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Bedford Tree Festival opens in grand style

The 20th Bedford Christmas Tree Festival was launched this morning with the Bedford Pipe Band marching into St Paul's church, filled with Christmas Trees . Widow Twanky brought out the Panto theme with her tricks and stories to the delight of school children who had just entertained visitors with traditional Christmas carols. 'Oh no it isn't' they cried out. 'Oh , yes it is', the Dame replied.

Helen Nellis, Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire, who opened the Festival said: 'It is always a pleasure to be in this beautiful town centre church. To see it filled with so many trees decorated by a host of community groups, charities, schools and businesses is a real joy and prepares us for the Christmas season."

"Bedford Hospital Charity & Friends work tirelessly throughout the year to provide extra facilities and equipment for our hospital". She added "St Paul's historic building has its own ongoing maintenance costs not least the additional heating bills this winter. It is fitting that the Festival income should be shared with this church at the heart of our community."

The Festival is open daily until Sunday 5th December, 10-5 (10-4 Sunday). Don't miss this chance to see how decorators have excelled with the panto theme and to vote for your favourite tree and children can have fun in the competition to spot Panto characters hidden among the trees. Entry: £3.00. Under 16 free.

There are still a few tickets left for the Festival Concert by Minerva Piano Trio playing Mozart, Vivaldi, Ravel and Stravinsky on Friday 3 December 7.30 pm. Tickets are priced £17.50 and available from www.peoplesfundraising.com/concert-tickets

Further details 01234 340163 at

Tree Festival celebrates 20 years

This year is the 20th anniversary of one of Bedford's biggest Christmas attractions, the Christmas Tree Festival at St Paul's church, run jointly by the church and Bedford Hospital Charity & Friends.

It has become established as a firm favourite for many, who start their Christmas by visiting the historic and beautiful St Paul's Church lit by trees, decorated by local community groups, schools and firms. Jayne Beard Associates are kindly sponsoring the festival again in memory of Jayne Beard who was a former Chairman of the Bedford Hospitals Charity. This year's theme is "Itís Panto".

The festival runs this year from Wednesday 1 December to Sunday 5 December 2021 and is open Wednesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and on Sunday 12noon-4pm. Admission is £3 for adults and free for children under 16.

Choirs feature daily and this year there will be returning visits from The Bedford Rock Choir, Music for Memory, Hammers Community Choir, Sharnbrook Community Choir and others.

The annual concert will be held on Friday 3rd December at 7.30pm with the 'Minerva Piano Trio' performing pieces by Ravel, Stravinsky, Mozart & Vivaldi. Tickets are priced £17.50 and can be purchased by calling 01234 783181 or via the website www.peoplesfundraising.com/concert-tickets.

If you wish to join the list of choirs or decorate a tree, please email Margaret Oakley (Chairman) on mboakley@hotmail.co.uk


Charles Whitbread launches major appeal for St Paul's tower, clock and bells

Thursday 28th October saw the launch of a major appeal at St Paul's, Bedford to restore the tower fabric, overhaul the obsolete clock drive and chiming mechanisms, refurbish the historic ringing room, and rehang its 12 bells.

The clock and bells installation are in urgent need of restoration to prevent them from falling silent.

The current bells are among the finest sounding in the country, and have been pivotal to the development of change ringing in Bedfordshire dating back to the 1600s. Ringers have travelled from far and wide to ring at St Paul's. The ringing chamber is adorned with boards recording historic peals rung for national, civic, and church events.

The clock, originally installed in 1811, is the largest church clock in North Beds and is one of the earliest surviving public clocks of its type.

Charles Whitbread, Appeal Chairman, whose family at Southill Park have a long association with St Paul's, addressed a reception at St Paul's and said:

"This is a unique opportunity to overhaul the tower, clock, ringing chamber, and the bells so that their familiar sounds can ring across Bedford for a further 100 years or more. I hope that our appeal today will be supported by the people of Bedfordshire as generously as their forebears supported the last major appeal of this kind in 1896, and we can leave a similarly impressive legacy for the town".

£500,000 is the estimated cost for the project. A very generous grant of £200,000 has kick started the appeal but Mr Whitbread urged guests to be generous and to spread the word so that many more people will support this exciting project.

Chris Pickford, Past Master of St Paul's Company of Ringers and an acknowledged expert on clocks and bells, gave an illuminating presentation on the history of those at St Paul's, showing the cracked frames supporting the bells and the dangerous conditions of access, highlighting the need for this restoration.

