History & FriendsHistory of the church

A guided walk around
St Paul's

For over a thousand years, since well be the Norman Conquest, there has been a St Paul’s church at the centre of Bedford. Ours is not the first church that has stood here, however – it is the fifth. The first was probably a small Minster built about the year 800 to house the Saxon priests who first brought Christianity to the growing settlement around the north side of the ford across the river Ouse – Beda’s ford – from which our town takes its name. Successive buildings were destroyed in raids and sieges, and the present church dates mostly from the fifteenth century, though it includes some earlier features.

 

1. West End

The statues in the niches either side of the door are St Alban on the left and the Archangel St Michael on the right.


2. Narthex

Features two sets of glass doors. Their theme is the progression from the Old Testament to the New. The outer doors depict the creation story of Genesis. As you walk through the outer doors you move from the garden of creation to the New Creation brought about through Christ’s death and resurrection. The doors date from 1982, and are engraved by David Peace and Meinrad Craighead.

 

3. Nave

Standing just by the glass door at the back of the church - you are now in what used to be the left-hand aisle of the church – which originally had only two aisles. Looking at both rows of pillars (arcades), those on the right are in the style of the Decorated period, quite slender, dating from the early 1300s. The pillars on the left are Victorian copies, built when the north wall and porch were moved out to form a new north aisle, when the church was enlarged in 1884.




4. Gallery

There have been three galleries in St Paul’s before; this one was built in 1982. Take a closer look at some the carvings around the ceiling, recently magnificently restored. Note also, behind you, the Te Deum west window.


5. South Porch

Notice the 13th century entrance arch, in the early English style, with its graceful design. The wooden ceiling dates from the 15th century. By the left-hand window is situated the gravestone to the aptly-named Patience Johnson, who bore 12 sons and 12 daughters and died in 1717 aged 38, while giving birth to her 25th child. This is now occupied by the Church Office.
 

6. Parvis

Out of the porch and turning right, you will see a small wooden door beyond which is a steep stone turret staircase leading to a 15th century priest’s room above the porch.




 

7. South Pulpit

When in 1884 the new aisle was built, the galleries were removed and smaller pews were introduced, this oak pulpit was built to address the larger congregation.


8. South Transept

These were purpose built by the Bedford Corporation in the mid 19th century: a time when civic pride was at its height. The Corporation coat of arms is above the Mayor’s chair, and the Mayor and councillors still sit here on great civic occasions. Earlier Mayors sat in a chair which is now in the Town Council Chamber.


9. Parclose Screen

This old wooden screen at the entrance to the Trinity Chapel used to stand where the great central screen now is. Though damaged, it is a fine piece of 15th century woodwork. In the 19th century the organ was in a gallery above this spot.

 

10. Trinity Chapel

Walk into the chapel. It was built at a time of English prosperity, just before the battle of Agincourt in 1415, for two town guilds – the Trinity and Corpus Christi. For many years it was the place where the Archdeacon’s Court held its sittings. The Trinity Chapel was the studio used by the BBC during the Second World War for broadcasting the Daily Service not only nationally, but to the armed forces throughout Europe.

 

11. Wesley Pulpit

Which dates from the 158h century as part of the wall in the Trinity Chapel, and was cleverly turned into a pulpit in 1680. It was from there that John Wesley preached the Assize sermon in 1758 on the theme ‘We shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ’.



 

12. The Great Screen

This striking screen was made by Bodley in 1906 and coloured by Eden in 1938, when other parts of the church were also coloured. It is a rood screen, that is one which divides the nave from the chancel, and which incorporates a rood or crucifix on top of it.

 

13. The Quire and Sanctuary

The nearest bench-ends and their carvings are medieval, as are the carvings – misericords - under many of the hinged seats. Looking upwards, you will see three shields representing the three dioceses of which Bedford has been a part – Lincoln, Ely and St Albans.

Up the steps is the English high altar. The carved reredos screen and the riddel posts from which the curtains hang were put in by Eden in 1900. To the right, an apparently unremarkable stone slab marks where Simon de Beauchamp was buried in the year 1208. The east window, which contains biblical scenes, is flanked by figures of St Peter with his keys and St Paul with the sword of the Spirit which represents the Word of God. At the opposite end of the altar rail an inscription on the wooden screen records the National Day of Prayer in 1941, when the Archbishops of Canterbury and York came together to St Paul’s to receive communion and to broadcast to the nation.




14. North Transept

Return to the crossing under the tower and turn right. Here by the War Memorial are laid up the military standards of the Bedfordshire Regiment.


15. North Aisle

This broad 19th century aisle was cleared of pews in 1976 and paved in memory of Godfrey Dawes, former Mayor of Bedford and Church Councillor of St Paul’s. The open space allows a much more flexible use of the Church for a variety of functions.


16. Font

The font is Victorian, with a 14th century base ornamented with ‘ball flowers’. The spiky canopy was made by J P White in 1936.


This brings you to the end of your tour of St Paul’s. For over a thousand years, men and women have met in this place to worship God. The building, the furnishings, and services have all changed with the fashions of succeeding centuries, but the worship of God remains constant.