The name of the town is thought to derive from the name of a Saxon chief called Beda, and a ford crossing the River Great Ouse. Bedford was a market town for the surrounding agricultural region from the early Middle Ages The Anglo-Saxon King Offa of Mercia was buried in the town in 796; this is believed to be in his new minster, now the Church of St Paul, or on the banks of the Great Ouse where his tomb was soon lost to the river. In 886 it became a boundary town separating Wessex and Danelaw. It was the seat of the Barony of Bedford. In 919 Edward the Elder built the town's first known fortress, on the south side of the River Great Ouse and there received the area's submission. This fortress was destroyed by the Danes. William II gave the barony of Bedford to Paine de Beauchamp who built a new, strong castle.
Bedford traces its borough charter in 1166 by Henry II and elected two members to the unreformed House of Commons. It remained a small agricultural town, with wool being an important industry in the area for much of the Middle Ages. The new Bedford Castle was razed in 1224 and today only a mound remains. From the 16th century Bedford and much of Bedfordshire became one of the main centres of England's lace industry, and lace continued to be an important industry in Bedford until the early 20th century. In 1660 John Bunyan was imprisoned for 12 years in Bedford Gaol. It was here that he wrote The Pilgrim's Progress. The River Great Ouse became navigable as far as Bedford in 1689. Wool declined in importance with brewing becoming a major industry in the town. The 19th century saw Bedford transform into an important engineering hub. In 1832 gas lighting was introduced, and the railway reached Bedford in 1846. The first corn exchange was built 1849, and the first drains and sewers were dug in 1864.
Bedford in 1611
Bedford Bridge in 1783. This version of the bridge was replaced in 1813.