Tributes to Bedford’s heroic historian Richard Wildman

Richard Wildman
Richard Wildman

Tributes have poured in for reowned local historian and author Richard Wildman who fought to protect Bedford’s history.

Mr Wildman, who was the president of Bedford Art Society, passed away on Saturday July 28. He was 71.

The former teacher and borough councillor will be remembered for his preservation projects which included saving buildings such as Priory Terrace and the facade of Bedford Modern School which date back to 19th century.

Mr Wildman, who was born and lived all of his life in Bedford, also ran a beloved second hand book store in Mill Street. And he spent 18 years as archivist for Bedford Modern School (BMS).

Peter Budek, who runs the Eagle Bookshoop in Castle Road, said: “Richard was dedicated to the preservation of Bedford’s heritage and was a local historian without equal.

“Although he published many books on Bedford, it was his rich verbal accounts of all aspects of the town’s history that entertained and educated so many of us.”

Peter says that visiting Richard’s book shop as a young man inspired him to open his own book shop.

He said: “I spent years browsing his book shelves and when I opened my own book shop he was so supportive.

“Richard was a marvellous personality and a very generous man.”

Mr Wildman wrote a number of renowned picturebooks about Bedford with his first book, Bygone Bedford publishing in 1974.

Other well known works included Bedford Past and Present and Bedford: A Pictoral History.

Stephen Wildman says his brother had always loved books, history and architecture.

He said: “It gave him determination to fight for some of the town’s best buildings coming under threat from redevelopment.

“Happily I shared Richard’s interests and we did much together – he was also a tremendous help as a supplier of books while I was a student.

“His greatest loyalty was to BMS, not only maintaining its history but as OBM Club secretary kept people in touch with each other, impeccably organising many lunches, dinners and reunions.”

Nigel Lutt, who knew Mr Wildman from his time at the Bedford Records Office, said: “Bedford is in his debt, until Richard came along no one was interested in Bedford’s conservation.

“He was a remarkable person and with an amazing brain.”

Julie Ridge, BMS director of external relations, says Richard was secretary to the Old Bedford Modernians Club (OBM), the school’s alumni association for 16 years.

She said: “Richard was quite a character around school and the dedicated guardian of BMS history for some 18 years.

“He delivered an enlightening lecture during the school’s 250th celebrations in 2014 where I learned more about the history of the School - and Bedford more generally - in one hour than any number of hours poring over books would have taught me. His passion for the subject was infectious.

“He will be sorely missed by staff, students and the huge number of OBMs whose lives he touched in so many ways.”

Dave Hodgson, Mayor of Bedford, added: “Richard Wildman’s knowledge of Bedford and its rich history was extraordinary.

“He leaves behind a legacy of published work through which Bedford’s history will contiue to be absorbed and enjoyed by current and future generations for many years to come.”

Mr Wildman’s furneral will take place at St Andrew’s Church, Kimbolton Road, Bedford, at 11.15am on Monday August 20.