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County-landscape

. The county stretches across the plain of the Ouse to the Chiltern Hills and most of the land is rich clay, which is why it has always been a great wheat-growing area.

. The county rises and falls in a series of gentle hills and valleys, from a flat, clay plain in the north through a belt of sandy hills stretching from Woburn to Sandy to a higher ridge of chalk downs in the south of the county, where the highest point of 801 feet is reached.

. Although Bunyan chose to translate the Chiltern Hills of the county into the "Delectable Mountains" for his epic Pilgrim's Progress, a more sardonic local adage merely states that "Bedfordshire is a brickworks in the middle of a cabbage patch".

County-facts

Origin of name: Anglo-Saxon, Beda's Ford, or the river crossing. Name first recorded: 1011 as Bedanfordscir.

COUNTY TOWN

County Town: BEDFORD A clean, brisk town on the river Ouse dating back to Anglo- Saxon time and subject to many Danish raids.

Other Towns

LUTON Linked to motor manufacture and general engineering, although its football team is still known as 'The Hatters'. The airport was made famous by a TV commercial. AMPTHILL Well-preserved little town, where, in the 16th century, Catherine of Aragon resided after being put aside by Henry Vlll.

BIGGLESWADE Market-gardening centre on the river Ivel with a fine 14th-century bridge with three- pointed arches and two great flour mills beside it.

DUNSTABLE Originally a royal market town established by Henry 1, now a shopping centre with some noted Victorian and ancient buildings.

FLITWICK Charming thatched cottages around a typical English village green beside the river Flit.

HOUGHTON REGIS Has a small iron Age fort of note called Maiden Bower.

LEIGHTON BUZZARD Ancient and historic town thought to be the Lygeanburg of Saxon Chroniclers.

SANDY Another market-gardening centre in an attractive rural setting with the rivers ivel and Ouse. The RSPB headquarters are near here.

SHILLINGTON Has the remains of an ancient round barrow named Knocking Knoll: a British chieftain is said to be buried there with his treasure chest and knocks to be let out of the barrow.

. Barton-in-the-Clay .Cranfield . Eaton Socon

. Henlow . Kempston . Potton . Shefford . Stotfold . Toddington

COUNTY RIVERS

Flit, Ouse, Ivel, Hiz, Ouzel, Lea.

HIGHEST POINT

Dunstable Down at 801 feet.

county-calendar

. May Day Celebrations - ickwell Green. The village has a permanent maypole.

. Good Friday: Dunstable Downs & Pascombe Pit Orange Rolling. Believed to be symbolic of the stone being rolled away from the door of Christ's tomb.

.Gliding events on Dunstable Downs.

famous-names

. Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown went to Bedford Boarding School.

. John Bunyan the Nonconformist thinker and novelist, wrote Pilgrims Progress, while in Bedford Jail.

.Comic poet John Hegley grew up in Luton.

local government

Bedfordshire's local government: Bedfordshire has two- tier structure excluding Luton which only has one - Luton District Council. For the rest Bedfordshire County Council sits on one level and three district councils, Bedford, Mid-Bedfordshire and South Bedfordshire, on the second. Bedfordshire's Eaton Socon comes under both Huntingdonshire District and Cambridgeshire County Councils. Ickleford and Gaddesden are Bedfordshire detached in Hertfordshire served by that county and Ickleford by North Hertfordshire District and Gaddesden by Dacorum District Councils.

intro

HATS AND CATS! Bedfordshire has Luton with its once- famous straw hat-making and straw-plaiting industries and it is also home to the roaming lions at Woburn Abbey's Safari Park - the largest drive-through, safari park reserve in Britain - and Whipsnade Zoo high on the Chilterns. And what about Leighton Buzzard? What a wonderful name! (It owes that to a certain Norman baron called Leighton de Buzzard.)

towns-and-villages

In early times Bedfordshire was bisected by two great and historic roads - Watling Street, connecting northern and southern England, and the Icknield Way, linking East Anglia and the West. Since the 1960s, the former has been replaced by the Ml artery, but the nearby county town of Bedford, in spite of the proximity of various industries, still retains some of its quiet residential atmosphere as it snuggles into a bend of the River Ouse. It also boasts one of the largest Italian colonies in Britain. Its most famous son, the 17th-century Nonconformist preacher and author of The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan, is commemorated by a statue at the foot of the town's High Street. The site of the jail where he was imprisoned for his Non- conformist beliefs is now marked only by a plaque, but the library and museum contain many mementoes and examples of his writings.

His birthplace in the nearby village of Elstow, two miles south, also retains many of its associations, including the font in which he was baptized and the church bells which he rang.

Elsewhere agriculture and market-gardening, and brick- making are still prominent. Cardington, whose colossal hangars housed the great airships built during World War 1, has recently benefited from a small resurgence in this form of transport, but in the intervening years became more familiar as a preliminary induction centre for thousands of conscripts to the Royal Air Force.

The county boasts several distinguished landmarks, including Luton Hoo, the Rupert Adam stately home of the Wernher family, which houses a renowned collection of tapestries, porcelain, paintings and Faberge jewellery. It has also featured as the setting for more than 30 major films and television productions as a result of its proximity to London and the British film studios. They include Oliver?, Never Say Never Again, Inspector Morse, and Britain's box-office blockbuster of the 1990s, Four Weddings And A Funeral. The mansion is run by a charity and is open to the public.

Woburn Abbey, built on the site of a Cistercian foundation, has since the 16th century been the home of the Russell family, later to be elevated to the Dukedom of Bedford. A popular attraction with the visiting public, the Abbey has no fewer than 14 state apartments with many Canalettos, Rembrandts and Gainsboroughs, but the main feature is the collection of rare animals in the 3,000-acre park. Wildlife also pulls in the crowds at Whipsnade Zoo Park, an offshoot of the London Zoological Society of Regent's Park, in Middlesex, and where a number of major breeding programmes are being successfully undertaken amongst the 136 species housed here, while keen horticulturalists are attracted to Wrest Park, a series of formal gardens whose layout represents the results of a hundred and fifty years of garden design.

local-history

Following the Roman occupation, the Bedford 'shire' became part of the county of the Middle Angles, before being incorporated into the kingdom of Mercia, whose monarch, Offa, was buried there. During the llth century it became a separate shire, with its baronetcy awarded to the Beauchamp family. Their decision to side with Empress Matilda in her struggle against Stephen resulted in Bedford Castle being besieged several times. A Bedford canon was at the root of the tragic quarrel between Henry II and Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. The canon was accused of causing the death of a knight, but was acquitted. The King's judiciary ordered a retrial, but the canon refused to appear, and his action was supported by Becket. The ensuing dispute led to Becket's eventual murder.

During the Civil War, the county roughly divided its support between the king and the Parliament and as a result was the scene of numerous skirmishes, sequestration and the plundering of estates. Some unsuccessful negotiations took place between the two sides while Charles 1 was at Woburn and the Parliamentary leaders at Bedford.

 

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