Bedford is the county town of Bedfordshire, England. It is a large town and the administrative centre for the Bedford borough. According to Bedfordshire County Council's estimates, the town had a population of 79,190 in mid 2005, with 19,720 in the adjacent town of Kempston. The wider borough, including a rural area, had a population of 153,000.
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, none of which are part of the Harpur Trust.
Bedford was a market town for the surrounding agricultural region from the early Middle Ages. 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 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. The new Bedford Castle was razed in 1224 and today only a mound remains.
Features and Events
The River Great Ouse passes through the town centre, and is lined with attractive gardens known as The Embankment. Within these gardens stands a war memorial to the fallen of the First World War, opposite Rothsay Gardens. The memorial was designed in 1921 by the sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger and depicts a Knight vanquishing a dragon.
Bedford's principal church is St Paul's, in the square of the same name at the historic centre of the town. It has a tall spire which is one of the main features of the town. There was a church on the site by 1066 and work on the present structure began in the early 13th century in the early English style, but little remains from that period other than the south porch. Additions were made in the 15th century and the 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.
The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, housed in the recreated Victorian home of the Higgins family of Victorian brewers and in a modern extension, has notable collections of watercolours, prints and drawings, ceramics, glass and lace. Adjacent to the Cecil Higgins Gallery is Bedford Museum, which has local history collections.
Bedford Hospital is a district general hospital that operates from two sites in the town, providing a wide range of services, although patients requiring highly advanced treatment are referred to specialist units, elsewhere, principally in Cambridge and London. Its catchment area is based on the Borough of Bedford and Mid Bedfordshire. In 2006 there was controversy in the local media about alleged plans to downgrade Bedford Hospital's provision of acute care, as the government's current policy is that full service hospitals require a catchment area population of 300,000. Bedford Hospital's catchment population was less than that at that time, but it is expected to exceed it in the medium term as the area is experiencing above average population growth. Health secretary Patricia Hewitt visited the town and made assurances about the future of the hospital, but failed to fully satisfy local concerns as to the government's intentions.
Every two years, an event called "The 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 UK 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 Kite Festival in June. 'Proms In The Park', held in early August, is a popular musical event.
There is an active amdram (community theatre) scene, with groups such as the Swan Theatre Company, Bedford Dramatic Club (BDC), Bedford Marianettes and ShowCo Bedford producing plays and musicals in venues like The Place, the Civic Theatre, the Corn Exchange and the Bowen West Theatre. The Bedford Pantomime Company produces a traditional pantomime at the Civic Theatre each Christmas. July 2007 saw the first Bedfringe festival, a pre-Edinburgh Fringe festival, centred on the Civic Theatre. There are a number of local bands including Alabama Circus
Bedford has two rugby union teams called Bedford Blues and Bedford Athletic. Bedford Blues are currently in the second tier of English rugby, but has previously been in the top division. Taking into account the size of its overall urban area, it is one of the largest towns in England without a fully professional football team. Bedford Town F.C. currently plays at the seventh level of the English football league system and Bedford Valerio United
Bedford lies on the A6 trunk road, and two of the most important north-south routes in Great Britain, the A1 and the M1 motorway pass a few miles to the east and west respectively. Two road improvement schemes are currently in process to link the town to the M1 and A1 via dual carriageway. This will significantly improve access to the town, which currently requires the use of frequently congested single carriageway roads. Bedford has a southern bypass, and the proposed western bypass, which has been long delayed, has yet to be started although approval has been given.
The town's bus services are run by Stagecoach East, and major bus routes run to Northampton, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Oxford and other towns in the region. Most of these services depart from the main bus station in the town.
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