Latest High Street heritage renovation unveiled ahead of completion of All Ears

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The scaffolding is coming down from the Salvation Army building on Bedford High Street
As the scaffolding came down following the completion of the renovation of the Salvation Army shopfront. Image: Bedford Borough Council

The penultimate renovation on Bedford High Street has been unveiled this week, with the traditional timber shopfront restored to the iconic double-height Salvation Army building on the corner of Lurke Street.

Under the High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) project, the Council has worked with partners and landlords to renovate shopfronts along the historic High Street as part of the government-funded initiative.

The project is overseen by Historic England and supported by the council, Bedford BID and South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP).

These have included the former Goldings building, Blue Monk, Creams, the Bedford Medical Centre and units on Silver Square.

Read: Historic England celebrates High Street Heritage Action Zone’s “spectacular” successes

As part of the Salvation Army works, contractors have undertaken building repairs, including to the roof of the building while reinstating the original ‘drapers’, ‘costumiers’ and ‘milliners’ insignia on the shopfront.

According to the Bedford Borough Virtual Library listing here, “The drapers shop at 113 High Street was run initially by Walter Blott, who was born at Midloe Grange near St Neots, the son of a farmer. 

“He moved to Bedford in approximately 1888 and it would appear that he took over the drapery business at 113 High Street from Ezra Braggins, who moved to the site now occupied by Beales on the corner of Silver Street and Harpur Street.”

Olive Kirby, who worked at Blotts, told interviewer, Elizabeth Mortimer, that the upper floors of the store were – somewhat confusingly – referred to as ‘the cellar’.

“Olive described for me the upstairs of the shop, which was a showroom that sold coats and other items of ladies clothing,” writes Elizabeth.

“Downstairs was what they called the Manchester Department, with sheets, blankets and other bed linen, plus various household goods, including tea-towels. 

“There was also fabric for dress-making, haberdashery items and knitting wool for sale.  Olive worked at various times in the haberdashery and the gloves and hosiery departments and finally in the Manchester Department. She recalls that items were hung and displayed in the street down the side of the shop to attract customers.

“There was also a glass cabinet in front of the shop. According to Olive, once a week, on a Saturday afternoon, the contents had to be removed and taken inside. The blinds were pulled down then in readiness for the Sabbath so that nothing was on show.”

As part of the renovation, the building will house several serviced apartments, bringing the whole building back into use. 

Bedford Borough Council confirmed that the final property to go through renovation works will be All Ears (97 High Street), which is having its shopfront replaced and moved forward in order to align it with the adjoining buildings.

The project will also improve accessibility by lowering the shop’s threshold to remove the step.

All Ears’ manager, Tracey told the Bedford Independent that customers have been so supportive since the shop’s closure.

Goldings

The old Goldings building has undergone a dramatic transformation, returning the former ironmongers’ shopfront to its former glory.

For heritage purposes, the Goldings insignia remains on the building, despite the business having closed in 2019.

Sources at Bedford Borough Council have confirmed that they have received a change of use application for the site, suggesting the new tenants intend to turn the unit into a restaurant or bar, with residential properties on the upper floors.

Town centre vision

Cllr Henry Vann (LibDem), who oversaw the start of the project as the former town centre portfolio holder, celebrated the reveal, saying: “This is the historic restoration of a shop front and it looks stunning.

“It is great to see this legacy of the successful bid for funding from Historic England coming to fruition as part of the former Mayor Dave Hodgson’s town centre plan; adding to the work already done in Silver Square, the Medical Centre and Golding’s – next up, All Ears.

“Yet more reasons to pop into Bedford and see our beautiful buildings!”

Cllr Andrea Spice, portfolio holder for town centres and planning, said she was delighted to see the impact that the HSHAZ project has had on the town’s historic high street. 

“Many Bedfordians would have grown up admiring the buildings, so it’s inspiring to see the spectacular job our officers and partners have done in improving the properties without moving away from their history that makes them so special,” she said.

“I have been working alongside Mayor Tom Wootton to bring together our Town Centre Vision, which is being launched in the autumn, and this programme lays a great foundation for making Bedford Town Centre a place for everyone to enjoy.”