John Frederick Nutter is best remembered as the driving force, in his role as Chairman of the Management Committee, of the planning and building of Bedford County Hospital (now ‘South Wing’) He also served the Borough of Bedford in many other ways, including his employment at Britannia Iron Works, his work for the magistracy and Wesleyan Chapels in Bedford. He, his wife Margaret and his daughter Edith are all buried at Foster Hill Road.

Links to the Methodist faith
John Frederick Nutter was born on 3 April 1837 in Hackney, then in Middlesex. His parents were John Whitaker Nutter and his wife Elizabeth Ann nee Bradnack. Both parents had strong links to the Wesleyan faith. His father had been baptised in the Surrey Chapel on Blackfriars Road, London, a chapel which belonged to the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion. This was a small group of Methodist chapels in the evangelical Calvinist tradition, founded and largely financed by the Countess of Huntingdon in the C18. His mother was the daughter of the Reverend Isaac Bradnack, a Methodist minister in Norfolk. Following the families’ religious beliefs John Frederick was baptised in a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in London on 25 September 1837.

His Father’s occupation
John Whitaker Nutter worked in banking. In the 1851 and 1861 censuses he is recorded a clerk in a banking house. By the 1871 census he had risen to ‘bank manager’ and the 1870 London City Directory lists him as ‘General Manager, London Joint Stock Bank’ on Princes Street, London. Sadly he died soon after the census on 5 September 1871 at his home in Hackney, aged 63.

John Frederick’s early life
John Frederick appears on the 1841 census, aged 4, living with his parents and younger sister Mary in Hackney. In the 1851 census only his sister Mary aged 11 is recorded living with her parents. Possibly John Frederick, then about 14, was away at boarding school. In 1861 he was back living with his parents in Hackney aged 24, working in a clerical role for a Window Glass Importer.

Marriage bringing links to the Howard family
In 1862 John Frederick Nutter married Margaret Elizabeth Barrett, whose mother was born Elizabeth Howard in Bedford. The Barretts and Howards both had Wesleyan links. Margaret Elizabeth’s father, the Reverend Alfred Barrett, was a Wesleyan Minister, who was born in Yorkshire on 17 October 1808. He had married Elizabeth Howard on 15 August 1837 at St Paul’s Church, Bedford. She was the daughter of John Howard of Bedford, the iron master. Elizabeth was baptised at the Wesleyan Chapel on Harpur Street, Bedford on 20 June 1817 and her father John was recorded on the baptismal certificate as ‘Ironmonger’.

Britannia Works. John Howard, the founder of the original ironmongery business, named ‘Britannia Foundry’ in 1845, retired in 1851. The business was then run by his sons, James and Frederick, Elizabeth’s brothers. They bought a plot of land of 20 acres next to Cauldwell Priory on Kempston Road, Bedford for new premises, and building began in 1857. Britannia Works, as it was called, opened on 3 February 1859. John Frederick Nutter took up the position of ‘Private Secretary’ at Britannia Iron Works in 1868 following his marriage links with the Howard family.

The Nutter family in Bedford
By the 1871 census John and his wife Margaret had moved to their home at ‘Caldwell Priory’ (spelt ‘Cauldwell’ on the censuses but ‘Caldwell’ in earlier documents) on Kempston Road. Their two elder children, Helen Maud, aged 3, and Edith Elizabeth, aged 2 had been born in Hackney. Their son, Alfred Barrett, aged 10 months, was born in Bedford. The 1881 census records John’s occupation as ‘Private Secretary, Iron Works’. The last census before his death, then a widower in 1901, records him still living at Caldwell Priory as ‘Private Secretary, Iron Works’ and his address on death was Caldwell Priory.

Background to Caldwell Priory

Caldwell Priory

The original Priory was closed by Henry V111 in 1536 as part of his Dissolution of the Monasteries. A mansion on the site was later demolished sometime between 1818 and 1857 and in 1857 documents show that ‘a superior and modern built mansion known as Caldwell Priory’ was for sale, standing between Kempston Road and the River Great Ouse. The purchaser then is unknown but this house became the Nutter family home until John Nutter’s death in 1906.

