Bedfordians have been reacting to last night’s fire which destroyed Shires House, a part of the former Bedford Hospital North Wing.
Shires House was a Grade II listed building and was built in the 1790s from bricks of the old Bedford Castle. It was The Bedford House of Industry before becoming Bedford Union Workhouse after the 1834 Poor Law’s Act.
Former Bedford Borough Councillor and political pioneer, James Seamark, lived at the poor house and upon leaving became Labour’s first Councillor for Bedford, a Justice Of The Peace and a friend of Kier Hardie, the founder of the Labour Party.
The workhouse closed in 1949 and became Bedford Hospital North Wing under the NHS.
During its time as part of Bedford Hospital the building did serve as a maternity ward before it was moved to another building on that site in the 1970s, it also served as a ward for the elderly and hosted the hospital chapel.
Bedfordians who were born there have expressed sadness at the loss of what many have called “a lovely building” despite it having been empty and derelict for some time.
People have been posting on our social pages since the fire started. One person said: “So very sad, to see this. North Wing site holds so many precious memories for a lot of people, that were either born there & had their children there.”
Another spoke more about their time as an employee: “Many of us worked there as nurses in training: it’s a dreadful dreadful shame. It was in fact the old John Bunyan ward, care of the elderly. And it had a truly beautiful chapel.”
Many people added further comments about working there: “I worked there in the early 70s it was the geriatric unit offices underneath and sewing rooms top floor.”
Others paid tribute to the fire crews working around the clock to get the flames under control: “Such an amazing job by all fire fighters risking their lives to keep a major fire from spreading further. Well done everyone. Such a shame a listed building has gone,” said one.
Another added: “Thanks go to the fire fighters, for the hard work in trying to get the fire under control.”
Others, however, seemed to sum up what everyone else of different generations, or those who had moved to Bedford in later life, might have been thinking: “I have no personal attachment to the place but I hate seeing a piece of history like this being destroyed.”
The building has been empty and unused for many years and is now owned by NHS Property Services. Some felt the building should have been restored: “I am so saddened to see this happen to another of Bedford’s historic buildings, it should have been restored years ago.”
If you’d like to share your memories and images of Shires House or images of the fire, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.