In 1837, Charles Higgins bought the lease for Castle Lane from the Duke of Bedford. The lease required Higgins to build a house on the site; between 1840 and 1841 the building we now
call Bedford Gallery was constructed. Bedford Gallery was originally designed to be used as a
clubhouse known as ‘Castle Rooms’, for supporters and members of the Whig party. Rate books from the time show that it was divided into 3 sections: a house, club rooms and a
Bedford Gallery as it is today, over 150 years since it was first built as 'The Castle Rooms'.
From 1848, the building was used by the Bunyan Meeting as a Sunday School, for Church gatherings and for teas. This lasted until the 1880s; listings show that it was then used by the
Plymouth Brethren, a non-denominational Christian movement. In the early part of the 20th century it became a billiard hall.
For some time during World War Two, the British Broadcasting Corporation music department is believed to have used Bedford Gallery as a rehearsal and recording studio. In August 1941 the
BBC had evacuated several departments from London to Bedford; other local buildings used included the Corn Exchange and the Great Hall of Bedford School.
After the war, the building returned to use as a billiard hall and table tennis saloon, and some of our older visitors recall spending many youthful days here. In 1960, it was given over to the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery and renamed Bedford Gallery; from then until 1973 it was a venue for exhibitions and events.
After being closed for over 30 years, Bedford Gallery was earmarked for a £2.5m refurbishment. The project, funded by Government and Bedford Borough Council, has created a
state-of-the-art venue that will house a varied and exciting programme of temporary exhibitions, including touring exhibitions from national museums and galleries.
The versatile display methods transform the gallery for the 'Edward Bawden' exhibiton.
Forthcoming exhibitions include:
October 2009 Edward Bawden
Autumn 2010 Airship R101
January 2011 Toulouse-Lautrec
The refurbishment of Bedford Gallery forms Phase 1 of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum Development Project, which will see the creation of a flagship heritage attraction at the heart of Bedford’s Cultural Quarter.