Tuesday 5 July 2011

Bedfordshire Local History Walks open to the public

One of the ways in which individual members of the public can get to know more about local history, apart from reading local histories and attending talks, is through guided history walks. A few of the urban areas are served by organised history walks open to the public (although some walks are only on offer to organised groups, by arrangement).

Dunstable Town Guides, contacted via Priory House TIC, in addition to paid-for ghosts walks throughout the year, and ‘Tea Time Tales’ events, offer free History Day walks on Saturday 21 May, on both Tudor Dunstable and the foundations of the Priory. Luton Visitor Information Centre does not arrange such walks, but Sandy and Bedford Tourist Information Centres (TICs) do. Sandy has arranged four summer walks for 2011. Bedford Borough Council, using trained guides who are members of the Bedford Association of Tour Guides, offers some eight main walks on 38 separate occasions, all open to the public, via advanced booking at Bedford TIC.

But this leaves a valuable role to local historical societies within the county and a number take this on, offering guided walks in their particular locale, particularly during the summer months. For details of walks in your area, look online for member societies of Bedfordshire Local History Association (BLHA), an umbrella organisation which lists websites and contact details of secretaries of local history societies [or consult Bedfordshire Libraries online Local Information Database], and ask society secretaries if any guided history walks are planned for your area. BLHA also organises occasional workshops and an annual conference at one of the county’s villages or urban centres. This often includes a local history guided walk. This year, it is being hosted by Willington Local History group on Saturday 11 June.

Where local history societies do not actually offer personal guides to take you on a walk, they have often published a local history ‘trail’, with street map, which individuals can follow to learn about points of interest.

Guided History walks arranged by Sandy TIC. Barry Groom, local historian, will be offering three walks on 9 May, 13 June and 24 July (two evening walks from 7pm and one Sunday afternoon walk from 2pm) exploring Sandey Place, Old Warden and Southill Park, respectively. [Contact details for Sandy TIC below]

Guided History Walks in Bedford
Bedford Tour Guides will be taking members of the public in small groups on a variety of historical walks in Bedford this coming season, from May to September, on Wednesday evenings (from 7pm) or Sunday mornings (from 11am) in addition to numerous walks for pre-arranged groups. There are eight different walks, most of them focusing on a particular topic or area of Bedford town centre.They are open to individual members of the public, but places need to be booked in advance.

For a general introduction to some of the fascinating people and places of Bedford history,“I Never Knew That” is a varied walk, pointing out some of the outstanding as well as the little known facts which will cause both residents and visitors to look a little more closely at what is around them.

Other walks focus on particular people, places, monuments and events in Bedford’s history. “The Life and Times of John Bunyan” speak for itself, looking at both the man and the religious turmoil of his times, the 1600s, in Bedford, and how he came to be one of the most successful authors of religious literature in history, as well as one of Bedford’s most famous ‘sons’.

“Silent Faces” takes a look at some of the outstanding sculptures and monuments which grace the town, outlining the people or events they represent but also the leading sculptors who created them. As well as John Bunyan, John Howard (the prison reformer), Trevor Huddleston (the anti-apartheid activist and clergyman), William Harpur (the philanthropist who founded the Harpur Trust) and Glenn Miller (the American band leader whose wartime presence in the town brought musical excitement during dismal days), there are two fine war memorials of national significance.

“The Jewel in the Crown” takes a circular route along and across the River Great Ouse, particularly along Bedford’s Embankment which provides the town with its most beautiful image of graceful bridges, swans and rowing boats.

Only a much reduced mound and some archaeological remnants remain to show us its site, but “The Rise and Fall of Bedford Castle” tells the story of this significant building, the powerful men who created it and the part it played in English history, up to the siege of 1224 by Henry III.

The “World War Two Bedford” walk reveals the way in which the last war transformed people’s lives locally and the part it took in hosting the British Broadcasting Corporation’s music and religious affairs department. Both church services and countless music concerts announced on the radio as from “somewhere in the south of England” were, in fact, from Bedford, including most of the 1944 BBC Proms Concerts, transferred from war-torn London. You will be amazed at the number of famous artistes of all kinds who visited Bedford during the war to perform live to locals and through radio to the world.

New to the list of guided walks, this year, are one which looks at the changing nature of shops and shopping in the town, “Are You Being Served?”, and one looking at selected town houses and enquiring ”Who Lived in a House Like This?”. “Are You Being Served?” explores just some of the many family businesses which used to dominate Bedford’s High Street and how the personal service they provided contrast with shopping today. It also looks at how such national chains of shops such as Marks and Spencer and Boots were introduced and how departmental shops took over from the small independent specialists.

“Who Lived in a House Like This?”looks at some of the town houses of the great and the good of Bedford and how their particular contribution to the town can still be seen today, particularly in its outstanding architecture.

Finally, one of the Bedford Town Guides offers an entertaining winter Ghost Walk to pre-arranged groups between March and December. For details of the dates, charges and times of the above walks, see Bedford Mini Guide 2011 which also has a ‘Self-guided “Did you know?” Trail’ and a street map of Bedford, available from the tourist information offices and your local library or by phoning Bedford Tourist Information Centre (contact details below)

So, whether you are visiting Bedford, or fancy a local history walk elsewhere in Bedfordshire, why not find out about local history walks. Look out for leaflets and notices in your local library, tourist information centre or town hall. Or search online for what your local history society is offering to help make you aware of your local history.

Contact details:
Bedford Tourist Information Centre, Town Hall, St Paul's Square, Bedford, Bedfordshire MK40 1SJ
Tel: 01234 221 712; Fax: 01234 217 932; Email: touristinfo@bedford.gov.uk

Dunstable Tourist Information Centre, Priory House, 33 High Street South, Dunstable
Bedfordshire LU6 3RZ
Tel: 01582 890 270; Fax: 01582 890 271; Email: tic@dunstable.gov.uk

Sandy Tourist Information Centre, Rear of 10 Cambridge Road, High Street, Sandy
Bedfordshire, SG19 1JE
Tel: 01767-682728; Fax: 01767-692527; Email: tourism@sandytowncouncil.gov.uk

Thanks to Stuart, one of the Bedford Town Guides, for contributing this and drawing attention to ways of unlocking Bedfordshire's history.

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