The evening concluded with a recital of Change Ringing on Handbells with their pleasing sequences of rhythmical sounds.

The project leader, Stephen Stanford who has led major bell hanging and restoration projects both locally and further afield, said:

"Our aim is to undertake the highest quality and most complete restoration possible, consistent with St Paul's status as a Major Parish Church."

Guests at the evening's launch included Cllr Jane Walker, Speaker of Bedford Borough Council, Deputy Lieutenants and former High Sheriffs, representatives of various funding Trusts, numerous bell ringers from across the county and beyond as well as members of St Paul's. Cllr Jane said:

"The people of Bedford are fortunate to have these exceptionally fine bells and clock marking time on this historic church, at the very heart of the town centre. I urge them to support this project so that generations of ringers can learn to enjoy the value of bell ringing".

The evening was hosted jointly by St Paul's PCC (Church Council), The Dorothy Porter Trust and The Friends of St Paul's who also provided the refreshments.

Steve Stanford who is leading the Bells, Tower and Clock Appeal at St Paul's, talks here to local BBC Radio on the reason for the appeal and the importance of the tower, clock and bells for Bedford.

For donations to this project or to sponsor the refurbishment of a bell or clock face, please contact Claire Price, Appeal Secretary at www.bedfordclockandbells.com  (Email clockandbells@stpaulschurchbedford.org.uk) or send a cheque to The Treasurer, St Paul's church, Bedford MK40 1SQ.


Tower, clock and bells appeal

St Paulís bells have rung out over the town since before the Reformation not only for religious services and festivals but also for many national and civic occasions. The current ring of 12 bells was cast by John Taylor of Loughborough mostly in 1896/7 and is amongst the finest sounding in the country, being one of the earliest examples of true harmonic tuning. The bells and ringers at St Pauls have been pivotal to the development and advancement of the art of change ringing in the county since its inception in the early 1600s. The walls of the ringing chamber are adorned by many boards recording peals rung to commemorate national and Church events and the notable ringing achievements of the Bedford band.

Some of the tower fabric is now in a poor state of repair, and the bell installation and clock are deteriorating and in urgent need of restoration to prevent them from falling silent. The bells have become increasingly difficult to manage, and are thus less frequently rung. The heaviest eight bells hang in an oak frame at the weakest point of the tower, supported on a pine sub-frame that is badly cracked, resting on stone corbels that are shifting. The lightest four bells are hung high in the base of the spire, increasing the potential for the tower to move. The bells weigh over 7 tonnes in total and exert forces of almost 30 tonnes on the frame and tower when rung. The clock auto winding and chiming mechanisms are no longer serviceable and the drive shaft and gears to the hands are worn. Additionally, the external clock dials and hands are in need of restoration.

In 2019, encouraged by the Dorothy H Porter Trust, a requirements specification was prepared and quotations sought for a full restoration of the tower, clock and bells. Various consultations took place with an independent structural engineer, the church architect, and the DAC, and proposals were obtained from the leading firms of bell-hangers and clock engineers. The total cost of the project to restore the tower infrastructure, along with the clock and bells, and put them in good order is estimated at around £500,000.

An event, hosted by The Friends of St Paulís was held in the Church on the evening of Thursday 28th October to launch the fund-raising appeal. Currently an appeal brochure, web site, and other social media presence is being established that will provide additional information about the history of the tower, clock, and bells; also details of the appeal and its progress including how to donate and provide support to the scheme. Please check back regularly for updates.

Antiques Road Trip comes to Bedford and visits St Paul's church

Don't miss a visit to St Paul's Church by Catherine Southon, antiques expert, when she meets local historian James Collett-White to discover the background to the
church's daily broadcast to the nation during the dark days of World War Il.

Episode 17 (of 25) on BBCI Tuesday 28 September 4.30 pm and thence on iPlayer

Tuesday lunchtime concerts set to return

St Paul's church, Bedford launches a new series of lunch time concerts with a piano and organ recital by Paul Edwards on Tuesday 21 September, 1.00 pm.

Paul's programme will include Bach, Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Gershwin, as well as 16th and 20th century pieces by lesser-known English composers.

The recital is free with a retiring collection (suggested £5) in aid of church funds.

