The only remaining 2nd World War Army pillbox in Bedford is located in the Interchange Retail Park, yards from Costa coffee and the M&S food-hall.
In October 2016, Elstow resident Jon Miles was with Denis Carr, an Elstow Parish Councillor, looking for byways, paths and bridle ways that have always been used but which are not listed anywhere. They were doing this because if these paths are not listed by 2020 on the local Council records, then they would be lost and could be built on by developers.
On one of their walks, they discovered an overgrown brick building that they recognised as being a World War Two pillbox.
When the German Army invaded Poland in 1939, they started the 2nd World War. They then swept into Europe - invading Czechoslovakia, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France. Britain stood totally alone, with the only help coming from their Commonwealth partners - no other country. It was thought that Germany would invade this country by 1942, so thousands of these pillboxes’s - so called because of their shape - were built to protect important war sites - in the case of Elstow, the railway and the Elstow munitions factory. (Run by the Joe Lyons catering group!)
There was another pillbox in Ampthill Road and one in Kempston Hardwick.
Jon decided that, this being the only remaining pillbox in the area, it should be preserved. He spent a long time trying to raise money and asked English Heritage, British Legion, the Harpur Trust, Bedford Borough Council but all rejected his request. Eventually, Elstow Parish Council agreed to a grant of £1000, Borough Councillor Tim Hill offered £1000 from his Ward Fund and then the Gale Family Trust offered £1600. This reached the total that Jon had been quoted by builder Pelham Chambers, who has done lots of work for Elstow Parish Council to a good standard. The Gale Family Trust also agreed to the pay £515 for a lectern style information board. And Dr Michael Osborne donated £100 to the project.
Jon became the project manager and spent a lot of time getting rid of 20 years of weeds and vines, some of which had gotten into the brickwork and had to be dug out at ground level. And, of course, when Pelham got into the job of restoration he and Jon soon realised it was a far bigger job than had first been assumed.
The first three courses of bricks under the roof had to be removed, as they were disintegrating, almost to dust. The reinforcing rods crumbled to the touch but then the whole structure was 76 years old and had totally open to the elements for all of those years.
The roof was a solid chunk of concrete so was thought to be, probably, okay but it was decided that a heat-sealed roof covering would be desirable to protect the slab and the building from the elements. Pelham knew the roofing contractor Malcolm Hendrickson and said he was good guy so Jon went to talk to him. Malcolm agreed to put on the roof covering at no charge - if he had charged, it would have cost about £1200.
The outside walls were then covered with a cement screed, again to protect the brickwork. Jon decided it needed painting with anti-graffiti paint, to protect it from vandals and to blend in better with its location. Pelham began painting it (on Wednesday 20th June 2018) a dark gray/green colour.
When it was built in 1942 there was less soil all around the building, so it was possible for members of the Home Guard to just walk in. However, now the door is a lot lower due to all the soil that has gathered around the building over the past 70 odd years. So steps and a railing have been added.
The inside has not been altered and has its original whitewash finish.
People can go in as long as they are careful - they do not have to book but if they contact Jon, he can arrange to be there and explain what the pillbox was for, why it is where it is and for safety.
In August, once the interpretation board has been made, there will be an official opening.
Jon Miles, Bunyan’s Mead, Elstow.
Mobile; 07709 879 245
Jon wishes to thank the sponsors of this project, who had the vision to understand what was involved and for saving a small part of our heritage:
The Gale Family Trust
Elstow Parish Council
Tim Hill - Liberal Democrat Councillor for Stewartby.
Pelham Chambers - who undertook the restoration, work.
Malcolm Hendrickson - roofing contractor.
Dr Michael Osborne - author of 20th Century Defence of Britain.
The International Singer Owners Classic Car Club held their annual rally in Bedfordshire this week and included an afternoon visit to Elstow on Friday
Over fifty cars, from various countries, lined up on display beside Moot Hall on Elstow green, whilst their owners went for a cuppa at Elstow Tea Garden.
John Bunyan’s Round Table - is a new multi-agency group, formed to encourage international fans to visit Bedford and also to put his book back in local schools.
The photo, above, shows the “Round Table” group on the staircase (from original Palace Beautiful - Houghton House) at The Bedford Swan Hotel.
The man whose work has been shared more widely than Shakespeare is being brought back to life in his home town (and beyond). John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress has been more influential than any book in the English language, other than the Bible. Since being published in the 17th Century it has never been out of print and has been translated and cherished across the world. Today there is even The Pilgrim’s Progress “theme park" in South Korea, while visitors from the US and the Continent still make “pilgrimages” to Bedford and his home village of Elstow.
Bringing the book back to the classroom is Ruth Broomhall, a teacher and author who co-wrote* the devotional “To be a Pilgrim” (CWR, 2016) and has created a tool box of materials to enable teachers to bring the story to life for primary school children. The material is available via her website, named after a significant building in the story;
Ruth is now working on a new book about the little-known sequel to The Pilgrim’s Progress based on the pilgrim Christian’s wife Christiana and family. The children’s book will be illustrated by Alasdair Bright and will include recognisable Bedfordshire landmarks and will recreate some of the monsters and challenges the family faced. She is working with children at Livingstone Primary School to help bring the story to life.
“Bunyan has a worldwide fan base - his book was a revelation and created a revolution among Christians who took the message around the world. As it was an allegory it made the Christian story accessible to people in a way the traditional church’s teachings in Latin could not. Ruth describes it as ‘rather like Walt Disney meets God’.
“It is hard now to understand the huge impact it had in terms of communicating Bunyan’s beliefs - something like Sky TV combined with Harry Potter.”
The popularity of Bunyan today cannot be underestimated. In South Korea - where individual church membership tops 30,000 in some cities - a “theme park” was officially opened in late 2016 by Ruth’s co-author* Dr Peter Morden, an acknowledged expert in the field. See story on South Korea under News on palacebeautiful.co.uk
A modern Mash-up can be found on You Tube (a rock version of To Be a Pilgrim - the famous hymn celebrating the Bunyan book)
Such is the new impetus around John Bunyan, that Ruth and associates are staging a summit among county leaders to find a way to capture international tourist interest in Bunyan. The Pilgrim’s Progress features various locations in Bedfordshire, all real-life inspiration for Bunyan’s allegory, which make up a trail followed by visitors from far and wide. The event was sponsored by The Bedford Swan Hotel and businesses from the BedfordBID which promotes visitors via www.lovebedford.co.uk
Does anyone know what happened to this interesting model of Elstow,made in 1975, or know the current whereabouts of the maker? His name was Tom Jones and I understand that he used to live in Mowbray Road.
If you have any information, please contact Clive Arnold at Moot Hall.
On 4th November, John and Nerina Hall got the residents of Elstow's newest community --Thomas James Close - together for a Fireworks social event.
As well as sharing some great food, lots of people brought fireworks, enabling a well coordinated display - organised by John, that lasted almost an hour!
Sameena Jarosz, who lives in the Close, took these great photos:
I am still looking for old photos of Elstow - especially of the old village hall / scout hut that once stood next to the garage on High Street - somebody must have something!
You can contact me via this site's Contact Form