford is housed in the recreated Victorian home of the Higgins family of Victorian brewers and in a modern extension. The museum has local history collections, while the galleries have notable collections of watercolours, prints and drawings, ceramics, glass and lace.
The Panacea Museum tells the story of the Panacea Society, a religious community formed in the early twentieth century.
The Bedford Corn Exchange is the largest entertainment venue in the town and plays host to a variety of performances, meetings, conferences, concerts and private functions. The venue has been host to many great entertainers such as Glenn Miller and Bob Hope.
The University of Bedfordshire Theatre is the largest theatre in Bedford and hosts many larger productions as well as projects from the university. There is an active amdram (community theatre) scene, with groups such as the Swan Theatre Company, Bedford Drama Company (formerly Bedford Dramatic Club), Bedford Marianettes and ShowCo Bedford producing plays and musicals in venues like the Corn Exchange. The Bedford Pantomime Company produces a traditional pantomime at the Bedford Corn Exchange each Christmas. Esquires (one of the town's premier live music venues) regularly plays host to many notable bands and acts from all over the United Kingdom as well as showcasing local live music.
Every two years, an event called the "Bedford River Festival" is held near the river in Bedford during early July. The event lasts for two days and regularly attracts about 250,000 visitors. The event includes sports, funfairs and live music. It is the second largest regular outdoor event in the United Kingdom, beaten in numbers only by the Notting Hill Carnival. The Bedford Regatta each May is Britain's largest one-day river rowing regatta.
Other annual events include "Bedford by the Sea" (when large quantities of sand are deposited in the town centre) and the "Bedford International Kite Festival" in June. "Proms in the Park", held in early August, is a popular musical event.
There is a long-standing sporting heritage in Bedford Borough with long established rugby and football clubs. Bedford has four rugby union teams called Bedford Blues, Bedford Queens, Bedford Swifts and Bedford Athletic, and, since 2004, has also a rugby league team; Bedford Tigers, who compete one tier below the National Conference. Bedford Blues are currently in the second tier of English rugby, but have previously been in the top division. Bedford Blues RFC's Goldington Road ground holds in the region of 5,000 spectators with an average gate of 3,000 for home games.
Taking into account the size of its overall urban area, Bedford is one of the largest towns in England without a fully professional football team. Bedford Town F.C. currently plays at the eighth level of the English football league system and Bedford F.C. play at the 11th level.
Rowing is also a major part of the sports scene with a number of regatta events hosted throughout the year from February to October; the most significant of these being Bedford Regatta, which in terms of numbers of crews participating is the second largest in the country. It was on Bedford's River Great Ouse that Olympic rower, Tim Foster, honed his skills as a student of Bedford Modern and member of star club; indeed the borough has produced many other champions of sport past and present including Stephanie Cook, Gail Emms, Liz Yelling and Paula Radcliffe who is Life Vice-President of Bedford & County Athletic Club
Viking Kayak Club organise the Bedford Kayak Marathon with canoe racing held along the Embankment on Bedford's riverside and organise national ranking Canoe Slalom events at the Cardington Artificial Slalom Course (CASC), which was the first artificial whitewater course in the United Kingdom. CASC is also the venue each year for the United Kingdom's National Inter Clubs Slalom Finals, the largest canoe slalom event by participation in the United Kingdom. Etienne Stott – 2012 Olympic Gold Medallist's Club.
Bedford and the surrounding borough was a major host of national teams preparing for the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. The Maldives National Olympic Committee based its competing athletes in the town and borough, while Paralympic athletes from Angola, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Gambia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Lesotho, Morocco, Niger, Pakistan, Senegal, Tunisia and Uganda were also be based in the area. With the exception of Weymouth (which hosted various sailing events) Bedford accommodated more Olympic teams in 2012 than any other town or borough in the United Kingdom.
It is also home to the United Kingdom's largest outdoor fitness company, British Military Fitness which operates in Bedford Park.The popular BBC TV series Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em was filmed in and around Bedford during the 1970s.
In the 2005 motion picture Batman Begins scenes were filmed at the Cardington Sheds near Bedford and featured extras from Bedford. The sequel, 'The Dark Knight', was also partially filmed at the sheds using the fake working name 'Rory's First Kiss' and members of the production cast stayed at various hotels around the town.
In the 2006 Comedy Central and DVD versions of Russell Peters' Outsourced, a good natured Bedfordian bears the brunt of Russell's comedic segment "I'm From England".
Bedford Hospital is a district general hospital that operates from two sites in the town, providing a wide range of services, although patients requiring advanced health services are referred to specialist units elsewhere, particularly Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, which has a partnership with Bedford Hospital. Bedford Hospital's catchment area is based on the Borough of Bedford and parts of Central Bedfordshire.
The Bedfordshire Police is responsible for policing in Bedford, and operates a main police station in the town centre. Fire and rescue services in Bedford are coordinated by the Bedfordshire and Luton Fire and Rescue Service. Bedford's fire station is in the Newnham area of the town, and is staffed 24 hours a day.