John Frederick Nutter’s family life
John and Margaret had a third daughter, Beatrice Margaret, born in 1876, a sister to the three children, Helen, Edith and Alfred mentioned in the 1871 census.

Edith Elizabeth: Tragedy struck on 14 May 1883 when Edith Elizabeth, the Nutter’s second daughter, died at the age of 14. She is buried at Foster Hill Road Cemetery, Grave Ref: F2.67 and there is an inscription on one side of the base of the shared gravestone which ends with the words:

‘The former things have passed away,
In thy presence is fulness of joy’

The inscription in memory of Edith on the shared gravestone

Helen Maud: On 14 July 1891 the eldest daughter, Helen Maud, who had been born in April 1867, married the Reverend Arthur Keble White at St Paul’s Church, Bedford. He was the vicar of Burley, Ringwood, Hampshire and had previously been the Curate at St Mary’s Church in Bedford. The wedding was followed by a big reception in the grounds of Caldwell Priory. Helen then moved from Bedford with her husband, first to Burley then to Chevington, Suffolk, where Arthur Keble White had been born. In April 1892 their first child was born and they subsequently had two more children. Arthur died in Chevington on 24 February 1926. Helen died, aged 82, in Kensington, London in December 1949.

Margaret Elizabeth: Tragedy struck the family again on 20 April 1892 when Margaret Elizabeth, John Nutter’s wife, died of pneumonia. She was visiting her daughter Helen following the birth of her first child when she caught a cold. Before the era of antibiotics pneumonia developed, leading to her untimely death at the age of 53. She is buried at Foster Hill Road close to her daughter Edith. Grave Ref: R4.67 There is an inscription in her memory on the opposite side of the shared gravestone which ends:

‘So shall we ever be with the Lord wherefore
Comfort one another with these words’

The inscription in memory of Margaret on the shared gravestone.

Beatrice Margaret: On 14 June 1903 the youngest daughter, Beatrice Margaret married Ralph Daubeny Upton who was born in London on 22 February 1871. He was educated at Winchester College and in October 1889 entered Brasenose College Oxford, aged 18. After marrying Beatrice in Bedford the couple moved to Kensington, London where Ralph followed his father’s profession as a solicitor. Ralph died on 8 December 1935 in Chelsea. Beatrice died on 18 February 1945 in Camberley, Surrey. They left one daughter.

Alfred Barrett: John and Margaret’s only son and their third child, Alfred Barrett was born in Bedford on 18 May 1870. He was educated at Bedford School from 1880-1889 and became Head Boy in his final year. He was editor of the Ousel, the school magazine, and is credited with reviving its popularity. In October 1889 he entered Brasenose College, Oxford having won an Open Scholarship, to read Classics. He probably met there his future brother-in-law, Ralph Upton, later Beatrice’s husband, who was also studying there in the same year. He was a keen rower, representing his college and was a reserve for the Varsity Boat Race. Following his graduation he became a Barrister at Lincoln’s Inn and is recorded in the 1911 census, aged 40 as ‘Barrister-at-Law’. He served in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in WW1 and was awarded an O.B.E. He never married and lived in London until his death on 13 February 1943 aged 72.

John Frederick Nutter’s Public Service: the new County Hospital
John Frederick Nutter was a loyal public servant of the Borough of Bedford. His major legacy lies in his enormous work in the planning and development of the new Bedford County Hospital. In February 1891 he had been elected a member of the Working Committee of Bedford General Infirmary and one of its auditors as, according to the Bedfordshire Times, he ‘lived near the institution and possessed great business ability’. After the death of his wife and only Beatrice living at home he took on the position of Chairman of the Management Committee and devoted a huge amount of time as the driving force to bring the project to fruition in 1899.

The need for a new hospital
The original hospital, Bedford Infirmary, had been founded in 1803 with a legacy of £8000 from Samuel Whitbread the brewer. The population then was about 4,000. By 1894 the population was around 30,000 and ‘growing in all directions’ according to a report presented to the governors of the Infirmary. It was resolved at the meeting on 8 December 1894 that ‘a whole new hospital is demanded’. The plan was for an unpretentious building for up to 100 patients, a fully equipped administrative block and a detached building for the Out Patients Department. The resolution was signed by J.F. Nutter, Chairman of the Committee of Management, and 16 other members including Major Higgins and the doctors Henry W. and his son E. Colby Sharpin. 