Other programmes in this new free autumn lunchtime concert series will include Soprano and Tenor solo singing, recitals of Flute, Cello and Piano. Details to follow.

Bedfordshire orchestra comes to St Paul's in October

The first evening performance in St Paul's for over 18 months is scheduled to take place on Saturday October 16th, when the church will host a chamber orchestra from the Bedfordshire Orchestra Society.

The concert will be their first live performance since lockdown. The chamber orchestra will play a mixed programme showing a full range of instrumentation, with pieces to include Elgarís Shed Music, Petite Symphony by Gounod and Brahmsí Serenade No. 2.

Tickets are already on sale and can be purchased via the ticketing website Eventbrite. Further information on the concert can also be found on the Bedford Sinfonia's website.

The programme starts at 7.30pm with doors open from 6.45pm. All proceeds from ticket sales will go to support St Paulís and it's vital role in Bedford and beyond.

Solidarity for Refugee Week at St Paul's

St Paul's will be hosting a small installation of creative pieces by local schools and community groups on the theme of 'Solidarity' as part of Refugee Week, a UK-wide festival (2),14th to 19th of June. Creative pieces will also reflect the lived experience of those seeking asylum who tell their powerful stories of struggle and hope. Relevant organisations are also welcome to display information about their work.

Members of the public are invited to take a quiet and reflective walk around the church to view the installations, open 12.00-2.00 daily.

Fr. Luke Larner, assistant curate at St Paulís, said:

"St Paul's church, with its history of opening its doors to individuals from across the world from all walks of life, is ideally suited to host these displays and to be a point of reference for those seeking to be informed."

Throughout the week St Paul's will be running an online campaign including short interviews to hear more about the work many organisations are doing to support people. Videos will be available on Facebook, instagram and St Paulís YouTube channel

Organisations partnered include:

BRASS (Bedford Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support)
Yarlís Wood Befrienders
Migrants Organise
Local schools
Local art groups
Soul Food Poetry

Strict COVID precautions will be followed at St Paul's in its large and well-ventilated space.

Earlier this year, Fr. Luke took part in a campaign among other local faith and community leaders to raise questions about controversial plans to house 200 people seeking asylum on a temporary site adjacent to Yarlís Wood IRC. Concerns were raised about the suitability of the site and the potential impact on the wellbeing of the proposed occupants. The plans have now been scrapped, and the site dismantled, with questions being raised about the process and the significant expenditure on the project.


Refugee Week is a UK-wide festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary. Founded in 1998 and held every year around World Refugee Day on the 20 June, Refugee Week is also a growing global movement. This year's theme is ' We cannot walk alone'. Through a programme of arts, cultural, sports and educational events alongside media and creative campaigns, Refugee Week enables people from different backgrounds to connect as well as encouraging understanding of why people are displaced, and the challenges they face when seeking safety. See www.refugeeweek.org.uk.

St Paul's Church is awarded 'Major Parish Church' status

St Paul's church in the centre of Bedford is celebrating its award as a Major Parish Church and being granted membership of the Major Churches Network, in recognition of its importance to the town.

The Major Churches Network is a body set up by the Church of England which comprises 350 of the largest and most significant churches across England which are not cathedrals but fulfil many of the same functions within their communities and includes some of the best loved places of worship around the UK.

There are strict qualifying criteria to become a member such as being a building of exceptional significance (often Grade I listed), being open daily to visitors, to have a role which goes beyond a normal parish church by fulfilling an important civic and cultural role and by making an economic contribution to their local area.

St Paul's qualifies in all categories - it is the biggest religious building in the St Albans Diocese after St Albans Cathedral, the civic and county church of Bedfordshire, and it plays host to events and concerts throughout the year. For the past year the new Bedford Visitor Information Centre - which replaced the old Tourist Information when it closed - has also been based inside the main body of the church.

Canon Fr Kevin Goss, Vicar of St Paul's said: "We are delighted to have received this recognition and to have been officially designated a member of the Major Churches Network. We welcome thousands of visitors every year and would hope this affiliation will boost the church's profile further, and in doing do attract more visitors into Bedford."

St Paul's is already a member of Cathedrals Plus, a body that promotes cathedrals, abbeys, shrines and major churches which already receive large numbers of visitors. The church is well-known locally for hosting the annual Christmas Tree Festival in conjunction with Bedford Hospitals Charity, attracting around 5000 visitors over the five day event.