"BEDFORD, is the county-town, and gives title to his Grace the Duke of Bedford; it is also of great antiquity. The bridge, which is built of stone, over the river Ouse, is a particular vestige of antiquity, having been built out of the ruins of an ancient castle which stood in the North East, and which was pulled down in the reign of Henry the Third, having been rendered obnoxious to the royal party, in consequence of its having afforded a shelter to malcontent barons in the reign of his father, King John. Offa, King of the Mercians, is also buried here, in a small island, lying South East of the town, called Jermyn's Harbour. One of the lanes of this town now goes by his name, being called Offa-lane to this day. The town, which has five parish-churches, and four meeting-houses for Dissenters, consists of one long street, extending nearly a mile in length, from South to North, and several side-streets.
Bedford is larger and more populous than many cities in England. It sends two members to parliament, the present members are, William Colhoun, Esq. and Samuel Whitbread, jun. Esq. son of the late member. This place has few manufactures, except those of straw and bone-lace. The river Ouse is made navigable, and runs through the town, diving it in two parts. It is a town-corporate, consisting of a mayor, aldermen, recorder, (the present his Grace the Duke of Bedford,) 2 bailiffs, 13 common-council men, and a town-clerk.
In the year 900, Edward the Elder caused that part of the town to be built which lies on the South side of the river, and called it Mikesgate. The market on the North of the town is held on a Saturday, and is chiefly for all sorts of corn; that on the South side is held for the sale of cattle on Mondays. The annual fairs are, the first Tuesday in Lent, April 21, July 5, August 21, October 11, and December 19.
The adjacent soil being very fruitful in corn, especially barley, and the best wheat; the former is exported by its navigable river to Holland, by way of Lynn, and the latter is carried by waggons 20 miles off to the markets of Hitchin and Hertford, where it is bought again, ground, and carried in the meal to London. Its river sometimes, after rain, makes such an inundation of the isle of Ely, that at such times it is common for the people there to say, "the bailiff of Bedford is coming."
The priory to the North West, now belonging to the Earl of Ashburnham, was founded before the Norman conquest for secular canons. In the year 1561, a free-school was built and endowed by Sir William Harper, a knight of the gilt spurs, and lord mayor of the city of London, whose effigy stands in a niche over the school door. The revenue which supports this school, and some other charities, amounts to more than 2000l. per annum, and is vested in the hands of the body corporate and joint trustees. However, the warden and fellows of New College, Oxford, are nominated as visitors, in the will of the founder; and two fellows from that learned society always fill the separate posts of master, and under-master, to the above-mentioned school.
The present magistrates are, Thomas Small, Esq. mayor, and William Theed, Esq. justices.
The post-office opens at nine o'clock in the morning, and shuts at five in the afternoon. The letters are brought in bags from St. Alban's. The principal inns are, the Swan, Red Lion, and George. The coaches, &c. from London to Bedford, set out from the under-mentioned inns, viz. a coach from the Cross Keys, St. John's-street, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, mornings, at six; White Hart, St. John's-street, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, at six. A diligence, from the White Hart, St. John's-street, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, mornings, at five. A waggon, from the White Hart, St. John's-street, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, at noon; and from the Windmill, Wednesday and Saturday at noon. —"