Raising Funds. Before the days of government involvement fund raising was a voluntary mission. It was predicted that £30,000 would be needed and records show that immediately the Duke of Bedford and Samuel Whitbread M.P. ‘generously’ donated £5,000 each. Further donations followed promptly from Frederick Howard, Charles Wells, E.P. Rose and John Nutter himself among other eminent Bedfordians. Fund raising events were held all over the county and by 1898 the building fund had reached £25,127.

Appointment of the Architect. The architect chosen from a field of six was H. Percy Adams F.R.I.B.A. of Woburn Place, Russell Street, London. John Nutter was the main point of contact, as many letters between him and the architect show. A wide variety of issues were covered between them including drains and the sewer on Britannia Road, boilers and the design of the gates. The letter below about the lay out of the nurses’ home is typical. The Committee guided by John Nutter accepted this advice from the architect.

The Building. The building contract was awarded to Messrs. Kerridge and Shaw of Cambridge, signed by ‘Samuel Whitbread MP of Southill and John Nutter of Cauldwell Priory’, on behalf of the governors of Bedford Infirmary. Building began on 1 February 1897.

The Chapel. This was especially dear to John Nutter’s heart and much of the fitting was at his own expense. He was responsible in particular for the oak roof, the altar table and the pulpit as well as 2 manual organs and stained glass windows.

Memorial to his wife. John Nutter commissioned a beautiful stained glass window from one of the leading firms of the time, Heaton, Butler and Bayne of Covent Garden, in memory of his wife Margaret. Their work had included windows in Westminster Abbey, Peterborough Cathedral and Tewksbury Abbey. The subject was the Ascension portraying 11 disciples and Mary, and it was duly installed in the chapel.

Controversy. In 1978, when the chapel was due for demolition, a member of the Nurses’ League who worshipped at St Andrew’s Church, Kimbolton Road, proposed that the window should be removed to St Andrews’s rather than being put in storage and possibly lost. There was an objection from an individual who wanted it to be stored and eventually placed in a new hospital chapel. The Chancellor of the Diocese, as legal advisor, came to St Andrew’s to hear both sides of the argument in a Court of Enquiry held in the Choir area of the church. His decision found in favour of the Nurses’ League and the window came to St Andrew’s where it can be seen in its glory today. The nurse responsible for the proposal undertook the duty of floral decorations in front of the window for many years.

The inscription below the window to Margaret Nutter




The memorial window now in St Andrew’s Church.

The Children’s Ward and the Nursery Rhyme tiles. ‘Victoria Ward’ was dedicated in honour of Queen Victoria, who celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. It was a single storey building with 16 ‘cots’. 16 ‘Ladies of Bedford’ each contributed 20 guineas, the equivalent of £2,000 today, for decorative tiles illustrating well-known nursery rhymes. The tiles were designed and painstakingly hand painted by Philip Harry Newman, a well-known artist of the day and a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy.




A small selection of the tiles is seen here. The tiles are still in place in Victoria Ward.





The contributors were listed over the entrance to the ward. They included some interesting and high achieving women in Bedford. Among them were Marion Belcher, Headmistress of Bedford High School until her death in 1898, Hester Hawkins, widow of the 5 times Mayor of Bedford Joshua Hawkins and herself an eminent scientist, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, Katharine Talbot, wife and vital support of Arthur Talbot, Head of Science and Boarding Housemaster of ‘Talbots’ on De Parys Avenue, Eleanor Carroll who was the Principal of the Crescent House Ladies College in Bedford, and John Nutter’s daughter, Beatrice.

A board outside the entrance to Victoria Ward today gives much information, as the general public cannot enter the ward to see the tiles and list of contributors.

Completion of the Hospital and Opening. The building had taken 30 months and the total cost was £38,000. A grand opening by the Duke of Bedford took place on 21 June 1899. John Frederick Nutter featured prominently on the invitations to the Opening as the invitations went out in his name.

As part of the ceremony John Frederick Nutter as Chairman of the Management Committee also presented a portfolio of photos of the hospital to Her Grace the Duchess of Bedford and to Lady Isabella Whitbread.

