Heritage > Counties > England


The smallest of what are known as the 'Shire' counties. Bedfordshire has no cities but can boast the fine market towns of Bedford, Luton, Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard.

The county covers 480 square miles of central southern England and has a populace of over 530,000

Amongst Bedfordshire's attractions are Whipsnade Park Zoo near Dunstable, which was opened in 1931 and caters each year to thousands of visitors from far and wide, and Woburn Abbey, the home of the Duke of Bedford.

The county can be clearly divided between North and South, with the North being mainly agricultural and the South being mostly industrial, especially in the town of Luton.

The village of Elstow in the north of the county was the birthplace of John Bunyan, author of the famous 'Pilgrim's Progress' which he penned whilst imprisoned in Bedford jail.

Facts on the region

Origin of name: Anglo-Saxon, Beda's Ford, or the river crossing.

Name first recorded: 1011 as Bedanfordscir.

County Town: BEDFORD

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

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. Ickleford by North Hertfordshire District and Gaddesden by Dacorum Distrct Councils.

The local 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 PilgrimÃs Progress, a more sardonic local adage merely states that "Bedfordshire is a brickworks in the middle of cabbage patch".

Places to Visit

Woburn Abbey, Woburn, Bedfordshire

Luton Hoo, Luton, Bedfordshire

Bushmead Priory, Colmworth, Bedford, Bedfordshire

Ceil Higgins Art Gallery, Castle Close, Bedford MK40 3NY

De grey Mausoleum, Flitton, Bedford, Bedfordshire

Houghton House, Ampthill, Bedford, Bedfordshire

Swiss Garden, Biggleswade Road, Old Warden, Bedfordshire

Wrest Park Gardens, Silsoe, Luton, Bedfordshire


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 from the region

Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown went to Bedford Boarding School.

John Bunyan the Nonconformist thinker and nevelist, wrote Pilgrims Progress, while in Bedford jail.

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