Bedford Borough Council celebrates 50 years with a look back at its history

Bedford Borough Hall Bedford Borough council signage and entrance
Image: Bedford Independent

Bedford Borough Council celebrates its 50th ‘birthday’ this month, having been the local authority for Bedford Borough since 1974.

To mark the celebration, this is the first of three articles provided by Bedford Borough Council that will look at how the council was formed and some of the ways it has shaped where we live today.


The formation of the new Borough Council was marked with a three-page farewell feature in the Bedfordshire Times, where the reporting team said a ‘sad’ farewell to a different council which had been abolished to make way for the new council.

As part of sweeping reforms taking place across the UK (some of which were later reversed), the all-new authority was initially known as Bedford District Council.

One year later, it was renamed North Bedfordshire Borough Council, and in 1992 it became Bedford Borough Council.

This, however, created a new system of local government which the Bedfordshire Times reported as the days of a Mayor as a ‘powerful figure’ now over.

Brian Dillingham in 1974 Image Bedford Borough Council
Brian Dillingham in 1974. Image: Bedford Borough Council

They described the new ceremonial mayors as being a ‘toothless shadow of the office’ and ‘stripped of powers’. A role that would soon be reversed.

The first Mayor of the new-look council not only held a very different position to the one today, but was also one of the youngest in Bedford’s history.

33-year-old Brian Dillingham (Conservative) promised to be a moderniser, but what did ‘modern’ mean in the early 70’s.

Reporter David Reading wrote, “Instead of cheese and wine parties there could be Bedfordshire clanger gatherings. Or else civic get-togethers could revolve around the theme of Bedfordshire lace.”

Politics and news

Mayor Dillingham would go on to spend many decades on the Council and even became mayor again in 1986, before he stood down as a councillor in 2011. But he was not the only familiar face on that first intake of councillors.

Frank Dillingham c2007 Image Bedford Borough Council
Frank Dillingham c2007. Image: Bedford Borough Council

Kay Burley (Labour) served multiple terms over the course of 49 years before retiring last year, as well as Bob Elford (Labour and then Better Bedford (Independent), who became one of the most familiar faces in the old Town Hall until he finally left politics shortly before his death in 2009.

He may be best remembered as one of the eventual co-founders of the Bedfordshire On Sunday newspaper.

Another name which might be familiar to long-time Bedfordians is Frank Garrick (Labour), who stood unsuccessfully for election at the first-ever Bedford Borough Council poll.

Frank was later elected in Queens Park and was subsequently succeeded in his seat by then Cllr Mohammad Yasin (Labour), who is today’s MP for Bedford and Kempston.

Tomorrow we’ll be looking at how the Mayors of Bedford left their mark on history.

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