Bedford Museum was formed in the 1960s from the collections of Bedford Modern School and Bedford Borough Council. It's social history, archaeology, natural history and ethnography collections tell the unique stories of the people and places that have shaped Bedford and its relationship with the wider world, from prehistory to the present day. Here, we tell the story of how those collections came together:
In 1884 a solicitor called Charles Prichard, donated his private collection of fossils and minerals to Bedford Modern School, where he had formerly been a pupil. In addition he provided funds for the creation of a school museum to house the collections with an annual grant of £10 for its upkeep. Although additions were made to the original collections, oddities from all over the world began to feature as fathers and Old Boys travelled and took up positions in foreign lands. As a result the Museum became somewhat disrespectfully known as the ‘Old Curiosity Shop’. As you enter the first part of the current Social History Gallery, you will find a flavour of that 'curiosity shop' has been retained.
The 1920s saw sweeping changes with the appointment of P.G. Langdon as Honorary Curator. Langdon’s aim was to reorganise the collections and establish them as a nucleus of a county museum. He acquired archaeological material including Roman and Saxon pottery and jewellery from Kempston, replaced the worst of the natural history with the J. Steele Elliot collection of Bedfordshire birds, mammals, nests and eggs and, in 1929, developed two new refurbished galleries. For the first time the displays were opened to the public on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, for an admission price of 6d. With this new high profile status the museum became recognised as one of the best school museums in England.
The next major figure to influence the Museum’s future was F.W. Kuhlicke, a local historian and heraldry specialist who was appointed Honorary Curator in 1933. He continued to develop the collections but by the 1950s the school needed more space for the expanding numbers and discussions took place with the Borough of Bedford to see whether the Borough could take on the public museum role. The opportunity arose to combine the school museum with the smaller collections held by the Borough of Bedford and in 1962 the newly established town museum opened in a former garage and showroom on the Embankment, with Kuhlicke as the first Honorary Curator.
This, however, was only a temporary arrangement while more substantial premises were sought. In the 1970s the former Higgins and Sons Castle Brewery buildings became available. Built in 1837, this red brick industrial building offered greater potential for public service, temporary exhibitions and storage for the ever increasing collections of north Bedfordshire. The first professional Curator, John Turner, was appointed in 1974 and he led the extensive refurbishment and transformation of the brewery buildings into the new town museum, which opened its doors to the public in 1981.
See also plans for redevlopement and the history of Bedford Gallery and Cecil Higgins Art Gallery.