Bedford, England (#12)
by Debra Conley
Once we’ve seen the church of John Bunyan’s conversion and the River Ouse where he was baptized, we cross the river to view the marked location where Bunyan was imprisoned for 12 years for preaching the Gospel outside the Church of England and for refusing to use the Prayer Book. His blind daughter Mary brought his food to the jail since public funds were not allowed to be used for feeding religious dissenters. His wife Elizabeth made numerous journeys to London to beg for her husband’s release, but to no avail. The Swan Inn where she made her final appeal is still a picturesque hotel on the river bank and is open for overnight guests.
It’s a pleasant walk from the river to his church, the Bunyan Meeting Free Church. More than any of the others we visit, this church’s Bunyan Museum is the most inclusive of his life and writing. Artifacts from his home, his work shop, and his family are included in the collection of original books, his pulpit, and the prison door from which he viewed Bedford for twelve years. The churchyard retains the sign with his name and the massive front doors of the church are an artist’s rendering of Pilgrim’s Progress set in bronze. Inside the church are stained glass windows showing the proud Bunyan heritage this congregation still treasures.
A plaque on Cuthbert Street marks the site of the Bunyan home in Bedford. When the cottage was demolished, Bunyan’s deed to the property was found hidden in the bricks of the chimney wall. He feared that his family might lose everything if he were to die in prison, which didn’t happen. He died, probably of pneumonia, in London and is buried in Bunhill Fields. The unused deed is displayed in the Bunyan Museum.
Bedford is easily accessible by train but the station is on the far outskirts of town, so take a cab in. Another option is to rent a car, but you can’t do that in Bedford. There is a Hertz location in Milton Keynes, about 30 miles away. You’ll need a car to visit Elstow unless you prefer to walk the 20 mile Bunyan Trail. Visit www.bedford.gov.uk to get more information on this trail and the landmarks it covers.
John Bunyan’s Home
Bunyan Free Church
John Bunyan’s Grave