Roman Period: Bedfordshire does not show any major signs of serious military conflict at the time of the Roman invasion of AD 43 and the occupation was probably slight for most of the local population. The Roman Watling Street passes through the south of the county near Dunstable where a town grew up. Another small Roman town developed at Sandy in the east of the county.
800s: Bedfordshire was attacked by invading Danish armies. A number of earthworks in the county are believed to be connected with the Danes including the Danish Camp at Willington. This camp is next to the River Ouse. This would be consistent with the Danish method of attack which was to come up river, seize a defensible position and fortify it, lay up the boats and ravage the surrounding countryside.
1290: Bedford's first Jewish community expelled from the town. Little is known about its members and references are few. Legal toleration again began in the Commonwealth under Cromwell when Puritanism was in the ascendant, and Jewish people began to return to England. Bedford's second Jewish community arrived during the 1780s; where their origin is known it was Ashkenazi. Many of the records of this community are to be found in documents relating to the Bedford Charity (Bell, 1994).
1630: The 4th Earl of Bedford formed a syndicate with 13 other fenmen and engaged a Dutch engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden (1590-1677), to drain the 95,000 acres in the south of the Fens. This drainage system is now called the Bedford Level after the Earl. Vermuyden was knighted in 1628 and became a British subject five years later.
1745: A Moravian Congregation founded in Bedford. This led to a number of German and Dutch speaking Ministers arriving in the town to lead the congregations. (Bell, 1944)
1803: The opening of a synagogue in Bedford recorded by Moses Margoliouth, an historian of Jewish communities in England, "Michael Joseph...who established himself in business in Bedford...In the year 1803 he succeeded in opening a place of worship in that ancient town..." It is thought that the synagogue was in the vicinity of Silver Street (Bell, 1994).
1864: General Garibaldi visited the Britannia Iron Works in Bedford. General Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) was a hero of the Risorgimento (a period of Italian cultural and political activism leading to the unification of Italy). He led 1,000 volunteers known as "Red Shirts" in the capture of Sicily and Naples (1860). His conquest led to the formation of the Kingdom of Italy.
1880: Three envoys from the Ruler of Buganda in Africa travelled to England with the missionary Charles Wilson to meet Queen Victoria. They were housed for some time in the village of Pavenham where Charles's father was vicar. After six weeks they began their long return home. However, a young African who had travelled with them named Hatashil Masha Kathish - or Salim - remained living with the family in the vicarage. Salim attended the village school in order to learn to read and write and later accompanied Mrs Wilson to Nottingham after the death of her husband in 1881. He attended a missionary training institute but continued to live in England, much in demand as a preacher and speaker. He was baptised in August 1882 and given the name Salim Charles Wilson. (Wilson, 1988)
1939-45: During the Second World War the Czechoslovakian Government in Exile had a British base in Buckinghamshire and from 1942 the wireless service operated by Czech military intelligence was based in a farm just outside Hockliffe in South Bedfordshire.
1940s/50s: At the end of the Second World War many people came to Bedfordshire as European Voluntary Workers (EVWs). They included Latvians, Serbians and Poles. Most found themselves working in the Bedfordshire brickfields. With the high employment that followed the war the London Brick Company found it difficult to recruit labour so it also looked to bring in workers from abroad; economic migrants from Italy and the New Commonwealth.
1950: American Servicemen begin to arrive at RAF Chicksands (set up in 1936 by the RAF). It became home to the 774th Air Base Group which supported two major missions - the Air Defence Intelligence Agency's 450th Intelligence Squadron and the Department of Defense Joint Operations Center Chicksands - which provided rapid radio relay. The Americans left Chicksands in 1995.
1953: The Reverend Wlodzimierz Cienski contacted the Parish of St. Joseph in Luton and received permission to celebrate mass in Polish, thus forming the Polish Parish of Luton/Dunstable.
1954: Italian Catholic Mission opens. The Missionaries took their name from Giovanni Battista Scalbrini known as "Father of the Emigrants".
1954: The Italian Embassy opened in Bedford to meet the needs of the new migrant workers from the south of Italy to the town. The arrival of the Italian community had caused some apprehension, "Italians and Bedfordians alike" (New Society, 2nd April, 1964).
1955: A number of articles in the Bedfordshire Times address Bedford's "Italian Question" (Bedfordshire Times, 19th August) in particular the housing issue, high rents charged by unscrupulous landlords for furnished rooms and overcrowding.
1955: Britannia Iron and Steel Works Ltd. in Bedford recruit workers directly from Italy.
1956: The Bedford Corporation Bill designed to prevent the exploitation of Italians by speculative landlords progresses to its third reading in the House of Commons. This was despite criticism from the Minister of Housing and the Home Secretary (Bedfordshire Times, 17th April)
1958: 10 nationalities are represented in Bedford's schools totalling 563 children, 423 of which are Italian (Bedfordshire Times, 23rd May).
1960: Dom Polski founded to serve as a Polish cultural centre in Bedford.
1961: An asilo or day nursery is opened by the Sisters of the Holy Ghost of Nazareth in Bedford for the Italian community (Brown, p86)
1965: An Italian church - St. Francesca Cabrini - opens in Bedford. Contributions for the church came from the local Italian community as well as from many devoted to the shrine of St. Francesca in Rhode Island, USA.
