BEDFORD, comprises the parishes of St. Cuthbert, St. John, St. Mary, St. Paul, and St. Peter_De_Merton's, it is the county town of Bedfordshire, a municipal and parliamentary borough constituting a liberty of itself, 47 miles to the north of London, by the Midland and Great Northern railways; on the former of which it is a station. It is also connected with the London and North-Western railway by a branch line to Bletchley, 16 miles distant. It is seated on the banks of the river Ouse, near an ancient ford, from which circumstance it derived its name. The Saxons called the town Bedanford, which signifies "town at the ford." The Britons suffered a defeat here, in the year 571, by the Saxons under Cuthwulf. The town was frequently attacked by the Danes during-the wars of the 10th century, and in 1010 was burnt down by them.
The barony was granted after the Norman conquest to Payne de Beauchamp, who erected next the town a great fortress, doubly defended by a wall and an entrenchment. This castle stood many a storm of war. In 1138 it was besieged and taken by King Stephen. In 1215, possession of the castle was delivered by William de Beauchamp to the insurgent barons, whose part he took against King John; but it was besieged and taken by Falk de Brent. For this service the king conferred on him the barony and the castle. In consequence of his arbitrary and oppressive proceedings, De Brent was fined heavily by the king's justices in 1224. Having captured one of the justices and confined him in the castle, it was besieged and taken by the king's forces, and shortly after dismantled. The barony was then restored to its former owner, William de Beauchamp. During the civil war of the 17th century, Bedford was garrisoned for the parliament, and in 1643 surrendered to the royalists. The town, which consists of one principal street about a mile long, crossed by several smaller ones, stands in the midst of a tract of rich and beautiful meadow land, in the broad valley of the Ouse. It contains many ancient houses, is well paved and lighted with gas, and has been greatly improved within the last thirty or forty years. The river is crossed by a handsome stone bridge of five arches, which was completed in 1813, and occupies the site of a very ancient one of seven arches, built, it was said by some, of the materials of the caste; by others, of those of a church. The river is navigable to Lynn Regis, in Norfolk, where it falls into the German Ocean. A good trade is carried on with Lynn, and other towns on the river, in corn and malt, coals and timber. The manufactures of lace and straw-plait are carried on, and give employment to many women and children. The shoe trade employs nearly 300 hands. Among the public buildings of Bedford are the sessions-house, erected in 1753; the county gaol, rebuilt in 1801; the corn exchange; the new school-houses, in the Tudor style; the lunatic asylum; the infirmary, erected in 1803, for which £10,000 was bequeathed by Samuel Whitbread, Esq.; and the Bedford library and subscription rooms, built in 1835. Bedford is esteemed a borough by prescription. It received a charter from Henry II., and its privileges were confirmed by a charter of Charles II. Under the Reform Act it consists of two wards, and is governed by a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors, under the style of the "mayor, bailiffs, and burgesses of the town of Bedford." The manor belongs to the corporation. Bedford has continued to return two members to parliament since the reign of Edward I. The mayor is the returning officer. The limits of the municipal and parliamentary borough are eo-extensive, and were not altered by the Reform Act, including an area of about 2,200 acres, with 2,754 inhabited houses. The borough revenue is about £1,360, and the population, according to the census of 1861, 13,412, against 11,693 in 1851, showing an increase of 1,719 in the decennial period. The assizes and quarter sessions are held here. Bedford is the seat of a County Court district, the head of an excise collection, and of a Poor-law Union, the head-quarters of the county militia, and a polling-place for the county elections. Bedford is the seat of an archdeaconry in the diocese formerly of Lincoln, but now of Ely. There are five parishes in Bedford:- St. Cuthbert's, St. John's, St. Mary's, St. Paul's, and St. Peter Martin's. They are in the archdeaconry of Beford, and diocese of Ely. The living of St. Cuthbert's is a rectory,* value £145, in the patronage of the lord chancellor. The church is a new building in the form of a cross, erected in 1847. St. John's is a rectory,* value £149, in the patronage of the corporation. The mastership of St. John's Hospital is annexed to this rectory. The church is in the perpendicular style, with a good tower, but it has been much altered and modernised. St. Mary's is a rectory* of the value of £273, in the patronage of the Master and Fellows of Balliol College, Oxford. The