The dedication of the chapel took place on 2 July 1899 by the chaplain Rev. F.W.Piercy.



John Frederick Nutter also featured on the Foundation Stone, along with the Duke of Bedford and Samuel Whitbread.



The hospital saw its first patients on 1 July 1899. After its first full year, in 1900, it proudly reported that 873 in-patients and 14,293 out-patients had been treated. A sign of the times was that a report on the first year stated: ‘rich men were excluded’ and ‘none came’. It was expected that those of means would pay for treatment at a private hospital.

‘Invaluable service to the town and county of Bedford’. (Beds Times and Independent 11 May 1906)
As well as his ‘crowning triumph’ of the building of Bedford County Hospital John Frederick Nutter served Bedford in many other ways:

Work for Wesleyan Methodist Chapels.
Continuing the family’s links with Methodism he is recorded in 1875 as a trustee of the St Paul’s Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Harpur Street. In1879 he became a trustee of the new St Mary’s Chapel in Cauldwell Street, completed in 1866 to complement the Harpur Street Chapel in order to accommodate the increasing congregation. He was also a Circuit Steward of St Mary’s, a term denoting a ‘care taker and care giver’ to enable ‘fulfillment and belonging’ to members of the church community. The chapel remained for worship until its sale in 1954 when it was no longer needed and the site was eventually cleared for the building of Mander College.

He was appointed to the magistracy and served as a Justice of the Peace from the early 1890s.

He was the ‘life and soul’ of the Hospital Saturday Movement (Beds Times & Independent, 11th May 1906) a charity which raised funds for Voluntary hospitals. He served, along with the Sharpin doctors, on the Board of the Bedford Central Provident Dispensary, begun in 1887, which provided medical services free of charge for those of little means who were recommended for treatment.

He was a member of the Board of Guardians for the Bedford Poor Law Union for many years.

He was a long term member of Bedford Musical Society ‘one of its oldest and trueist supporters’ (Beds Mercury) where he was a leading violin.

Death of J F Nutter
He died at his home, Caldwell Priory, on 8 May 1906, aged 69. According to the Bedfordshire Mercury of 11th May he succumbed to illness in March and following an operation in April was unable to recover. Both local newspapers, the Mercury and the Times and Independent, carried articles paying tribute to his contribution to the life of Bedford and deeply mourned his passing. He was a ‘generous benefactor to numerous poor brethren in the neighbourhood of his residence’ (Beds Mercury) and he was praised for his ‘single-minded devotion to the interests of the Hospital’ (Beds T & I). A memorial tablet was later placed in the Chapel in his memory. His Will revealed that he left a legacy of £300 to the Chaplain’s Fund at the hospital.

There followed a very well attended funeral at St Paul’s Church, which included his 3 adult children, followed by burial at Foster Hill Road. He shares a grave with his daughter Edith and is buried alongside his wife’s grave.
Grave Ref: F4 67

The inscription at the base of the shared gravestone reads:

‘Look for the Resurrection of the Dead
And the life of the world to come’.

The inscription in memory of John Frederick Nutter on the shared gravestone.


The Shared Gravestone of John, Margaret and Edith Nutter.



Censuses 1841-1901
Ancestry, Find My Past, Family Search
Bedfordshire Mercury 11 and 18 May, 28 December, 1906
Bedfordshire Times and Independent 30 April 1892, 11 and 18 May 1906
Methodist Times 31 January 1889
England & Wales National Probate Calendar 1858-1966
London City Directory 1870
England, Oxford Men and their Colleges 1880-92
Minutes of the Hospital Building Committee 1894-99
Letters to J.F. Nutter Esq from H. Percy Adams 1897-98
Plans of Bedford County Hospital
‘The Development of Bedford Hospital 1796-1988’ by Bernard Cashman
Church Stained Glass Records recorded by Robert Eberhard, updated
Jan 2023.
NHS Retirement Fellowship Newsletter, Winter 2018-19
Gareth Burrows, Verger, St Andrew’s Church.
The Victorian Web-Heaton, Butler and Bayne
Bedfordshire Archives – History of Caldwell Priory
– History of St Mary’s Wesleyan Chapel
-Deeds of St Paul’s Wesleyan Chapel
Victoria Ward Information Board by David Fowler