Bedford is the historic county town of Bedfordshire. This pleasant riverside town, situated near to London, Oxford and Cambridge, has many places to see and is ideally located for history, leisure, the arts, culture and quiet unspoilt countryside.
The Borough of Bedford has a population of just over 153,000 and is arguably the most cosmopolitan in the UK, with some 57 ethnic groups being represented.
Today, Bedford is a lively town with plenty of opportunities and a cultural diversity suiting many tastes.
Bedford is twinned with Bamberg in Germany, Arezzo in Italy, Rovigo in Italy and Wloclawek in Poland. Click here to find out more about Bedford's Twin Towns.
From the early Middle Ages Bedford established itself as a pivotal market town. Bedford is steeped in history with a fortress being built by Edward the Elder on the south side of the river, which was destroyed by the Danes. The castle remains that can be visited today was built by William II which was made of much sterner stuff. This castle was finally destroyed in 1224, the Castle Mound on the Embankment being the final visible remains. This mound has been celebrated by Bedford and recently been renovated with a mosaic at its base.
There have been many associated industries with Bedford over its history including wool during the Middle Ages and lace during the 1500s. This history can be viewed at The Higgins Art Gallery & Museum, which was recently redeveloped and re-opened for the public in Spring 2013. This industry continued to be a huge investment to the local economy until the early 20th century. The most poignant industry to feature in Bedford’s late history was the introduction of the Brickworks and its influx of Italian immigrants to the area. Brewing also has played a major role in the towns economy with one of the major brewers Charles Wells still in existence today.
John Bunyan was born a few miles away from Bedford at Elstow. He wrote his famous book, The Pilgrim's Progress, while imprisoned in the County Gaol for refusing to recognise the Established Church; to this day, nonconformist chapels, some dating back to Bunyan's time, are much in evidence in towns and villages all over the area.
The window commemorating the tercentenary of publication of The Pilgrim's Progress, 1678 can be seen at the Bunyan Meeting Free Church in Mill Street.
John Howard, another Bedfordshire man was a nonconformist landowner in the 18th century, denouncing the appalling conditions in the gaol and in the even more terrible prison ships. His name lives on in the Howard League of Penal Reform.
The Bedford reformist tradition is continued by Trevor Huddleston, born here in 1913 and whose statue placed in his honour can be seen at the top of Silver Street. As a tribute to this remarkable man the statue was unveiled in 2000 by Nelson Mandela.