Hosted by
Bedford Architectural, Archaeological,
and Local History Society


Bedfordshire Local History Association [BLHA] AGM and Annual Conference
Saturday 24 June 2017 at Priory Methodist Church, Newnham Avenue, Bedford.

Report by Stuart Antrobus.

The annual summer BLHA conference, held for the first time in Bedford, was attended by 89 people including representatives from 15 local history societies from Ampthill, Bedford, Biggleswade, Clapham, Colmworth, Harlington, Ickwell, Langford, Luton, Old Warden, Roxon, Thurleigh, Toddington and Wrest Park (Silsoe). The Conference was hosted by Bedford Architectural, Archaeological and Local History Society [BAALHS], and had the theme of “Bedford Through The Ages”.

Mollie Foster chaired the BLHA AGM, which preceded the Conference. As well as the usual reports on the BLHA’s work over the last year, she raised concern that the Association was still looking for a new Secretary to take over from Clive Makin and encouraged delegates to consider taking on this important role.

Bob Ricketts, President of BAALHS then introduced Bedford’s elected Mayor, Dave Hodgson, who welcomed delegates to the conference and spoke of the importance of valuing our local history and of our historic buildings.

Jeremy Oetgen of Albion Archaeology gave the first illustrated talk on how modern archaeology is revealing the changing landscape and early settlement within the Ouse Valley. This provided an overview to the early history of Bedford.

Bob Ricketts, also Editor of Bedford Local History Magazine, then showed how the River Great Ouse shaped the town’s development and economy, which set the scene for the historical walking tour, provided for those attendees wishing to take part in a circular walk of Bedford’s Castle Mound, River Embankment and Town Bridge. Delegates were taken by coach to the Bunyan Meeting in the centre of town and two groups went off in opposite directions on the same walk, led by Town Guides, John Dixon and Doreen Watson.

Those who preferred to stay at the Conference venue were treated to a fascinating illustrated talk on the work of the Royal Aircraft Establishment [RAE] at Thurleigh, revealing the enormous range of post-WW2 research and innovative engineering which contributed in such world-renowned achievements in aeronautics as Concorde, vertical take-off and landing aircraft, automatic landing systems, airport landing aids, automatic landing in fog and devices to enable the use of aircraft to and from aircraft carriers.

Margaret Carpenter and her team of volunteer caterers treated delegates to a superb buffet lunch and there was an opportunity afterwards to see an interesting range of displays by some of the local history societies represented at the Conference, as well as a good range of local history books, maps and other items provided for sale by Peter Budek of Eagle Books, Bedford’s independent, specialist bookseller.

Pamela Birch, Manager of Bedfordshire Archives, gave the first of the afternoon talks – a detailed look at how to do buildings research by looking at the evidence for the occupants of Numbers 1 to 4, St Paul’s Square, a range of buildings including Bedford earliest remaining secular property, which have been recently restored. This included insights into the lives of the occupants over the centuries.

Next came a look at local politics from the 1930s, as Bob Ricketts looked at why Bedford was one of the last similar-sized towns in the country to create a rate-aided public library and how a local Harpur Trust school headmaster led a successful ‘Free Library movement’ campaign for it.

Tea and an enormous range of Margaret Carpenter’s legendary cakes provided an afternoon break before David Fowler, Co-Chair of BAAHLS’ Conservation Committee showed a range of slides of interesting Bedford architecture. These included outstanding buildings which were destroyed in the twentieth century and others which had been saved, thanks to the earlier Bedford Society and, more recently, the work of BAALHS in monitoring plans for any changes to the townscape which might result in outstanding architecture and historically-significant buildings being destroyed, whilst also supporting initiatives, such as the award-winning Bedford Borough Town High Street restoration of key buildings.

The Conference once again provided local historians from around Bedfordshire the opportunity to get together to share ideas, show what they are doing locally and enjoy the opportunity to socialise with like-minded people, as well as learn about the history of the host-venue’s locality, in this case, the county town of Bedford with its long and distinguished history.

Thanks must go to Bob Ricketts and his team of Conference planners for a very full, interesting and well-run day, as well as to the Administrator of Priory Methodist Church for providing ideal venue facilities.


Many thanks are due to the following for their help in making the BAALHS “Bedford Through The Ages” local history conference, 24 June 2017, such a success:

Bob Rickett’s conference team:
Stuart Antrobus, Margaret Carpenter, Andrew Johnson, Elizabeth Sayer, Penny & John Stanbridge, Sylvia Woods.

Margaret Carpenter’s catering team:
Kate Carpenter, Jean Luckins, Sue Pollard, Jenny Spearing, Bev Woolf.

Bedford Town Mayor: Dave Hodgson.

Speakers: Pamela Birch, David Fowler, Jeremy Oetgen, Bob Ricketts, Barry Tomlinson.

Town Guides: John Dixon & Doreen Watson.

Bedfordshire Local History Association: Mollie Foster & her committee.

Priory Methodist Church: Sue Gordon, Administrator.

Societies & organisations providing displays (those in bold providing displays):
Peter Budek, Eagle Bookshop, Bedford.
Ampthill & District Archaeological & Local History Group, Bedford Aeronautical Heritage Group, Bedfordshire Archives, Bedfordshire Family History Society, Bedfordshire Gardens Trust, Biggleswade Historical society, Clapham Historical Society, Colmworth & Neighbours History Society, Friends of Foster Hill Road Cemetery (Bedford), Harlington Heritage Trust, Hitchin British Schools Museum, Langford History Society, Maypole Heritage (Ickwell), Old Warden History & Heritage Society, Roxton & District Local History Group, Luton & District History Society, Toddington Historical Society, Wrest Park Research History Group (Silsoe). and other individuals who helped to make it possible, including all the 89 who attended on the day.