There are plenty of ways to get involved with the history and archaeology of Bedfordshire. Why not visit a museum or join an archaeological society?
Many Portable Antiquities Scheme finds can be seen on display at museums around the county (see the links that accompany the descriptions below).
Bedford Museum was formed in the 1960s from the collections of Bedford Modern School and Bedford Borough Council. Its social history, archaeology, natural history and ethnography collections tell the stories of the people and places that have shaped Bedford, and its relationship with the wider world, from prehistory to the present day. Recently Bedford Museum has combined with two art galleries in the town to form the Higgins Art Gallery and Museum.
This huge open-air museum complex has something for everyone, all set in beautiful gardens. The galleries tell the stories of the real people of the area from prehistory to the present day; highlights include a fine carriage collection, an unparalleled collection of rural crafts and trades material, and a surprising amount of archaeology including the jewellery from the iconic 7th-century Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Chamberlain’s Barn.
Formerly the Luton Museum and Art Gallery, Wardown House Museum focuses on the traditional crafts of Luton including hat-making and lace-making. The house itself is fascinating, and the archaeological collection includes the Shillington hoards of Roman gold and silver coins, an Iron Age grave assemblage with a particularly fine mirror (PAS-38F120), and the finds from the enigmatic Waulud’s Bank earthwork.
The Panacea Museum tells the story of the Panacea Society – a remarkable religious community formed in the early twentieth century – and other similar religious groups.
Perhaps the most famous born-again Christian in Bedfordshire, John Bunyan was born in Elstow. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Bunyan was imprisoned for his beliefs in Bedford County Gaol, where he wrote his most famous books, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners and The Pilgrim’s Progress. The Museum contains many of Bunyan’s personal effects, from his life as a tinker (a maker and mender of pots and kettles) and a preacher. His professional metalworking skills are evident from his iron violin, and the Museum also has his portable anvil.
One of the largest collections of vehicles and aircraft, the Shuttleworth Collection’s aim is to keep as many of its aeroplanes flying as possible. It has five Edwardian aircraft including G-AANG, a 1909 Bleriot XI with the original engine, which is the world’s oldest airworthy aeroplane.
Societies & Organisations
A list of local history and archaeological societies in Bedfordshire is maintained by Local History Online here.