Bedfordshire was the home and prison of John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim's Progress. Prison Reformer John Howard, although born in London, was high Sheriff of Bedfordshire. John Oliver, comedian, former contributor to the Daily Show, and host of HBO's Last Week Tonight, is a native of Bedford.Harold Abrahams, 1924 Olympic 100 metres champion and character in the film Chariots of Fire
Sam Baldock, West Ham United footballer
Lacey Banghard, Page 3 girl
Ronnie Barker, the late comedian
Howard Bentham, broadcaster
Matt Berry, comedian, star of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, The Mighty Boosh and The Peter Serafinowicz Show as well as the voice of George the talking volcano in the recent Volvic (mineral water) adverts
Charlotte Eliza Bousfield, diarist
William Robert Bousfield, lawyer, politician and scientist
Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, traveller
Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Antarctic explorer
Calum Davenport, Ex-West Ham United footballer
Kelvin Davis, Southampton F.C. footballer
Don Broco an alternative rock band formed in 2008.
Gail Emms badminton doubles 2004 Olympic silver medallist
William Fitzhugh, also known as William the Immigrant, founder of an American dynasty that married into the lines of George Washington and General Lee
Tim Foster, men's coxless fours Olympic gold medallist
Lil Fuccillo, former footballer and manager, currently Technical Director for Luton Town
Richard Fuller, Member of Parliament for Bedford and Kempston since 2010
Barry Fry, Peterborough United Ex Manager.
Sir William Harpur, who became Lord Mayor of London.
Phelan Hill, men's eight rowing Olympic bronze medalist
Bishop Trevor Huddleston
Andy Johnson, England and Queens Park Rangers F.C. footballer
Steve Mattin, automobile designer
John Le Mesurier, actor and comedian
Hubert Horace Lamb (1913–1997) English climatologist who founded the Climatic Research Unit in 1972 in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia.
Toby Litt, writer, went to Bedford Modern School and lived in nearby Ampthill.
Alfred Mitchell-Innes, diplomat, who also served on Bedford Town Council for 23 years and resided there from 1920 until his death in 1950.
Dame Bertha Phillpotts, Scandinavian scholar and pioneer of university education for women
Phoebe Prince (1994–2010) Suicidal Teenager, died in South Hadley, Massachusetts
Matt Skelton, heavyweight boxer, commonwealth champion
Carol Vorderman, born in Bedford, television personality best known for being a long-standing co-presenter of Channel 4 game show Countdown.
Laura Wade, playwright
Charles Wells, founder of Charles Wells Brewery, a company still located in the town
William Hale White, a minor Victorian novelist who wrote under the pseudonym Mark Rutherford
Greg Taylor, Professional Footballer playing for Cambridge United
Lance Painter, MLB player with the Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, and the Milwaukee Brewers.
Basil Rogers (1896–1975), Cricketer.
Tim Thomas, Kickboxer.
Martin Bayfield, Rugby Player.
Nick Tandy, Racing driver, winner of the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Frank Branston, first directly elected mayor of Bedford and former owner of the Bedfordshire on Sunday newspaper
Joe Bugner, heavyweight boxer.
Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, ski jumper
Patrick Hall, Member of Parliament for Bedford and Kempston from 1997 to 2010
Dave Hodgson, current directly elected mayor of Bedford
Roy Jenkins, The Rt. Hon. Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, politician, was billeted in Cornwall Road, Bedford during part of the war in 1944 while at Bletchley Park.
Charles Edward Mallows, (5 May 1864 – 2 June 1915) Arts and Crafts Movement architect, draughtsman, and garden designer who studied at Bedford School had an office in Bedford. His major commission was Tirley Garth, Cheshire.
Paula Radcliffe, the United Kingdom's top female long-distance runner and current world record holder for the women's marathon
Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott (23 October 1865 – 10 February 1945) Arts and Crafts Movement architect and designer. Held an office on St. Cuthbert Street, Bedford from 1901–1903 and lived at Fenlake Manor, Cardington Road, where he wrote 'Houses and Gardens' until the house was destroyed by fire in 1911. Lived variously between London and Bedford until moving to Kent in 1916.
Etienne Stott, canoe slalom 2012 Olympic gold medalist
Paddy Ashdown (now Lord Ashdown), former leader of the Liberal Democrats attended Bedford School
Ned Boulting, sports journalist and commentator, attended Bedford School
Michael Brunson, journalist, attended Bedford School and Goldington Road School
Alastair Cook, England cricketer, attended Bedford School
Christopher Fry, playwright, attended Bedford Modern School
Andy Gomarsall, Rugby Player, attended Bedford School
Will Gompertz, BBC Arts Editor, attended Bedford School
Dan Grech-Marguerat Grammy award winning record producer attended St Thomas More Catholic School
Jeremy Irvine, actor, attended Bedford Modern School
Jean Muir CBE FCSD, fashion designer, attended Dame Alice Harpur School
Al Murray, comedian, also known as The Pub Landlord attended Bedford School
Sam Oldham, gymnast and Olympic bronze medal winner, attended Biddenham Upper School
John Oliver Emmy-winning stand-up comedian, actor and correspondent/writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Attended Mark Rutherford School.
Monty Panesar, England cricketer, attended Bedford Modern School
James Plaskitt, Member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington between 1997 and 2010, attended Pilgrim School
Will Smith, Cricketer, attended Bedford School
Etienne Stott, slalom canoeist and Olympic gold medal winner, attended Biddenham Upper School
Dan Wheldon, IndyCar driver, attended Bedford School