Bedford Architectural Archaeological
& Local History Society
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............................. A report on the important work being carried out by the Society.
BAALHS is actively involved in trying to ensure that Bedford's buildings of special architectural and historic interest are
protected and to increase public awareness of their importance. We also seek to preserve the best of the present urban
landscape and to oppose developments which are incongruous or otherwise unsuitable. The Society is carrying on the work that
was started in 1966 when the Bedford Society was formed. In 2008 the Bedford Society and the Bedford Archaeological and Local History
Society merged to form BAALHS, the Bedford Architectural, Archaeological and Local History Society. This society is the only body
in Bedford dedicated to the protection of the town’s built environment. In this capacity it is a formal consultee to the Planning Department
and meets quarterly with its Historic Environment Team Leader, Ian Johnson.
BAALHS continues to actively monitor planning applications and follows-up and/or objects to any which are of concern. Recent cases have included:
Pictorial late-Victorian tiles, Children’s Ward, Bedford Hospital (South Wing): Successful objection to their removal. Will remain in situ.
‘Aspects’ redevelopment, off Barkers Lane: redevelopment of site, including the construction of four large apartment blocks overlooking the River Ouse and destruction of the archaeological remains of Newnham Priory. Committee members attended one of the public information sessions and have lodged a formal objection;
Future of Council Suite, Bedford Borough Hall: Inquiry about listing. It was confirmed that the building had been exempted from listing;
2-3 Bromham Road, Bedford: Application to insert a new entrance which would have the effect of destroying the unity of the tiled frontage of the former Bedford Arms. Formal objection lodged.
Bedford’s Conservation Area has been placed ‘at risk’ by English Heritage, apparently largely because of the poor quality of some shop fronts, high vacancy rate of premises and high traffic levels on the High Street. These issues will be addressed through the Borough’s Heritage Action Zone scheme which is due to start in March 2020. BAALHS take an active interest in the progress of this scheme.
One of our past achievements is the successful campaign to obtain listed status for St Luke’s Moravian Church in St Peter’s Street (1864-65, Architect James Horsford). This stately building with its peaceful town centre garden is now a stylish theatre which is owned and operated by Bedford School and offers a much needed facility to the people of Bedford. Amongst our proudest achievements is the part we played in the very survival of 1-4 St. Paul’s Square, the parlous state and uncertain future of which has been of great concern to us for many years. That these buildings not only remain standing, but have been imaginatively and sympathetically restored is partly the result of the vigilant manner in which the Society has kept these remarkably important buildings in the public eye. The rescue of these buildings, one of which dates back to the 15th century, is fully explained in Nancy Falloon's article in the April 2016 edition of the Bedford Local History Magazine.
In this context, we are proud to have been represented on the board of the Townscape Heritage Initiative, and applauds the Borough Council which with the support of Lottery funding and a massive injection of matching private capital has brought about a remarkable transformation in the visual appearance of the High Street. Many of the town’s best buildings, including no.80a, a rare 17th century survival, and, by contrast, the Victorian ‘showpiece’ building on the corner of High Street (no. 100 – formerly ‘Porter Blacks’) have been restored to their original appearance. As a result of these improvements a wealth of original neo-classical feature have reappeared along the length of the High Street and, coincidently, but perhaps of even greater importance, the upper floors of the restored buildings are once again in residential use. For the first time in a great many years, people are actually living in the High Street!
Moving away from the centre of Town, we are proud of our role in ensuring the preservation of a group of Victorian frontages, including that of the former Convent School, on Bromham Road, which were threatened by the St. Bede’s ‘extra care’ housing scheme. Happily - at our suggestion - these were seamlessly incorporated into this imaginative project which was designated ‘Development of the Year (East Midlands category) at the Chartered Institute of Housing Awards in 2014. A perhaps unexpected benefit of the re-ordering of this extensive tract of built-up land has been the remarkable re-invigoration of The Avenue - previously a rather gloomy ‘dead end’ - which now has the appearance and atmosphere of a continental piazza!
Part of the Society’s remit is to raise public awareness of Bedford’s past, including eminent Bedfordians who have contributed to the town’s cultural, educational, economic and social development. Key to this has been encouraging and funding or co-funding the erection of memorial ‘blue plaques’ to the former residences or workplaces of eminent Bedfordians. Stuart Antrobus organised a recent exhibition in Bedford Central Library on the subject of the town’s ‘blue plaques’. This, together with the Society’s ‘leading role in promoting and partfunding some of these as part of its aim of raising the profile of local history’ was reported by the British Association for Local Histort in its Autumn 2019 issue of Local History News.