1966: A copy of the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa is unveiled at Midland Road Roman Catholic Church, Bedford; a gift from the Polish community to celebrate 1000 years since Christianity was introduced to Poland.
1966: A new centre for the Pakistani community opens in 38 Alexandra Road, Bedford (Bedfordshire Times, 18 November).
1967: Bedford Polish General Council set up to promote Polish cultural heritage (Bedfordshire Times, 28th April).
1968: The Church of Our Lady of Czestochowa opened in Dunstable.
1969: 2,660 children in Bedford from a school roll of 11,477 are from Commonwealth and European countries (Bedfordshire Times, 22nd September).
1969: A West Indian Club is opened in Woburn Road, Bedford (Bedford Record, 8th April).
1969: The Italian Cultural Circle Club is formed in Bedford (Brown, p87)
1970: John Brown, the Warden of Cranfield Institute of Technology, publishes "The Unmelting Pot: an English Town and its Immigrants". This examined the different groups of settlers in the town and the history of the communities.
1971: The census records a total Bedford population of 124,555. 385 people are recorded as being born in East Africa, 110 people are recorded as being born in the rest of Africa, 1,735 people were born in America, 125 in Cyprus, 2,135 in India, 530 in Pakistan and 365 in the rest of Asia.
1971: The census records a total population of 464,275 people in Bedfordshire (including Luton). 1,210 are recorded as being born in East Africa, 420 people are recorded as being born in the rest of Africa, 5,120 people were born in America, 325 in Cyprus, 4,475 in India, 2,640 in Pakistan and 945 in the rest of Asia.
1974: St. Cuthbert's church, Bedford, was declared redundant by the Church of England and subsequently presented to the Polish Community by the Harpur Trust.
1977: The death of Joe Clough, the first West Indian immigrant to Bedford. Joe was featured in many newspaper and magazine articles about the town and a whole chapter of the book by John Brown 'The unmelting pot' (1970) was devoted to him and his wife Margaret. Joe was also interviewed for both BBC and Thames Television programmes.
1979: The dedication of the Pentecostal Miracle Church of God in Christ, Bedford, by the Afro-Caribbean community.
1981: 74 different ethnic groups are represented in Bedford schools (Bedford Journal, 9th July)
1982:BBC2 screen "To Bedford from Brusso" about the arrival of Italians to work in the Bedfordshire brickfields.
1993: North Bedfordshire Borough Council grants permission for a new mosque to be built in Westbourne Road, Bedford (Bedfordshire Times, 20th May).
1997: An ornate textile panel made by young Asian women from Bedford is displayed in the Victorian and Albert Museum. The panel depicted two trees, sharing their roots and growing out of the River Ouse (Bedfordshire County Council Press Release, 7th July).
1998: Bedford Borough Council grant planning permission for a new Sikh temple in Ford End Road, Queens Park, Bedford (Bedfordshire Times, 20th August).
1999: Bedford's Italian Convent in Woburn Road announces its closure. The nuns first arrived in the town in 1959 (Bedfordshire on Sunday, 27th June).
2000: Bedford Borough Council grants permission for a new Sikh temple to be built in converted premises opposite the Saxon Centre in Kempston; the first temple in Kempston. Former plans had involved land at Southfields in Kempston (Bedfordshire Times, 24th March).
2001: The Millennium Commission, backed by the National Lottery, grant 1 million to the building of the Sikh Temple in Queens Park, Bedford; members of the Sikh community had raised the other 1 million over a number of years (Bedfordshire on Sunday, 8th July).
2001: The Jaivia Masjid Gulshan Mosque in Westbourne Road, Bedford nears completion. The building, which cost 400,000 to construct, was funded by the Muslim community. The design of the building was influenced by Islamic architecture from Saudi Arabia (Bedfordshire Times, 24th August).
2004: Kempston Sikhs aim to move from their current premises opposite the Saxon Centre to a new building in Bedford Road. The move would give the community more space and facilities (Bedfordshire Times, 13th February).
2005: Queens Park Lives project founded in Bedford to preserve the memories and life stories of the inhabitants. This has led to three booklets exploring the rich cultural diversity of this area of the town.
2006: New Sikh temple opens in Bedford, Road , Kempston, after moving from former premises opposite the Saxon Centre.
- Africans in Pavenham by Eric Wilson, Bedfordshire Magazine, Vol. 21, Winter 1988, pp273-276
- Bedford's Second Jewish Community 1787-1883 by Patricia Bell, 1994.
- Newspaper cuttings from the Local Studies Collection in Bedford Central Library
- The un-melting pot: an English town and its immigrants by John Brown (Macmillan, 1970)
- Bedford's Italian question
- Hidden voices: memories of first generation Italians in Bedford compiled by Carmela Semeraro Byram (Bedford Community Arts, 1999)
- Immigration and bilingual education by Arturo Tosi (Pergamon, 1984)
- Italians forward: a visual history of the Italian community in Great Britain by Terri Colpi (Mainstream Publications, 1991)
- The Italian factor: The Italian community in Great Britain by Terri Colpi (Mainstream Publications, 1991)
- Queen's Park Lives: Issue 1, 2005; Issue 2, 2005; Issue 3, 2006
Page last updated: 3rd February 2104