On Sunday 13th January 2019, a blue plaque was unveiled in Elstow High Street, at the entrance to St Helena restaurant.
John Bunyan lived in a cottage on this site for the first four years of his first marriage.
There has been a marble plaque in place on the other side of the gateway for some time but, as part of the Bunyan Round \Table initiative to raise the profile of Bunyan's heritage, it was felt that a proper blue plaque was needed. This was duly arranged by Jon Miles and Elstow Parish Council.
Today, on John Bunyan's presumed birthday, a group of 'pilgrims' set out from Elstow to deliver a comprehensive Bunyan teaching pack to every school in the Bedford Borough area. This was carried out as just one part of an initiative to promote learning about Bedford's world-famous author.
The pack included The Pilgrim's Progress Curriculum book (by Ruth Broomhill) with a 2 metre wide Pilgrim's Progress frieze, plus teaching resources, books and DVDs from the John Bunyan Museum and The Word bookshop.
The project was initiated by the author, supported by members of the Bunyan Round Table group and was funded by Bedford SACRE and National SACRE.
The 78 packs were hand-delivered today to the schools by members of Bunyan Round Table and other volunteers.
Since my last Elstow, Stewartby and Kempston Hardwick ECHO, here are some of the local issues I have progressed, in some cases with the valued help and support of the relevant Parish Council.
Careful driving outside Bunyan Fellowship
Several residents of the High Street and Wigram Close have raised their concerns with me regarding the speed of some vehicles as they travel along the High Street outside the Bunyan Fellowship. I have asked if this stretch of road can be included in the Mayor’s School Speeding Review.
Poor state of Cow Bridge Road
The road going downhill between the traffic lights and Cow Bridge itself is beginning to sink in places. One area is now a concave shape about 3 metres long. I have reported this to Borough Highways and asked for it to be repaired before any serious damage is done to any vehicles.
Pruning of trees on Bunyans Mead pedestrianised area
Several trees in Bunyans Mead were far too overgrown. One large branch had actually snapped and fallen onto a resident’s home. I contacted BPHA and they employed contractors to prune and lop several of the trees. However, the tree by 42 has not been dealt with and is a danger to 42. I have asked BPHA to look at pruning and lopping that tree.
Maintenance of roundabouts on Abbey Fields
If you would like to see the roundabouts in Abbey Fields brought back to life and you are interested in getting involved in the process then we would love to hear from you. No previous gardening experience necessary and your tools will be provided. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to register an interest in joining this brand new volunteer group so that you are notified of task days and kept up to date on the group’s progress!
Upcoming Task Days (pre-registration required)
Saturday 27th October, 10am to 12noon - Weed Clearance and Dead Shrub Removal. Meeting on the corner of Waltham Drive.
Saturday 17th November, 10am to 12noon - Continuation of Removal Tasks and Preparation for Planting. Meeting on the corner of Waltham Drive,
If you can’t make these task days but would like to be involved, do get in touch. Please Note: Members must be over 16yrs of age due to the nature of this activity. Safety briefings will be carried out at the start of these sessions.
Councillor Tim Hill
Liberal Democrat Focus Team
Bedford Borough Councillor for Elstow, Stewartby and Kempston Hardwick
If you want to raise any Council-related issues with me, it would be great if you could please send the e-mail to email@example.com.
Tel: 07907 150923
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.
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.