RICHARD WILDMAN & THE FRIENDS OF BEDFORD CEMETERY
by Bob Ricketts
Richard Wildman at a book-signing for the launch of
Bedford’s Motoring Heritage in 2003
RICHARD WILDMAN (1947-2018)
Richard Wildman was an authority on the history of Bedford and the author of numerous local history books. He made a significant contribution to local art, historical, heritage and conservation societies, including Bedford Art Society (Vice-President then President), Bedford Architectural, Archaeological & Local History Society (President), Bedfordshire Historical Record Society (a long-standing Council member), the Bedford Society, and a founding member and the first President of the Friends of Bedford Cemetery.
Richard was born and lived all his life in Bedford. Richard’s father, Sidney, was an engineer at W.H.Allen and his mother, Dorothy, worked for the Bedfordshire Times newspaper and later as a school secretary. He was educated at Bedford Modern School, for which he retained a life-long affection, serving as the OBM Club Secretary for 16 years, organising lunches, dinners and reunions and keeping alumni in touch. He was also Bedford Modern’s first School Archivist, preserving its records and rich history. Richard took his degree at Clare College, Cambridge.
Richard was history master at St. Bede’s School, Bedford, inculcating a love of history in those he taught. He was a Borough Councillor, and vice-chairman of Bedford District Council’s Planning Committee. Many Bedfordians will remember with fondness the second-hand bookshop he ran in Mill Street. Some may recall when Richard was the runner-up in the radio quiz “Brain of Britain”, missing out by just one point.
Richard Wildman outside the fire-damaged
Howard Congregational Chapel in Mill Street,
for which he lobbied to be restored
Richard felt passionate about preserving Bedford’s historic buildings. He campaigned hard and successfully for the preservation of the façade of Bedford Modern School’s original buildings (1830-33), designed by Edward Blore, which were subsequently incorporated into the Harpur Centre when the school moved to Manton Lane in 1974. He was also instrumental in saving the Georgian Priory Terrace and a prime mover in the creation of the Bedford Society, of which he was the Honorary Secretary. Richard’s brother, Stephen, paid tribute to him, saying that his love of books, history and architecture “gave him determination to fight for some of the town’s best buildings coming under threat from redevelopment,” Nigel Lutt, formerly of the Bedfordshire Records Office (now Bedfordshire Archives) said: “Bedford is in his debt, until Richard came along no one was interested in Bedford’s conservation. He was a remarkable person with an amazing brain.”
Bedford’s Motoring Heritage, published in 2003
Richard published extensively about the history of Bedford, drawing particularly on old paintings, drawings and photographs of the town, which provide an invaluable resource for current local historians. His books included:
• Bygone Bedford, 1974
• Bedford Past and Present, 1975
• Bedford A Pictorial History, 1991
• Britain in Old Photographs Bedford, 1995
• Bedford’s Motoring Heritage, 2003, co-authored with local historian, Alan Crawley
• Bedford Then & Now In Colour, 2011
Richard was also a frequent contributor of articles to the long-running Bedfordshire Magazine.
RICHARD & THE FRIENDS – HIS LEGACY
Commemorative bench & cherry tree to Richard Wildman
Photograph by Colin Woolf
Richard was one of the founding members of the Friends of Bedford Cemetery in 2000. At the first meeting we had only 8 people attending, which included a police representative and a council representative.
At this meeting Richard was elected President, a post he held until about 2015 when he decided to stand down due to ill health. For a long time during his presidency he was the main person leading guided walks, as the rest of us knew very little about the residents there. He was a great teacher and helped the rest of us to try and follow in his footsteps. None of us, however, had his marvellous memory and we had to write all the details down for future use. You could pick on any particular gravestone and the chances were that he knew something about its occupant.
The same knowledge was also shown if you mentioned a particular house in a road, provided the house was pre-1950. You could be sure you would be given details of who had originally lived there and what they did for a job or profession. We lost an irreplaceable source of local history knowledge with his passing.
Many Friends still miss Richard attending meetings, or just going out and about with his “Richard’s briefcase”, i.e. a Tesco or Sainsbury’s carrier bag. The Trustees did debate when he stood down as President of the Friends, as to whether we should give him a briefcase for his papers, but decided it would not go down well! With Richard’s passing, the Friends lost a passionate and informed champion.
A splendid commemorative bench has been installed at the Cemetery in honour of Richard Wildman, renowned local historian, preservationist and co-founder of the Friends. It has been erected around Richard’s Cherry Tree. The seat is in Section N, near the Holly Path.
In his capacity as executor of Richard’s will, his brother, Stephen. arranged a generous donation, making it possible for the Friends to completely restore the two sets of Victorian cemetery gates and the archway under the lodge house – a fitting memorial.
January 22, 2023
October 10, 2022
August 13, 2022