An Ipswich Society outing, 16 September 2016
Our last trip of 2016 took us to the Swan Hotel, Bedford overlooking the Great Ouse (non-tidal this far from the sea). The original hotel was rebuilt in 1789 by the then Duke of Bedford. It has an imposing Classical frontage and some of its medieval work survives. The Victorians built the nearby Embankment along the Ouse, part of a 19th century town expansion.
St Paul's Church stands opposite The Old Court Buildings where James Hanratty was tried and sentenced to be hanged, one of the last eight people in Britain to be executed. St Paul's is Perpendicular in style and was doubled in size in the 19th century, creating a ‘hall church' with nave and aisle roof levels the same. During World War II the BBC ran their religious broadcasts from this church, but its location was kept secret.
Bedford's motte and bailey castle was largely destroyed in the siege of 1224, but part of the Great Hall survives. I also visited The Higgins Bedford which houses the internationally famous collection of fine and decorative arts. There is much of interest here including a room illustrating Bedford's history: in 1166 Henry II signed the historic Royal Charter, the second oldest in the country. Bedford then grew from a medieval market town, through a 19th century five-fold increase in population, to a 20th century manufacturing town which continues to grow.
We travelled through surrounding villages in the grip of developers: Elstow, John Bunyan's birthplace; Cardington, where victims of the R101 airship disaster are buried in the churchyard. We passed the vast, former airship hangars - both higher than Nelson's Column.
The small village of Stevington was the highlight of the day: the garden of Kathy Brown. The Old Manor House was originally a ‘hospital' for pilgrims and is reputed to be the site of an episode in Pilgrim's progress. Over the last twenty-five years Kathy and her husband Simon have created a very personal garden and they showed us round in two groups. Kathy covered planting up display plots, blending-in and contrasts. Simon showed us a narrow, French-style, formal garden with beech hedges, lavender borders and rose bowers, with a distant focal point across the fields; then to a section which used different colours of plants and hedges to give an ‘Impression' of paintings by Monet, Matisse, even Rothko - certainly an original idea. We all gathered in the house and conservatory for a delicious tea of Kathy's cakes, using ingredients from her own garden - not a crumb was left.
A lovely end to an unusual day - well worth going. Our thanks to Barbara Barker for arranging this outing.