Column: What makes a true Bedfordian?

John Bunyan portrayed on a tapestry made by Edward Bawden commissioned by the Bedford museum.
John Bunyan portrayed on a tapestry commissioned by the Bedford museum and made by Edward Bawden. Image: The Higgins Bedford

It’s often a small moment of joy each day, reading discussions about the news of the day with genuine interest and well-thought-out arguments and opinions across the Bedford Independent‘s social channels.

One comment that has cropped up a few times though, albeit from a well-known local internet troll, has stuck in my mind and got me thinking more than most.

They put forward the argument that you’re only a true Bedfordian if you were born in Bedford Borough.

Surely that’s not a widely held opinion that I’ve somehow managed to miss in my 25 years of living here?

Let’s consider the idea that you can only classify yourself as a true Bedfordian if you were born here.

I suppose it is of a similar ilk to the idea you’re not a true cockney unless you were born within the sound of Bow Bells from the Church of St Mary Le Bow in Cheapside.

Fair enough, but this is a traditional aspect of what it means to be a Londoner and with family from that area myself, I know many don’t hold it with as much strict regard as perhaps there once was.

Is the idea you’re only a true Bedfordian if you were born within the boundaries of our Borough still upheld – if it ever was at all?

Of course, there’s nothing official to say what a true Bedfordian is, and that’s more than likely because many believe being a Bedfordian isn’t a birthright.

I feel it’s more a state of mind or a title bestowed upon those who really do what they can to make our home a better place.

It’s worth pointing out that we did have a little fun with this a few years ago and came up with a list of things that might determine if you’re a Bedfordian or not.

Read: Are you even a Bedfordian if you haven’t done at least 20 of these?

There are also some amusing anecdotal theories about what makes a true Bedfordian.

One that I like to repeat from time to time was said to me when I was made redundant as the PR Manager for Charles Wells.

“You’re not a true Bedfordian until you’ve worked and then been made redundant from Charles Wells,” they said with a smile.

This time though I’d like to delve a little deeper.

Ronnie Barker plaque on the wall of 70 Garfield Street. The plaque stats that he was born here on 25 September 1929. Image: Simon Speed, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Ronnie Barker plaque on the wall of 70 Garfield Street. Image: Simon Speed, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Those who were born here

Naturally, we must make mention of those top-tier Bedfordians like John Bunyan or Amy Walmsley, no one can argue they’re not true Bedfordians.

Their story is written into the very fabric of Bedford’s DNA.

But what about the likes of Ronnie Barker, who was indeed born in Bedford (70 Garfield Street to be exact).

He moved away with his parents when he was just a toddler, is he considered a Bedfordian, did he even consider himself to be one?

Speaking to a friend this weekend who moved away from Bedford when she was in her late teens, she admits if it weren’t for her parents still living here she would probably not come back to the Borough very often.

She also admits she doesn’t identify as a Bedfordian anymore.

She was born and raised here, educated at our schools, was a part of various clubs and was even in the local paper as a child for her achievements, but she says she’s not a Bedfordian.

The list of famous people considered to be true Bedofordians is long and includes the likes of Matt Berry, Martin Bayfield, John Le Mesurier, Charles Wells, Etienne Stott, Matt Skelton, Carol Vorderman, Trevor Huddleston and Tom Grennan, who were all born here.

But the list of famous Bedfordians found via a Google search isn’t as clear cut

Those who weren’t born here

Paula Radcliffe, John Oliver, Frank Branston, Captain Tom Moore, all names that get attached to Bedford at every available chance, some have even had roads named after them, yet none of them were born here.

They’ve each done amazing things for Bedford, either by putting our little borough on the map, or doing what they can to help it realise its full potential.

Are they any less Bedfordian than those mentioned before?

Thinking of all those not born in our Borough that perhaps don’t have national or international recognition, but have devoted their time and lives to the betterment of Bedford.

Do they not deserve to be considered sons and daughters of Bedford too?

What about the Bedford Independent’s Everyday Heroes?

What about those who have moved here and set up successful businesses and employed local people?

What about those who have organised local events and movements to make our borough more enjoyable and more colourful?

What about the first-generation immigrants that literally gave their blood, sweat and tears to build our town and create the wonderful diversity we enjoy today?

Is it not a slap in the face to tell them they’re not true Bedfordians?

A6, Paula Radcliffe Way, Bedford. Credit: Don R Weerasirie
Paula Radcliffe Way, named after the world-famous runner, surely that’s Bedfordian enough even if she wasn’t born here?. Credit: Don R Weerasirie

What about those who are standing in the forthcoming elections?

These people are putting their heads above the parapet to try and do what they think will help Bedford Borough become a better place to live, work and play.

Whatever their political leaning, the fact they’re standing up and entering public scrutiny should be applauded and certainly adds weight to the argument that they are true Bedfordians.

Read: All our political and local election coverage

For me, being a true Bedfordian isn’t about whether you were born here or not, and even how long you’ve lived here, it’s more about what you do, or have done, for Bedford Borough that counts.

If you’re someone who enhances Bedford Borough in whatever way your skills, talent or expertise allow, and/or you support those who share that space with you, then you’re a true Bedfordian in my eyes and I don’t think anyone can argue otherwise.