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Bedford, a borough and market-town, and the county town of Bedfordshire, is situated 51 miles north-north-west of London, and intersected by the river Ouse, along both banks of which it extends. Bedford is divided into five parishes: viz. St. Cuthbert, St. John, St. Mary, St. Paul and St. Peter’s Martin, all in the archd. of Bedford, and formerly in the dio. of Lincoln, but now transferred to the dio. of Ely. There was anciently a sixth parish, called St Peter’s Dunstable, the living of which has been united to that of St. Mary.

Bedford consists of the following parishes:


Historical Descriptions

Leonard’s Gazetteer of England and Wales 1850

Bedford (the County town), on the Ouse, 50m. N.W. London. Mrkt., M. Tu. & Sat. P. 9178

Source: Leonard’s Gazetteer of England and Wales; Second Edition; C. W. Leonard, London; 1850

The Parliamentary Gazetteer of England and Wales 1840

Bedford, a borough and market-town, and the county town of Bedfordshire, is situated 51 miles north-north-west of London, and intersected by the river Ouse, along both banks of which it extends. Bedford is divided into five parishes: viz. St. Cuthbert, St. John, St. Mary, St. Paul and St. Peter’s Martin, all in the archd. of Bedford, and formerly in the dio. of Lincoln, but now transferred to the dio. of Ely. There was anciently a sixth parish, called St Peter’s Dunstable, the living of which has been united to that of St. Mary. The living of St Cuthbert’s is a discharged rectory, valued at £5 9s. 4½ d.; gross income £129; in the patronage of the Crown. St. John’s is a rectory not in charge, annexed to the mastership of the hospital of St John; gross income £171; in the patronage of the corporation. St. Mary’s is a rectory, valued at £11 4s. 9½ d.; gross income £273; in the patronage of the bishop of Ely. — St. Paul’s is a discharged vicarage, valued at £10; gross income £280. Patron, in 1835, Lord Carteret. The church of St. Paul’s is a fine building, with a handsome tower surmounted by a lofty octagonal spire. It had formerly a curious stone-pulpit, which is still preserved in the chancel, and some ancient monuments. St. Peter’s Martin is a rectory, valued at £11 13s. 1½ d.; gross income £205. Patron, the Crown. The church is an ancient building, having a Norman arch at the south entrance. The tithes of the parishes of St. Paul, St. Peter and St. Cuthbert, the property of the clerical rectors, lay-impropriator, trustees of certain charities, and the vicar, were commuted in 1795. The great and small tithes of St. Mary’s parish, the property of the clerical rectors, were commuted in 1797. The Independents have two, and the Baptists three places of worship here; and the Methodists and Moravians have also places of worship. The Independent chapel, Mill-street, was founded in 1777. The Independent Old Meeting house church, Mill-lane, was formed in 1650. John Bunyan was co-pastor of this church from 1671 to 1688. The Mill-street Baptist chapel was founded in 1796.

The town of Bedford is situated in the middle of the tract of country, called Bedford vale, already described in the previous article Bedfordshire. It consists of a principal street, nearly a mile in length, which is intersected by several smaller ones. It contains many ancient but well-built houses, and the general aspect of the town is pleasing. The streets are paved, and lighted with gas, and there is a good supply of water. The ancient bridge over the Ouse, forming the communication between the north and south part of the city, was taken down in 1811, and a new one of five arches erected in its stead at an expense of £15,000. The northern approach to the bridge is adorned with an elegant crescent, and new buildings are springing up in various quarters. Races are held here in March; assemblies take place in winter; and there is a small theatre which is occasionally opened. A public library was instituted in 1830. It contained, in 1836, 3,980 volumes. Number of members 148. Besides the churches, the principal public building is the town-hall, in which the sessions and assizes are held. At the north-west entrance to the town stands the county-gaol, on a small plot of ground, about 176 feet square, inclosed by a boundary wall 20 feet high. The principal building occupies the middle of the enclosure, and with its airing-yards, covers nearly the whole of the space, the remainder being used as a garden. It was erected in 1800, with the exception of a small addition made in 1820 for female debtors. It is a substantial building, constructed on the plan of the benevolent Howard, and consists of three stories. The number of prisoners, in 1836, was 241. The county house of correction is situated within 300 yards of the gaol. It is a neat brick building; and was completed for the reception of prisoners in 1820. It contains only four wards, comprising 51 very small separate cells, many of which are built against the boundary-wall, and four small day-rooms. The number of prisoners in 1836, was 317. The house of industry was erected in 1796, at an expense of £5,000; it is placed, by an act of the 34° George 111., under the management of 13 directors resident in the town. The county Lunatic asylum is a handsome erection of brick, on the road to Ampthill, capable of containing 65 patients; it was erected in 1812, by act of parliament, at an expense of £13,000. The county-infirmary, founded in 1803, stands on the same road, and is a substantial erection of brick, with a stone front; the late Samuel Whitbread presented £10,000 in support of this institution; and at a parliamentary election for the county, the marquess of Tavistock gave £2,000 to it, instead of giving the usual entertainment to the freeholders. It contains 90 beds, and the library attached has already about 1,300 volumes. A workhouse has been erected in this town, for the union of Bedford, by the poor-law commissioners, at an expense of £1,800. The Bedford poor-law union comprehends 44 parishes, embracing an area of 152 square miles; with a population returned in 1831 at 28,033. The average annual expenditure on the poor of this district, during the three years preceding the formation of the union was £25,716. Expenditure, in 1838, £10,044.

