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Bedfordshire (/ˈbɛdfərdʃər, -ʃɪər/; abbreviated Beds) is a county in the East of England. It is a ceremonial county and a historic county, covered by three unitary authorities: Bedford, Central Bedfordshire, and Luton.

Bedfordshire is bordered by Cambridgeshire to the east and northeast, Northamptonshire to the north, Buckinghamshire to the west and Hertfordshire to the southeast and south. It is the fourteenth most densely populated county of England, with over half the population of the county living in the two largest built-up areas: Luton (258,018),[2] and the county town, Bedford (106,940).[3] The highest elevation point is 243 metres (797 ft) on Dunstable Downs in the Chilterns.


The first recorded use of the name in 1011 was "Bedanfordscir," meaning the shire or county of Bedford, which itself means "Beda's ford" (river crossing).

Bedfordshire was historically divided into nine hundreds: Barford, Biggleswade, Clifton, Flitt, Manshead, Redbornestoke, Stodden, Willey, Wixamtree, along with the liberty and borough of Bedford. There have been several changes to the county boundary; for example, in 1897 Kensworth and part of Caddington were transferred from Hertfordshire to Bedfordshire.


The southern end of the county is on the chalk ridge known as the Chiltern Hills. The remainder is part of the broad drainage basin of the River Great Ouse and its tributaries. Most of Bedfordshire's rocks are clays and sandstones from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, with some limestone. Local clay has been used for brick-making of Fletton style bricks in the Marston Vale. Glacial erosion of chalk has left the hard flint nodules deposited as gravel—this has been commercially extracted in the past at pits which are now lakes, at Priory Country Park, Wyboston and Felmersham. The Greensand Ridge is an escarpment across the county from near Leighton Buzzard to near Gamlingay in Cambridgeshire.

Bedfordshire is relatively dry, being situated in the east of England. Average annual rainfall is 597.6 millimetres (23.53 in) at Bedford.[4] October is the wettest month with 62.5 millimetres (2.46 in) and February the driest with 36.7 millimetres (1.44 in). While there is little difference from month to month there are more wet days in autumn and winter but often heavier individual falls in spring and summer, of note were the 1998 Easter floods.[5]

Average temperatures in Bedford range from a low of 0.8 °C (33.4 °F) overnight[4] in February to a high of 22.1 °C (71.8 °F) during the day in July.[4] Record temperatures by month for Woburn follow.


The Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner is Kathryn Holloway who is a member of the Conservative Party.[7]

For local government purposes, Bedfordshire is divided into three unitary authorities: the boroughs of Bedford and Luton, and the District of Central Bedfordshire. Bedfordshire County Council was abolished on 1 April 2009, although the three districts continue to form a county for ceremonial functions such as lieutenancy and High Sheriff.[8] Many services in the county, such as education and public libraries, continue to be provided jointly by Central Bedfordshire and Bedford as if they were a single local authority.[9]

Policing, fire and rescue services continue to be provided on a county-wide basis, with Bedfordshire Police governed by the Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner and Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service governed members of the three councils.[10]

For elections to the House of Commons, Bedfordshire is divided into six constituencies, each returning a single member of parliament:

The present constituencies date from 1997.[11] The boundaries were slightly modified for the 2010 general election.[12]


This is a chart of trend of regional gross value added of Bedfordshire at current basic prices published [30] (pp. 240–253) by Office for National Statistics with figures in millions of British Pounds Sterling.

Bedfordshire is the location of a number of notable UK and international companies who have either headquarters or major bases in the county. Autoglass, Boxclever and Charles Wells Pubs are all based in Bedford, while the Kier Group and Kingspan Timber Solutions are based in Sandy, and Jordans Cereals are based in Biggleswade. EasyJet, Impellam, TUI Airways and Vauxhall Motors are all based in Luton, while Whitbread (including Costa Coffee) is based in nearby Houghton Regis. UltraVision is based in Leighton Buzzard, while Moto Hospitality is based at Toddington service station.

Traditional dishes

The "Bedfordshire clanger" is a local dish consisting of a suet crust pastry filled with meat in one end and jam in the other.

