Bedfordians chatting about shoes and ships and sealing wax…
by Adrian Bean
People love to chat, to gossip, chew the fat, banter, exchange pleasantries or argue. It’s what humans do to pass the time of day. We put the world to rights but also just comment on things that happen around us. Nowadays, two people watching the world pass by in Pigeon Square might chat about the Bedford Park concerts, the new town centre B and M, old so-and-so who has got Covid, lying politicians or the housing market. They’ll probably come to no great conclusions, but the conversation would be a good record of what Bedfordians spotted going on around them on that day.
Similarly in, say, 1885, when ours was a much smaller town with a population of under 20,000, you would have found people sitting on park benches commenting on what they saw. But what did they see? Our new book, Bedford’s Victorian Cemetery, tells the stories of what individual Bedfordians did in their lives, but we mustn’t forget that many of those lives were inter-connected. Those people we highlighted lived in nearby streets, would have rubbed shoulders in the same shops, laughed at the same jokes and watched the same films in the same cinemas.
So, what might two old blokes sitting on a bench watching the world go by in St Peter’s Street in 1885 have seen and chatted about?
Amos: Busy in town today Seth. Look at all those folks dressed up all smart.
Seth: Catholics, some of ‘em. Lining the streets they are, all going to take a peek at that Father Warmoll. Getting buried today he is. Paper reckoned there’d be 3,000 or so paying their respects as he did a lot to bring back Popery to the place. Decent sort of chap they say. Mind you, they put the Catholics right at the edge of the cemetery, with the Baptists, the Methodists and all the other lot. They like to keep them away from us Church of England you see. Nothing against them though. There’s all sorts buried there.
Amos: Speaking of all sorts, do you see that old bobby over there. Pedley I think it is. Him with the whiskers. Looks fierce. He grows some enormous marrows you know. Wins prizes for them. He’s nabbed that rascal for stealing…and he’ll be marching him off to the Gaol, where that bloke Governor Roberts will get him to work for his living. And get his pho-to-graph done on one of those new camera things. Best place for ‘em, prison. We don’t need more thievin’ round here do we?
Seth: No. That we don’t. They do a decent job really, these policemen. Do you remember the big to do here in St Peter’s Green years ago, when we were younger? That big fight? Police made a mess of that didn’t they?
Amos: Yes, just schoolboys having a healthy difference of opinion really, Grammar School lot and the Commercial School lads but ending up with a full scale riot. But the funny thing was, it were the police big wigs that ended up with egg on their faces. That Boultbee of the County force playing silly buggers arguing with Stennett of the town force. Like kids really.
Seth: That’s right mate. We’ve seen some rum old things from here, and even more from the Ship. I remember when we spoke to that Charles Wells after he’d bought the Brewery in Horne Lane. He’s still doing well for himself I reckon. Opening more pubs every year now. God bless ‘im.
Amos: Yes, and I remember we stared at that chap with a beard who walked by while we spoke. Funny chap. But he started a bit of a trend…you never saw men with beards when we were young, but he started the fashion in town…who was he?
Seth: Usher. John Usher. Architect. Made some nice buildings. Hiawatha was the big one for him. But a bit weird. Kept himself to himself. Went to some strange religious group in Greenhill St I remember. A total abstainer as well…perhaps he disapproved of us talking to a brewer. Total abstainer!
Amos: Talking of abstainers, I saw that Band of Hope woman here yesterday. Amelia Ford. There’s a lot of them about nowadays, these abstainers. She’s the leader of them you know.
Seth: Yes, we’ve seen some things here haven’t we. I remember laughing when we saw Dr Coombs running as fast as he could down St Cuthbert’s St. and thinking he must be late for his dinner or something. But it turned out he was trying to save that girl Evelyn who’d been shot at the Ship. Too late though…never stood a chance. But they still buried that murderer close to her in the cemetery didn’t they?
Amos: Yes Seth. They did. Funny old world ain’t it?
Seth: Yes, funny old world. How’s your roses this year?
Yes, theirs was a funny old world. It still is.
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