A market for cattle is held on Monday, and for corn and provisions on Saturday. Fairs for cattle are held on the first Tuesday in Lent, April 21st, July 5th, August 21st, October 11th, and December 19th; and a cattle fair on the 17th of November. Bedford was incorporated So early as the reign of Henry II.; the first charter being dated in 1166. It continued to enjoin many privileges by prescription till the reign of Charles II., when these were confirmed by royal charter. By the municipal act passed in 1835, the government of the borough is vested in a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors, under the style and title of ‘the mayor, bailiffs, and burgesses of the town of Bedford;’ by the same act a commission of the peace has been granted to it, and the town divided into two wards. The borough has returned two members to parliament since the 23° of Edward I. The mayor is the returning officer. The right of election was always exercised by the freemen and burgesses, without respect to residence, and by all householders paying scot and lot, and not receiving alms. Under this franchise, the greatest number of electors ever polled was 914. The assizes for the district, and the quarter-sessions for the town and county, are held at Lent and midsummer, in the county-hall in this town.

The variety and magnitude of the charitable endowments and schools of Bedford is remarkable. The most important of these were founded by Sir William Harpur, a native of this town, and lord-mayor of London in 1561. This person obtained letters-patent from Queen Elizabeth in 1566, for the establishment of a free grammar-school at Bedford. For the support of this he gave property in Bedford, and in the parishes of St. George the Martyr, and St. Andrew-above-the-Bars, Holborn, London, the revenues of which, at the period of foundation, did not exceed £180 annually, but have now increased to about £14,000 a-year, and are still augmenting. An act of parliament was obtained for regulating the disposal of these funds; and the management was vested in 18 resident trustees, 6 of whom go out of office annually, and are replaced by others who are elected from the respectable householders. The school is under the inspection of the warden and fellows of New college, Oxford, who appoint the master and usher. There are at present about 80 boys on the foundation. Every inhabitant of Bed ford, renting a house of £10 per annum, may have his son classically educated here. Eight scholarships of £80 per annum each, in the universities of Ox ford, Cambridge, or Dublin, are given to boys educated in this school; six of these are restricted to those whose parents are inhabitants of Bedford; the other two are open to all scholars on the foundation. A National school for children of both sexes, and containing 350 boys and 170 girls, is supported from the same fund as the free grammar-school; also a commercial school; an infant school; an English school for boys; and an hospital for the education and maintenance of 50 children. The sum of £800 is annually distributed, in sums of £20, as marriage-portions to maidens of good character residing in the town; and £500 is annually applied to the relief of decayed housekeepers. Connected with the same charity are 58 alms-houses for aged men and women, who receive from 7s. to 10s. weekly each, and from £2 to £3 per annum for clothing. In 1727, Mr Alexander Leith founded a school for ten boys and ten girls, and endowed it with lands producing £46 10s. per annum. A blue-coat school for 25 boys was founded in 1760, and endowed with £33 15s. 6d. per annum, By Alderman Newton of Leicester; this is now combined with the preparatory school for boys of the poor, and contains 286 pupils. Besides those already mentioned, there are 8 daily and 11 Sunday schools. The trustees of the Harpur charity have determined to establish a girls’ school for the poorer inhabitants of Bedford,— the children to be admitted at six years of age. In 1679, Mr Thomas Christie founded and endowed eight alms-houses for unmarried persons of either sex. Other charities connected with the town produce £297 per annum.