Visitor attractions

  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|EH icon.svg|h14|w14]] Bedford Castle
  • Bedford Corn Exchange
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|Museum icon.svg|h13|w13]] Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum
  • Bedford Park
  • Cardington (R101 hangar)
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|HH icon.svg|h15|w15]] Chicksands Priory
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|UKAL icon.svg|h11|w18]] Chiltern Hills
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|EH icon.svg|h14|w14]] De Grey Mausoleum
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|NTE icon.svg|h15|w15]] Dunstable Downs
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|Museum icon (red).svg|h13|w13]] Elstow Moot Hall
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|CP icon.svg|h14|w14]] Harrold-Odell Country Park
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|EH icon.svg|h14|w14]] Houghton House
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|HR icon.svg|h13|w16]] Leighton Buzzard Light Railway
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|HH icon.svg|h15|w15]] Luton Hoo
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|Museum icon.svg|h13|w13]] Luton Museum & Art Gallery
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|UKAL icon.svg|h11|w18]] Marston Vale Community Forest
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|Museum icon.svg|h13|w13]] Mossman Collection
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|CP icon.svg|h14|w14]] Priory Country Park
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|Museum icon.svg|h13|w13]] RAF Henlow
  • RSPB The Lodge, Sandy
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|EH icon.svg|h14|w14]] Someries Castle
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|Museum icon (red).svg|h13|w13]] The Shuttleworth Collection
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|Museum icon.svg|h13|w13]] Stockwood Craft Museum
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|UKAL icon.svg|h11|w18]] Wardown Park
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|UKAL icon.svg|h11|w18]] Waulud's Bank
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|Zoo icon.jpg|h14|w20]] Whipsnade Wildlife Park
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|NTE icon.svg|h15|w15]] Whipsnade Tree Cathedral
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|NTE icon.svg|h15|w15]] Willington Dovecote & Stables
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|HH icon.svg|h15|w15]] Woburn Abbey
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|Zoo icon.jpg|h14|w20]] Woburn Safari Park
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|Zoo icon.jpg|h14|w20]] Woodside Farm and Wildfowl Park
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|EH icon.svg|h14|w14]] Wrest Park Gardens


Although not a major transport destination, Bedfordshire lies on many of the main transport routes which link London to the Midlands and Northern England.

Two of England's six main trunk roads pass through Bedfordshire:

To these was added in 1959 the M1 motorway, the London to Leeds motorway. This has two junctions around Luton, one serving Bedford and another serving Milton Keynes. A new junction 11A was built for the new A5-M1 link to Dunstable.

Former trunk roads, now local roads managed by the local highway authority, include A428 running east–west through Bedford Borough, and A6 from Rushden to Luton.

Three of England's main lines pass through Bedfordshire:

There are London North Western rural services also running between Bedford and Bletchley along the Marston Vale Line.

Bedfordshire is served by a large number of taxi companies. Luton is reported to have the highest number of taxicabs per head of population in the United Kingdom with a number of firms competing for work in the town and from Luton Airport.

The River Great Ouse links Bedfordshire to the Fenland waterways. As of 2004 there are plans by the Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway Trust to construct a canal linking the Great Ouse at Bedford to the Grand Union Canal at Milton Keynes, 14 miles (23 km) distant.[17]

Luton Airport has flights to many UK, European, Middle Eastern and North African destinations, operated largely but not exclusively by low-cost airlines.



The state education system for all of Bedfordshire used to be organised by Bedfordshire County Council. Unlike most of the United Kingdom, Bedfordshire County Council operated a three-tier education system arranged into lower, middle and upper schools, as recommended in the Plowden Report of 1967, although Luton continued to operate a two-tier system. The three-tier arrangement continues in the rest of the county, though in 2006 a vote was held with a view to moving to the two-tier model, but this was rejected.[18]

After the 2009 structural changes to local government in England, Bedfordshire County Council was abolished, and its responsibilities for education were passed to Bedford Borough Council and Central Bedfordshire Council.

