BEDFORD Though still a market town, Bedford has to a certain extent allowed its individuality to become submerged by its own commercial success. Modern office blocks have appeared in the historic centre. Multi-national companies located here include Unilever. The Harpur Centre – a modern shopping mall – is complemented by quality small shops along the High Street, as well as big-name stores, supermarkets and a triweekly market. The Bunyan Centre is the place for most sports, and there are three swimming pools, including the Oasis ‘beach pool’. The Civic Theatre provides a forum for amateur dramatics, but is upstaged as a venue by the Corn Exchange. The Aspects leisure centre has restaurants, a gym and multi-screen cinema. The town is also a centre of learning, having Bedford College, the University of Bedfordshire and nearby Cranfield University.
Along the embankment by the River Great Ouse, where people stroll in summer and sit to watch the waterfowl, there are some large, tree-shaded Victorian houses – probably the nicest properties in the town. One of these with five to seven bedrooms would cost over £650,000. There are also some purpose-built flats in the same area. The smallest one-bedroom apartment starts at £100,000. A three-bedroom Victorian terraced house nearby would cost £175,000; a three- to four-bedroom semi up to £200,000. For the rest of the town the general rule is that the houses are more modern the further out you go, but prices do not vary much. You can expect to pay around £175,000 for a three-bedroom semi; £200,000 for a three-bedroom detached.
Most of the sought-after villages in the flat countryside around Bedford are to the north. Oakley, just over four miles to the north-west, has in its High Street some old brick farmworkers’ cottages that once belonged to the Duke of Bedford’s estate. You would pay from around £185,000 for one of these with two bedrooms and a long garden. There is also a good deal of modern development where you would pay about £175,000 for a three-bedroom semi; from £250,000 for a four-bedroom detached. Youngish families mix with the small number of commuters. Village social life revolves around the village hall, cricket and football teams, the gardening club and the two pubs. There is a village store, a post office, primary and middle schools.
Bromham, on the Ouse three miles north-west of Bedford, is a large village with a population of 5,000. Many of the local families have lived here for generations. The limestone cottages in the village centre are surrounded by modern housing and building is still on-going. There is a supermarket, post office, two general stores, a petrol station, hairdresser, fish-and-chip shop, health centre, two pubs and a lower school. Local events include an annual apple day. The local watermill has been restored and once again mills flour. Bromham House, an old manor house now used as a venue for weddings, has had its grounds filled with new housing. A three-bedroom semi could be bought for £185,000, a detached four- to five-bedroom house with garden in Bromham House grounds £500,000.
Biddenham, due west of Bedford, is the favourite village for London commuters. It is close to the town (the station is a brisk 15-minute walk), yet it feels deliciously remote and is set around a classic village green. All this makes it one of the most expensive villages in the area. Properties range from 17th-century thatched cottages to imposing Thirties’ houses, plus a few modern developments built with managing directors in mind. Prices range from £150,000 for a two-bedroom cottage to £600,000–£700,000 for a substantial family house. A development of 300 houses has been built with a shop, a cricket field, tennis courts and a community centre as part of the package. Four-bedroom houses here cost £250,000. There is a cricket club and tennis club. The village hall is packed at parish council meetings, and everyone gets involved in local events, including an annual summer show. Conservation issues are policed by the Biddenham Society.