Turn the page
Picturesque England
Turn the page


EDFORD, situated in the rich and picturesque Vale of Bedford, is a very ancient town. It is supposed that it is the Bedcanford of the Saxon Chronicle, A.D. 571. It is recorded in it, "Cuthulf fought against the Britons at Bedcanford (Bedford), and took four towns,"

The name Bedcanford means a fortress on a river. Bedford suffered greatly from the Danes, who destroyed it, "ever burning as they went" But it was speedily rebuilt. In 919 Edward the Elder erected a fortress on the south side of the Ouse, and received there the submission of the neighhouring country. But this fortress was also destroyed by the Danes.

William Rufus gave Paine de Beauchamp the barony of Bedford, and he considered it necessary to build a very strong castle here; "but while it stood," says Camden, "there was no storm of civil war that did not burst upon it".

Stephen took it by surrender and gave honourable terms to the garrison.

In the Barons' war William de Beauchamp, who took part with them, received them in the castle; but when Faukes de Brent, sent by King John, summoned it, it was surrendered to him in a few days, and John gave him the barony for his services.

A troublesome gift to the donor: for Faukes, after he had fortified his castle and rendered it nearly impregnable - it is said that he pulled down the Church of St. Paul for materials - became a universal depredator. Everywhere in the beautiful Vale of Bedford and in the neighbourhood, Faukes de Brent and his men were seen harrying and robbing; no one could resist him; he and his men seemed to have been like the Doones of Exmoor, their hand against every man and every man's hand against them.

At last the king's justices sitting at Dunstable took cognizance of his proceedings, and fined him three thousand pounds. Faukes, enraged at this sentence, sent his brother at the head of a troup of men-at-arms to seize the judges and bring them prisoners to Bedford! Happily they were forewarned of his intention, and two of them escaped, but Henry Braybrooke was taken and carried to the castle, where he was most cruelly treated. Henry III. was by this time greatly incensed at the outrageous conduct of De Brent, and marched to Bedford in person, attended by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the chief peers of the realm. The Church had suffered so much from De Brent's raids that it granted a voluntary aid to the king, and for every hide of their lands furnished two labourers to work the engines employed in the siege of Bedford Castle.

Faukes de Brent felt assured that his castle was impregnable, but Henry soon taught him that it was not so; very singular machines were used against it, and a high tower of wood was built, from which the besiegers could see into the enemy's quarters.

At last the castle surrendered. Faukes was not there at the time; he had taken sanctuary in a church at Coventry; and through the mediation of the Bishop of Coventry obtained the royal pardon, on condition that he left the realm. He had left his brother William governor of the castle, who, though deprived of all aid, kept up the defence for a short time and then surrendered. He was hanged with twenty-four knights and eighty soldiers. Culmo, another brother, was pardoned. Henry III. was determined to uproot a place that he called "the nursery of sedition'" and ordered the castle to be dismantled and the moats to be filled up.

But this command was not fulfilled to the letter, for the ruined castle of Bedford was seen 250 years afterwards, and Camden says that the ruins overhung the river on the east side of the town, in his day. Not a vestige of it now remains.

The town of Bedford is very interesting as being possessed of so many charitable and educational advantages. The communication between the parts of the town separated by the Ouse, is by a handsome bridge of five arches on the site of the old one of seven arches, which was said to have been built in the reign of Mary out of the ruins of St. Dunstan's Church. The old jail was built on the bridge; of this we must now speak.

Bedford Jail

We think no one could call the town of Bedford picturesque, yet there are a few spots of great interest about or near it. One especially is the old jail in which one of the most popular of English books was written. We mean Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress."

Bunyan was an uneducated man; or at least had received only the very elements of knowledge - reading and writing - yet his genius was very great, and he wrote the finest allegory ever conceived.

He was born at Elstow, near Bedford, and in early life, or rather after his early marriage, used to go to Elstow Church twice a day. It is a fine old church, with the singularity of the tower standing apart from the main building. He heard many good sermons there, but without their having much effect on him At length, however, his con. science awoke; he overheard some women v. no were sitting spinning in the sun, talking of the new birth, became impressed by their words, and embraced a religious life with great fervour; not, however, in the Church of England, but as a Baptist. He became a popular preacher with that sect, and during the Commonwealth preached often and in many places. But almost immediately after the Restoration he was arrested for illegal preaching and committed to Bedford jail, where he remained for twelve years, and here he wrote the first part of the immortal "Pilgrim's Progress." He was imprisoned in 1660 and released in 1672.

His wife and his four children must have suffered much from poverty during his incarceration, for of course he could not ply his trade - that of a tinker - in prison; but he learned to make stay laces to support his family, and helped the jailer sometimes in the management of the prison. But his family met with kind friends, and Bunyan himself seems to have had many indulgences while in confinement, being frequently let out on parole, and often present at Baptist meetings.

How in a damp, dull prison cell, above the sluggish river Ouse, he could have written with so much animation and spirit, is a marvel; and yet, once immersed in his "Dream," he must often have forgotten that his own pilgrimage had been so suddenly arrested; though only apparently, for his book has taught many generations, and all sects and Churches divine truths; while his preaching could only have benefited a few.

Crowds gathered to hear him when he was once more free to preach, and a dilapidated barn was fitted up for a meeting house, of which he was minister.

He lived generally at Bedford, but often went to London, where he was extremely popular. The little cottage in which he dwelt was opposite the meeting-house, but has been taken down long since.

Bunyan died of cold and fever at the house of a friend on Snow Hill, and was buried in Bunhill Fields. His tomb had this inscription on it:

"Mr. John Bunyan,
Author of the "Pilgrim's Progress".
ob., 12th. Aug., 1688 - AEt. 60."

Mrs. S. C. Hall, in her "Pilgrimages to English Shrines," states upon the authority of an old lady, who remembered the fact perfectly, that Bunyan's was a drearylooking grave; some brickwork thrown down from it, and a sort of headstone, green and mouldering, upon which was faintly carved,


During Bunyan's life-time a hundred thousand copies of the first part of the "Pilgrim's Progress" were sold; an amazing number for that period, indeed seldom paralleled at any time. Since his death the editions of it have been too numerous to count, and it has been translated into thirty or forty languages.

He had learned English from the fount and well-spring of the language, the English translation of the Bible; and his brilliant fancy and deep sincerity helped him to produce a masterpiece which has had no equal in popularity except Scott's novels, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and Shakspeare.

Bedfordshire has few names to boast in literature, but her single one is unrivalled, and in some measure atones for the paucity of them. His county has acknowledged his claims on it, and a statue of John Bunyan stands in Bedford, gazing towards the town and with its back to the church; which position, it may be - like his book - is an allegory.

Turn the page
Picturesque England
Turn the page
Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004