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Imperial Gazatteer of England & Wales, 1866-9

Bedford, Bedfordshire


BEDFORD, a town, two sub-districts, and a district in Bedfordshire. The town stands on the river Ouse, in a pleasant fertile valley, 47½ miles NNW of London. The Ouse is navigable hence to the sea; the Hitchin and Leicester railway, deflecting from the Great Northern at Hitchin, comes 15½ miles hither, and goes away to the NW; the Bletchley and Bedford railway, 16 miles long, comes northeastward from the Northwestern at Bletchley; and the Bedford and Cambridge railway, 29¼ miles long, authorized in August 1860, to be continuous with the Bletchley and Bedford, will go east-north-eastward to the Eastern Counties railway at Cambridge.

Bedford was known to the Saxons as Bedanford or Bedicanford, signifying "the lodging or fortress at the ford." Cuthwulf defeated the Britons near it in 571. The Danes attacked it in 911 and 921; and burned it in 1010. A castle was built at it, near the river, soon after the Conquest; figured in the wars of the Barons; was taken, in 1138, by King Stephen; taken, in 1216, by Fulk de Brent; and destroyed, in 1224, by Henry III. Nothing if the castle remains except a portion of the entrenchments; and the site of its keep is occupied by a bowling-green. Hugh de Bellemont, son of the Earl of Leicester, was made Earl of Bedford by King Stephen; but fell from his allegiance, and was degraded. Ingelram de Coucy was raised to the earldom by Edward III. John Plantagenet, third son of Henry IV., was made Duke of Bedford by Henry V.; but died without issue. The Russel family were raised to the dukedom in 1694; and have their chief seat at Woburn Abbey. Three men who have shed great lustre upon Bedford were Sir W. Harpur, some time Lord Mayor of London, who died in 1574; S. Palmer the nonconformist; and John Bunyan, the author of the "Pilgrim's Progress." The first and second were natives; and the third was born at Elstow, 1½ mile to the S, and achieved at Bedford the chief experiences of his remarkable life.

The town consists of a principal street, nearly a mile long, several interesting streets, and some suburbs; has undergone great recent improvement, and considerable increase; contains many old substantial houses, and some handsome new ones; and presents altogether a pleasing appearance. The bridge across the Ouse, connecting High-street and Mary-street, occupies the site of one which stood nearly 600 years; has five arches; and was built in 1813, at a cost of £15,000. The town-hall contains apartments for the sessions and the assizes. The county-jail, on the site of the prison in which Bunyan wrote his Pilgrim's Progress, stands within a high boundary wall; consists of three stories; and has capacity for 243 male and 29 female prisoners. The work-house was erected as a house of industry in 1796, at a cost of £5,000; and changed to its present form, at a further cost of £1,800. The county lunatic asylum was built in 1812, at a cost of £13,000; and was a substantial brick structure; but has been taken down, and a new edifice instead of it has been built at Stotfold. The county infirmary was founded in 1803; is a brick edifice, with stone front; and contains 100 beds. The corn exchange, in St. Paul's-square, is a very commodious building. Remains of an interesting edifice of the 14th century, with window-tracery and other decorations, stand at the foot of a yard leading out at High-street, and now form part of the George Inn. A meadow, called King's mead, belonging from old times to the town, lies about 2 miles distant, on the right bank of the Ouse; is approached by a wooden bridge, erected in 1852; and contains sulphuretted saline spring.

The town, as defined by its borough boundaries, comprises 2,200 acres; and it is divided into two wards and five parishes. The wards are Eastern and Western; and the parishes are St. Cuthbert, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Mary, and St. John. St. Cuthbert is wholly in the Eastern ward; each of the other parishes is partly in both wards; and St. Pauls includes the chapelry of Trinity. All the livings are in the diocese of Ely. St. Cuthbert, St. Peter, St. Mary, and St. John are rectories; St. Paul is a vicarage; and Trinity is a p. curacy. The value of St. Cuthbert is £145;* of St. Peter, £204;* of St. Paul, £230;* of St. Mary, £273;* of St. John, £149;* of Trinity, £75. The patron of St. Cuthbert and St. Peter is the Lord Chancellor; of St. Paul, the Rev. W. G. Fitzgerald; of St. Mary, Balliol College, Oxford; of St. John, the Corporation of the borough of Bedford; and of Trinity, the Vicar of St. Paul. St. Cuthbert's church is a recent erection in the Saxon style. St. Peter's church is an ancient edifice, with a font and a Norman porch. St. Paul's church is ancient, large, partly early English, partly decorated; has a handsome tower, surmounted by a lofty octagonal spire; and contains some interesting brasses and monuments, and a figured stone pulpit. Trinity church is a modern erection, with large square tower. The dissenting places of worship figure largely, and are chiefly Independent, Baptist, Wesleyan Methodist, and Moravian. The Mill Lane chapel, erected in 1707, stands on the site of the "Old-Meeting," in which John Bunyan preached from 1671to 1688; and a tombstone to his memory is on the side of it, and his chair is preserved in the vestry. A monastery seems to have been founded on the bank of the Ouse, to the W of the town, pretty early in the Saxon times; and a chapel, probably connected with it, was the burial-place of King Offa, and was swept away in an inundation. Caldwell priory, near this, was founded in the time of King John, for brethren of the order of the Holy Cross; and some vestiges of it remain. A Franciscan friary, an hospital of St. Leonard, and an hospital or priory of St. John the Baptist, stood in the S part of the town; and the last was endowed in the time of Edward II., and still exists as a public charity.