The name, which is formed from the Saxon Bedanford, or Bedicanford, that is, ‘the lodging at the ford,’ is derived from its situation at an ancient ford on the Ouse; as was also the name of Lettuydur, or Lifwidur, which it received from the later Britons. In 572. a battle was fought here between the Britons and the West Saxons, who were under the command of Cuthwulf, brother of Ceawlin, third king of Wessex. Bedford was the burial-place of Offa, king of Mercia, whose tomb, and the chapel which contained it, were carried away by an inundation of the Ouse. The Danes having destroyed a great part of the town, it was restored and enlarged by Edward the Elder, who built a fortress on the south side of the river. A castle of considerable strength was erected here, soon after the Conquest, by Payne de Beauchamp, third baron of Bedford, which was besieged and taken by Stephen in 1137, in the war against Matilda. When the barons took up arms against King John, Bedford was fortified on the part of the insurgents by William de Beauchamp, but it was taken by Falco de Breaut, whose services were rewarded by the monarch with a gift of the castle and barony. “But this ungrateful man, having raised a new war against Henry III., pulled down all the religious houses near him to fortify his castle, and harassed the country all around; ’till the king laid siege to it, and after sixty days, notwithstanding the obstinacy of the rebels, reduced it.

After all this the king, in consideration of his former services, granted Breaut his life; but banished both him and his company. But after he had caused the ditches to be filled, and the works to be thrown down, as also the outer wall to be demolished, he left the inner part of the castle standing for William de Beauchamp to live in. There was nothing left of this castle in Leland’s time, who says it was then clean down. There is now, on a rising ground near the Ouse, the ancient seat of Bedford castle, a very fine bowling-green, shown sometimes to travellers as a curiosity.” —[Magna Brit. Ed. 1738.] “The first earl of Bedford was Hugh de Bellemont, son of the earl of Leicester, who had his earldom given him by King Stephen, together with the daughter of Simon de Beauchamp. Notwithstanding this, he refused to do him homage, and fortified the castle of Bedford. After its surrender to Stephen for want of provisions, he fell from the dignity of earl to that of a knight, and in the end to miserable poverty; for which reason he was surnamed Pauper. But the first earl of Bedford, properly so called, was Ingelram de Coucy, who was raised to this dignity in the 46° of Edward III. He was a person of great merit, served the king in his wars of France, and was honoured by him with the garter, and his daughter in marriage. The next who enjoyed the honour of Bedford was of the blood-royal. This was John Plantagenet, third son to Henry IV., created duke of Bedford in the 2° of Henry V. In the minority of Henry VI. he was regent of France. His great and memorable services are particularly recorded in our English histories. He died without issue in the 14° of Henry VI. and was buried at Roan. Charles VIII., king of France, when he visited his tomb there, being desired by one of his nobles, who stood by, to cause it to be defaced, made this remarkable answer: “Let him rest in peace, now he is dead; it was when he was alive and in the field, that France dreaded him.” —[Mag. Brit. Ed. 1738.] At the coronation of the kings of England the ancient barons of Bedford held the office of lord-almoner, which now belongs to the marquess of Exeter, as inheritor of part of the barony. The perquisites attached to this office are a silver alms-bason, and the cloth upon which the king walks from Westminster-hall to the abbey.

At Newnham are remains of a priory of Black canons, and at Elstow are the remains of a nunnery. See these articles. – Cadwell priory, of which there are some remains on the bank of the Ouse, about a mile west of the town, was founded in the reign of King John, by Robert, son of William de Houghton, for brethren of the order of the Holy Cross; the revenues at the dissolution amounted to £148 15s. 10d. The chapel of King Offa, already mentioned, is supposed to have been connected with a monastery, of which Bishop Tanner remarks, that it “seems to have been a monastery pretty early in the Saxon times. But who was founder, to what saint it was dedicated, or when and by whom it was destroyed, I have not yet met with any account. In the south part of the town is a priory or hospital, which was built and endowed by some townsman, as early as King Edward the Second’s reign, to the honour of John the Baptist. It had, 26° Henry VIII., an income of £21 0s. 8d., and still continues; consisting of a master, who is rector of the parish-church of St. John adjoining, and ten poor men; the patronage is in the mayor, aldermen, bailiffs, and common-council of Bedford. Here were also an hospital, dedicated to St. Leonard, and a house of Franciscan friars.” Pop., in 1801, 3,948; in 1831, 6,959. Houses 1,397. Acres 2,200. A. P. £9,188. Poor rates, in 1837, £1,496 Bedford is exempt from contributing to the county rate.

Source: The Parliamentary Gazetteer of England and Wales; A Fullarton & Co. Glasgow; 1840.


Bedford Kelly’s Directory of Bedfordshire, 1914

Bedford Street Directory 1866