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The History of St Andrew’s Church, Bedford

St Andrew’s has a unique founding story, one we are choosing to tell through fresh lenses as we discover more about our past.  We acknowledge that the colonial period of British history raises complex feelings for many people, and as such can be difficult to talk about. However we will not gloss over the fact that our founders were involved in this contested system.  


 The Church was built for and by those returning from colonial service in India at the end of the nineteenth century. Many who had served the British Crown in India, in the army, the police and the colonial service settled in North Bedford upon their return, purchasing or renting houses in the newly developed ‘Saints Roads’, and taking advantage of the relatively inexpensive public school education, available through the Harpur Trust. 

St Peter’s, the parish church, proved too small to accommodate the growing population, and so the incomers resolved to open their own mission church. So St Andrew’s was born, as a tin tabernacle half-way up St Andrew’s Road, dedicated in October 1895. The first Curate-in-charge was the Venerable Francis Michell, who had previously served for twenty-five years in India, latterly as Archdeacon of Calcutta. The congregation at St Andrew’s grew and the tin tabernacle was extended with a south aisle in 1897 and a north aisle in 1901. One of these aisles was subsequently purchased by St Andrew’s School and may still be seen, painted blue, on Pemberley Avenue.


As the congregation grew in strength, it sought independent status, which eventually came in 1915, and the purchase of a new site for a permanent church, on the edge of the built-up area. The First World War delayed the laying of the foundation stone until 1921 and the nave was built in three stages, to be completed in 1930 as far as the chancel arch. The architect was George Pemberton Allen, son of W.H. Allen of the Queen’s Engineering Works. Allen chose an Early English style, and built in Northamptonshire ironstone, roofed with Westmorland green slates. A war memorial chapel was planned, but eventually the large number of young men from the parish who had fallen in the Great War were commemorated in two tablets, originally behind the font and now in the north aisle. Their names continue to be read each Remembrance Sunday.


The Church remained incomplete until 1963. The northward expansion of Bedford in Putnoe and Brickhill considerably increased the population of the parish and the Vicar and Parochial Church Council commissioned Cecil Brown, a notable scholar-architect, to complete the building. Brown chose a simpler architectural style, with plain, well-lit white walls and, following new liturgical developments, placed the westward-facing altar in the spacious sanctuary at the head of the nave, rather than in a chancel. The architectural chancel was designed and is still used as a chapel for weekday services and private prayer. Cecil Brown also designed the circular window of Christ in Majesty high in the east wall. The external tower was a part of the same development and houses eight bells, six of which came from the medieval church of St Mary’s, south of the river, which had been declared redundant.


As its millennium project, the Parochial Church Council resolved to replace the Church Hall, built in 1965, with a new and dominant entrance foyer, linking the Church with a new hall and other facilities, including vestries and a Quiet Room. The architect was Bruce Deacon and the new Church Centre was opened in June 2004. It is now extensively used both by church organisations and by a wide range of community groups. The architectural integration of all the buildings on the site symbolises the intention and desire of St Andrew’s to be a place of worship, meeting and service for all in our community.


Returning to the story of St Andrew's and its roots in Britain's colonial past: Bedford is now a vibrant multi-cultural comunity, with people from across the former Empire, and beyond, calling the town home. St Andrew's, too, is the spiritual home of people from a wide range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. As an Inclusive Church, we celebrate that diversity and seek to celebrate and affirm every person.

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