BOOK REVIEW by Bob Ricketts

By Paul Adams

Published by Amberley Publishing in 2018. 96 pages.
ISBN 978 1 4456 7696 8 (print) ISBN 978 1 4456 7697 5 (E-BOOK)
Obtainable from Waterstones. Price £14.99

This book is a successor to Secret Luton by Paul Adams. His previous works include The Borley Rectory Companion, Extreme Hauntings, Haunted Luton & Dunstable, Haunted Stevenage, Ghosts & Gallows and Written in Blood. The author in his introduction states that he aims to set down “… what is hopefully an interesting mixture of facts and accounts which are decidedly off the beaten track”, introducing “an eclectic undercurrent of local history that will be of interest to Bedfordians young and old, and if every reader of this book says at some point, ‘Well, I never knew that,’ then it will have served its purpose.”

I would agree that the author’s choice of topics is eclectic and his style entertaining, but would disagree with the claim that the book reveals a “hidden history”, let alone one which is “secret”. Most of the substantial topics (for example, the exploits of Private William Buckingham, VC; the SOE in Bedford; musical Bedford; the ‘Tennis Lawn Murders’; religious Bedford – the Panacea Society) have been extensively written about by local historians and there is little by way of new insights based on original research. The exceptions are the chapters about “Spooky Bedford”, detailing the activities of William Turner, one of the first ghost-hunters, and ‘Cinematic Bedford’, which, for example, references ‘Personal Affair’, directed by Anthony Pelissier and released in 1953, which includes shots of the river bridge, the Swan Hotel, the Embankment and the High Street. I genuinely ‘never knew that’. Whilst these chapters are certainly interesting and written in an engaging style, they also include (as does ‘Murderous Bedford’) a considerable amount of material which is not strictly Bedford-centric, for example, including murders or executions from around Luton, Eversholt, Woburn, and Northampton, or films shot in Cardington, Old Warden, and Houghton House, but this is possibly the reviewer being too purist.

The book’s main chapters comprise: Ancient and Historical Bedford; Wartime Bedford; Musical Bedford; Spooky Bedford; Murderous Bedford; Religious Bedford; Cinematic Bedford and Walking Bedford. The latter oddly omits all the town’s Blue Plaques, apart from that honouring William Buckingham! The recommendations for further reading are strong on Bedford during WW2, but weak on Bedford’s origins or Victorian and Edwardian Bedford, omitting well-known publications by Richard Wildman, Alan Crawley or Ian Freeman, or articles by Stuart Antrobus (on musical Bedford, eminent Bedfordians or Private Buckingham) published in Bedford Local History Magazine. Not recommended. 260519

Illustration of book cover