church is a small edifice, with a tower in the perpendicular style, and contains a brass of 1627. St. Paul's is a vicarage* value £230, in the patronage of the Rev. W. G. Fitzgerald, the vicar. The church, which stands on the north side of the Ouse, is the chief ornament of the place. In its different parts it exhibits the early English, decorated and perpendicular styles of architecture, and has a fine tower with an octagonal spire. It contains a stone pulpit, adorned with carving and gilt tracery, brasses of Sir William Harpur and his lady, and other monuments, among which is one to the founder of the priory of Newenham, Simon Beauchamp. St. Peter's is a rectory* of the value of £204, in the patronage of the lord chancellor. The church, an ancient structure with an interesting Norman doorway on the south side, and a central tower, has within the last ten years been greatly enlarged by the erection of two side aisles. A district church was built in 1841 in St. Paul's parish. It is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and is a perpetual curacy, value £75, in the gift of the Vicar of St. Paul's. The Baptists, Independents, Wesleyans, Moravians, and other Dissenters, have chapels in the town. It was in the Baptist meeting-house in Mill-lane that John Bunyan preached, as co-pastor with Samuel Fenn, for seventeen years before his death, which took place in 1688. The chapel has been rebuilt, but Bunyan's chair is religiously preserved in the vestry. Bedford stands almost unrivalled in the number and importance of its charitable endowments and institutions. Of these the chief is that founded by Sir William Harpur, and known as the Bedford charity. Sir W. Harpur was a native of the town, and Lord Mayor of London in 1561. He founded a free grammar school here in 1556, and endowed it with lands at Bedford and in London, which were vested in the corporation as trustees. The estate in London, which produced at first about £150 a year, increased enormously in value, and has become worth about £17,000 a year. Many streets have been built upon it, among which are Lamb's Conduit-street, Bedford-row, Theobald's-road, New North-street, &c. The purpose of the founder, which embraced, besides the support of the school, the portioning of young women and the relief of the poor, has been carried out on the largest scale. The charity now includes, besides the grammar school, an English school, National, girls', and two other schools; a hospital for 50 children, almshouses for about 70 aged men and women, with liberal allowances to the inmates; besides a considerable expenditure in marriage portions to virtuous maidens, apprentice fees for boys, and other benevolent objects. The grammar school is managed by trustees, and is under the inspection of the Warden and Fellows of New College, Oxford, who have the appointment of the master and second master. The number of free scholars is about 150. Eight scholarships, of the value of £80 a year each, at either of the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, or Dublin, are open to the pupils. A marble statue of the founder is placed over the entrance to the school. There is also a green-coat school, founded by Alderman Newton, of Leicester, in 1760, the revenue of which is now applied to clothing 35 boys in the National school, with which the original school is united; and almshouses for 8 persons, endowed by Thomas Christie in 1679. Two hospitals were founded here in the latter part of the 13th century, dedicated to St. John and St. Leonard. The former is now the parish church of St. John, and the remains of the latter are a farm-house. Near the river, to the west of the town are some remains of Caldwell priory, founded in the reign of King John by one of the De Houghtons, the value of which at the period of the Dissolution was £149. Near this priory formerly stood a chapel of a very ancient monastery, in which King Offa was interred. The chapel, with its royal tomb, perished in an inundation. In the neighbourhood of Bedford are the ruins of Newenham priory, of Elstow nunnery, and of the hospital of Grey Friars, founded before 1311. The county gaol stands at a short distance from the site of the old prison, in which Banyan was confined twelve years, and in which he wrote his "Pilgrim's Progress." The Bedford library possesses the copy of Fox's "Book of Martyrs" which once belonged to Banyan. Two newspapers are published, called the Bedford Times and the Bedford Mercury. This town gives the title of duke to the Russell family. The market days are Monday and Saturday, on the former of which cattle are sold, and on the latter, the most important, corn and provisions. Fairs are held on the 1st Tuesday in Lent, the 21st April, the 5th July, the 21st August, the 12th October, and the 19th December, chiefly for the sale of cattle, the October fair being the principal. A wool fair takes place on the 17th November. Annual races are held in September.