Bedford Borough Council voted in November 2009 to change to the two-tier model in its area.[19][20] The change was due to be introduced over a five-year period and be completed in 2015.[21] However, with the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme in 2010, the borough has changed its proposals, and the switch is now proceeding on school by school basis where council funds allow.

In Central Bedfordshire, the school systems in Dunstable and Sandy have been re-organised into the two-tier model in response to parent and school demand, but elsewhere in the authority the three-tier model continues. Plans for the construction of new settlements in Marston Vale have included lower, middle and upper schools.

Until the division into two unitary authorities in April 2009, education in the area continued to be administered by Bedfordshire County Council.

All of the two councils' upper schools offer 6th form courses (such as A Levels), though Bedford College, Central Bedfordshire College and Shuttleworth College also offer a range of further education courses. Additionally, Stella Mann College is a private college (based in Bedford), which offers a range of further education courses relating to the performing arts.[22][23]

There are a number of independent schools, many of which have links to the Harpur Trust. These are Bedford School for boys (formerly Bedford Grammar School), Bedford Modern School (co-educational), Bedford Girls' School and Pilgrims Pre-Preparatory School (co-educational).

Luton also operates a three-tier education system, though its organisation of infant, junior and high schools mirrors the traditional transfer age into secondary education of 11 years. However, most of Luton's high schools do not offer sixth-form education. Instead, this is handled by Luton Sixth Form College, though Barnfield College and Cardinal Newman Catholic School also offer a range of further education courses.

There are two universities based in the county – the University of Bedfordshire and Cranfield University. These institutions attract students from all over the UK and abroad, as well as from Bedfordshire.


The enormous Cardington airship sheds are situated to the south of Bedford, near the villages of Cardington and Shortstown. They were originally built for the construction of large airships during WW1. Since falling out of their intended use, one has been used for many purposes including housing film sets for 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' and 'Batman Begins' and as a rehearsal space for Take That, with the other having been extensively refurbished and now accommodating Hybrid Air Vehicles, a British modern airship design and manufacturing company.

St Paul's Church, Bedford is a Church of England parish church and the Civic Church of the Borough of Bedford and the County of Bedfordshire. Located on St Paul's Square, the large medieval and later church of cathedral proportions and iconic spire dominates the town and area, exercises a ministry of welcome to thousands of visitors and pilgrims from far and wide each year, and is a focus for special commemorations and celebrations in the borough, county, region and wider community, as well as being a central venue for concerts, recitals and exhibitions. Historically, St Paul's played a key part in the life of the British nation during the Second World War as the church of the BBC.

The Millbrook Proving Ground, near Junction 13 of the M1, has 70 kilometres (43 mi) of varied vehicle test tracks.[24]

Sports and leisure

Bedfordshire is home to Luton Town F.C. and Bedford Blues rugby team amongst other various sporting teams.

Bedfordshire boasts a 40-mile (64  km) walk traversing the county from Leighton Buzzard at the southern endpoint and Sandy, Bedfordshire/Gamlingay in southern Cambridgeshire to the east. This is called the Greensand Ridge Walk. For cyclists, a parallel route following minor country roads is also available, Greensand Cycle Way.

Bibliographical references

  • Bedfordshire Magazine (quarterly)[25]
  • Elstow Moot Hall leaflets on John Bunyan and 17th century subjects[25]
  • Guide to the Bedfordshire Record Office 1957 with supplements.[25]
  • Guide to the Russell Estate Collections Published in 1966.[25]
  • Conisbe, L. R. (1962) A Bedfordshire Bibliography (supplement, 1967)[25]
  • Dony, John (1953) A Bedfordshire Flora. Luton: Corporation of Luton Museum & Art Gallery[25]
  • Dony, John (1942) A History of the Straw Hat Industry. Luton: Gibbs, Bamforth & Co.[25]
  • Freeman, Charles (1958) Pillow Lace in the East Midlands. Luton: Luton Museum and Art Gallery[25]
  • Godber, Joyce (1969) History of Bedfordshire 1066–1888[25]
  • White, H. O. Bedfordshire Historical Record Society (published annually)[25]

See also

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