Monday, July 11, 2011

Inauguration Day

On this day, 11th July, 1888, some of Bedford's most iconic features were unveiled to the town. The Suspension Bridge, Bedford Park and Mill Meadows (or Duck Mill recreation ground) were all opened, and the foundation stones for the Fire Station were laid. The town's Mayor, Joshua Hawkins, accompanied the Marquess of Tavistock, along with Samuel Whitbread who laid one of the two foundation stones for the fire station, still visible on Mill Street, on what came to be known as Inauguration Day.

The suspension bridge was designed by John J. Webster and had been paid for by public subscriptions. The river had for centuries been a vital commercial highway with much of the goods coming in and out of the town that way. With the arrival of the railways the river could instead be a focus for leisure and recreation. The embankment was extended, Mill Meadows created as a public park, and the old slum cottages of Waterloo - opposite where the Embankment Hotel now stands - cleared and replaced by the Embankment Gardens.  Russell Park followed 10 years later when the 11th Duke of Bedford gave the land as a park to the people of Bedford.
Slum cottages, Waterloo - now the far more presentable Embankment Gardens.

The hand-made iron gates by Messrs Bacchus and Ison, and their names engraved on the plaque on the entrance to Bedford park

Former Fire Station, Mill Street
Gothic details by John
Usher above a High
Street fast food outlet
 Bedford Park, along with De Parys Avenue, was laid out on land that had been owned by St. John's Hospital, which still stands on St. John's Street. The park was proposed in 1879 and made a public space by an act of Parliament in 1881, ensuring the demolition of Bury Farm and a large house last occupied by a French noble, the Vicomte de Visme. The Bedford Park gates,which record the opening and complete the fine vista down De Parys, were hand made by Bacchus and Ison, their name visible at the bottom of the two plaques on the gate posts. The Duke of Bedford had given the gates to the Park and also had given the volunteer fire service a new steam fire-engine in 1887, and a new building to house it was commissioned. The fire station features the only public commemoration of Usher and Anthony Architects of which the principal architect John Usher designed such familiar Bedford buildings Holly Lodge, The Grove; Alexandra Cottages, Grove Place; Blunham Rectory; and Clapham Park. The striking gothic styled building on the High Street with coloured brick work, ogee windows and gun-dogs either side of a decorated gable is another Usher design, originally for H.Adkin, the gunsmith, now a Subway.