Town plans 850th celebration of King Henry II signing Royal Charter

Bedford Charter 850th calendar
Bedford Charter 850th calendar

Bedford is gearing up for a special anniversary next year marking 850 years since King Henry II signed the Royal Charter granting new rights and powers to local people.

One of the lasting legacies of Henry II’s reign was the creation of about 150 chartered boroughs and this provided certain liberties and independence for Bedford in exchange for annual taxes.

Bedford’s Charter is believed to be the second oldest and as part of the celebrations it is hoped a range of exhibitions and events will give people a flavour of life back in 1166 and the 850 years following.

Highlights already announced include an 850 trail at The Higgins Bedford, a 12th century village at Bedford River Festival and a special play Somewhere in England (The Bedford Play) about the history of Bedford commissioned by The Harpur Trust. More details of events taking place will be announced throughout 2016.

Groups and organisations are also invited to get in on the anniversary spirit and can use a special 850th logo that has been introduced to celebrate the year. The logo resembles a medieval stamp and can be downloaded from the council’s website.

A special anniversary calendar has also been produced including images taken around Bedford borough by local photographers as part of the Bedford Clanger’s Photo a Day competition. The calendar also includes some of the events already announced for next year and is available from the Higgins Bedford, Number 13 Café, Bedford borough libraries and the travel and tourism centre at the Bus Station.

Mayor of Bedford Borough, Dave Hodgson said: “Bedford has one of the oldest Royal Charters in the country, and I hope people agree that this anniversary really is something to celebrate. The charter is a proud feature of Bedford’s rich history. It granted the people of Bedford special rights and powers which helped to create and to shape the borough we know today.

“850 years on from the signing, 2016 marks a significant date in our history. A range of exciting events and activities are being planned throughout the year to mark the 850 anniversary and I invite everyone to join the celebrations.”

The Bedford Charter was given in 1166 while King Henry II was in France. The original is in the Bedfordshire Record Office at Borough Hall. There were a number of liberties granted but they included the right to set up courts of law, freedom from manorial dues and other tolls.

There was an annual rental paid direct to the King’s treasury - the first amount mentioned for Bedford, which had a population of about 3000, was £40.