Humans of Bedford: Michael Gurr

Michael Gurr Humans of Bedford
Michael Gurr on his last Day with the Fire Service in Kempston

We’re very excited to launch ‘Humans of Bedford’, an occasional column from the Bedford Independent which will be devoted to ordinary Bedfordians who have lived extraordinary lives.

The first in the series is 79-year-old Michael Gurr who has lived in Kempston for over 50 years. We think could well provide a whole series of ‘Humans of Bedford’ columns all by himself.

Michael Gurr, Kempston

I was born in wartime England on 2 November 1940, and brought up in a strict religious Christian sect known as The Exclusive Brethren.

My home was Redhill Surrey. I ran away from home and travelled to London aged 12 with my twin brother Charles Gurr to witness the Coronation of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II.

Always being a rebellious child, who would not conform to a strict upbringing, I ran away from home several times and finally made a complete break from my family just before my 16th birthday.

I knew this decision would cause a permanent separation from my family and they would have nothing more to do with me, this proved to be the case.

Leaving School at 15 years of age with no qualifications, I started work on the railways as a cleaner and then later as a stoker, often moving around with no permanent home and sometimes sleeping rough in railway carriages, waiting rooms, even on the footplate of steam locomotives in Redhill Shed.

Later I worked in various hospitals which also provided accommodation. At one time, I was caring for 70 disturbed patients in a remote country house, at night and on my own.

Later I gained experience at a general hospital working in the operating theatres, casualty department, and occasionally the mortuary when required.

I joined the Bedfordshire retained Fire Service in 1969 and became a professional fireman in 1971 and retired in 1993.

Michael’s family

I married Josephine Housden in April 1965. We have three children: Ruth, Jason and Lydia.

When I was a child, I had the good fortune to visit the Festival of Britain in London in 1951. I remember so well seeing a magician performing amazing magic, and that memory has always been with me.

When I retired from the Fire Service in 1993 I managed to develop a few of my own pieces of magic and on Monday 20 May 2002, passed the examination to become a full member of the Magic Circle.

I am so pleased to belong to that famous society and for four years I was the club night host in London.

During one performance one member exclaimed, “Well that’s Spooky Mick”. This was a complement and a remark I quite enjoyed.

I have been most fortunate to also entertain with magic in many countries abroad including Switzerland and Japan.

Other highlights of my life:
  • Goat herding in the mountains of Switzerland
  • Being arrested at gunpoint in Israel
  • Present at the downing of the Berlin Wall
  • Winner of a camel race, and rode a circus horse
  • Fire-Fighting 1969 to 1993, awarded the Fire Service Medal in 1989 for “Exemplary Fire Service”
  • In 2011 I was awarded the Presidents Certificate for services to Magic
  • I was awarded the golden Key for loyalty to the Town of Interlaken Switzerland in 2012
  • Also in 2012 I was made an Associate Member of The Inner Magic Circle
  • The following year at the Guildhall London I was so pleased to be installed as a Freeman of the City of London by redemption
  • In September 2013 I drove sheep across London Bridge
  • It was also, to me, a great honour to be made member of the Family Holz of Boppard in Deutschland, we have been best friends for 45 years

The rest of the Gurr family are still in the Brethren and residing in the Redhill and Horley area of Surrey U.K.

That is except for one niece who is extremely happy being out of the brethren system and we are very good friends.

Life has been so interesting and rewarding for me.

And finally, three questions from the Bedford Independent
  • What’s the best thing about Bedford? The River
  • What is Bedford’s hidden gem – the thing/place/person that you think makes Bedford unique? John Bunyan
  • What three words describe Bedford? Modern, historic, diverse

You can read more of Michael’s incredible memories on the I live/used to live in Kempston facebook group.

If you would like to nominate someone for a future Humans of Bedford column, please email

With grateful thanks to Holmes Sweet Holmes for the original Humans of Bedford artwork which she is allowing us to use.

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