The charities and the educational appliances of Bedford are remarkably rich and numerous. A bequest by Sir William Harpur, in the time of Edward VI., of some property in Bedford and of 13 acres of land within the parish of St. Andrew-Holborn in London, has increased in yearly value from £40 to upwards of £17,000; and is disbursed, under parliamentary regulation, in supporting a grammar-school, a commercial school, a preparatory English school, a national school, a girls' school, an infant school, and numerous almshouses, and in giving university exhibitions to scholars, apprentice fees for boys and girls, and marriage portions to maidens. The grammar-school furnishes the highest education to free boarders and scholars; the other schools are conducted with signal efficiency; and all are accessible to the children of all classes of the townspeople; so that families are drawn to the town from almost every part of the kingdom to qualify children for them by becoming residents. Considerable additions to the grammar school buildings were made in 1861, after designs by Mr Horsford. Other charities exist to the yearly value of about £790; and include schools and almshouses. The effect of the educational means on the population is very marked; and may generally be observed at once by a stranger, in the intelligence and demeanour of the industrial classes, as compared with those of other provincial towns. The Bedford Literary and Scientific Institution was established in 1846; maintains lectures in winter on a variety of subjects; and was amalgamated, in 1864, with a public library, which had been instituted in 1830, and had acquired a very large collection of books.

Bedford is the marketing centre of a great agricultural district, and carries on considerable manufacture of lace, and a large manufacture of agricultural implements, but otherwise has little trade. Weekly markets are held on Monday and Saturday; and fairs on the first Tuesday in Lent, 21 April, 6 July, 21 Aug., Old Midsummer-day, 12 Oct., 17 Nov., and 19 Dec. The town has a head post-office,‡ a railway station with telegraph, two banking-offices, and two chief inns; it publishes two weekly newspapers; and it is the political capital of the county, the seat of assizes and sessions, the head-quarters of the militia, and the head of an excise collection. It is a borough by prescription; was chartered by Henry II.; is governed by a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors; and sends two members to parliament. Real property, in 1860, £49,424. Direct taxes in 1857, £7,392. Electors in 1860, 966. Pop., in 1841, 9,178; in 1861, 13,413. Houses, 2,752.

The two sub-districts of Bedford are called Bedford and Kempston and Bedford and Cardington. The former comprises the eastern ward of the borough and the parishes of Kempston, Wootton, Biddenham, Bromham, Oakley, and Clapham. Acres, 18,351. Pop., 11,921. Houses, 2,487. The latter comprises the western ward of the borough and the parishes of Cardington, Elstow, Wilshampstead, Cople, Willington, Goldington, and Renhold. Acres, 18,376. Pop., 11,734. Houses, 2,376. — The district comprehends also the sub-district of Barford, containing the parishes of Great Barford, Ravensden, Wilden, Colmworth, and Roxton; the sub-district of Turvey, containing the parishes of Turvey, Steventon, and Stagsden; the sub-district of Harrold, containing the parishes of Harrold, Pavenham, Felmersham, Odell, Chellington, and Carlton; the sub-district of Sharnbrook, containing the parishes of Sharnbrook, Knotting, Souldrop, Bletsoe, Thurleigh, and Milton-Ernest; and the sub-district of Riseley, containing the parishes of Riseley, Bolnhurst, Keysoe, Melchbourn, and Yelden. Acres, 97,320. Poor-rates, £17,712. Pop. in 1841, 31,766; in 1861, 38,072. Houses, 7,923. Marriages, 296; births, 1,202, — of which 71 were illegitimate; deaths, 674, — of which 217 were at ages under 5 ages, and 18 at ages above 85 years. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 2,926; births, 12,026; deaths, 7,399. The places of worship in 1851 were 43 of the Church of England, with 13,791 sittings; 12 of Independents, with 4,029 s.; 14 of Baptists, with 3,648 s.; 16 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 3,253 s.; 5 of Primitive Methodists, with 906 s.; 2 of Moravians, with 640 s.; 1 of the Catholic and Apostolic church, with 80 s.; 1 of Jews, with 20 s.; and 4 undefined, with 1,357 s. The schools were 43 public day schools, with 3,786 scholars; 27 private day schools, with 428 s.; 73 Sunday schools, with 6,701 s.; and 7 evening schools for adults, with 235 s.

     
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