A few weeks back we decided to pop along to the The Higgins, Bedford, and can honestly say it was a good couple of hours, as the entrance is free, definitely worth the visit. It was also mentioned in the Standard recently too :standard top 10 places to visit
The Higgins now houses three attractions, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford Museum and Bedford Gallery in one building in Castle Lane, dating back 200 years. Charles Higgins and his family moved to Bedford in the 1820s, founding a brewery at Castle Lane and building the family home next to it. The family business was very successful and they were important, influential figures within the town for over a hundred years. The brewery remained in the Higgins family until the late 1920s when Cecil Higgins, then over seventy, decided to sell it to Wells & Winch Ltd. in order to focus on his ambition to found a museum. Cecil, who had run the family business for many years, devoted his later life to collecting fine and decorative arts with the aim of founding a museum. The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery opened in 1949 in the house that had been Cecil's family home. Bedford Museum moved into the former Higgins & Sons Brewery building in 1981. The Art Gallery housed the family collection of ceramics, glass and objets d’art. Cecil Higgins left a trust fund to be used for museum purposes, but principally for acquiring works of art ranging from decorative arts to watercolours, furniture and prints.
The Bedford Museum was formed in the 1960s from the collections of Bedford Modern School and Bedford Borough Council and was originally housed in in a former garage and showroom on the Embankment. In the 1970s the former Higgins & Sons Castle Brewery buildings became available. John Turner was appointed Curator in 1974 and he led the transformation of the brewery buildings into the new town museum, which opened its doors to the public in 1981. The museum was merged with the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery in 2005, but both buildings remained essentially separate until the museum closed for redevelopment. The original home of the Higgins family has been developed into The Higgins Bedford. The building, following its recent redevelopment, now contains both the art gallery and museum, which house both permanent and temporary exhibitions. The Museum contains displays of social history, archaeology, natural history and ethnography collections telling the stories of the people and places that have shaped Bedford, and its relationship with the wider world, from prehistory to the present day.
The art gallery and museum are situated in a complex set of historic buildings. As well as the Higgins family home and the Higgins Brewery buildings, there is the Hexagonal Gallery which is the oldest part of the site, and Bedford Gallery, a Grade II listed building. The Hexagonal Gallery was built around 1804 upon the foundations of earthworks from Bedford Castle. The Bedord Gallery was built in the early 1840s. It was originally designed as a club known as the Castle Rooms, for members and supporters of the Whig Party. From 1848, the building was used for various religious gatherings In the early part of the 20th Century it became a billiard hall. For some time during World War Two, the BBC Music Department is believed to have used Bedford Gallery as a rehearsal room and recording studio.
Things to see
Check out the temporary exhibitions, as well as the permanent one, all are on the web site.
One of the temporary exhibitions was Bedford's War Machines and there was a lovely miniature scene created by Bedfrod's U3A, I just could resist taking a couple of photos.
The Higgins Bedford was refitted throughout during the redevelopment. Visitors can now enjoy watercolour, print and decorative art collections of international significance, including major collections of works by William Burges and Edward Bawden. More local collections tell the story of Bedford and its people through archaeological finds, natural history, geology and social history.
The William Burges Collection’s can be found in the high-ceilinged hexagonal gallery. Burges, one of the most imaginative architects of the 19th Century, filled his buildings with richly-painted furniture, metalwork, ceramics and stained glass, all with his unique take on medieval style. One of the showpieces of the redevelopment, the William Burges Gallery features the art gallery and museum's world-renowned collection of painted furniture designed by Burges for his own use.
The artist designer Edward Bawden was one of the most influential artists of his generation. For the first time the Higgins’ collection of murals, prints, illustrations, wallpapers, textiles and watercolours, which made up the contents of Bawden’s studio, are housed together in this new gallery. There are regular changing exhibitions providing an insight into this artist’s work.
Other exhibits on display include items from the Higgins' collections including textiles, furniture, metalwork and glassware. The Higgins’ home remained in the family for almost a hundred years and contains displays that introduce the family and explore Cecil Higgins’ collection in terms of how the objects might have originally been used.
There is a gallery devoted to the Settlement of the local area. This gallery highlights the human journey through time. Objects, collections and people tell their own story about Bedford, its rivers and its countryside. The journey begins millions of years ago when the land was covered by ancient seas, inhabited by strange creatures, and reveals the forces of nature that have shaped the landscape. When the seas receded, new creatures including early humans began to inhabit the area. Through the objects on display it is possible to gain an understanding of how people worked, lived, played and worshipped from the earliest times up to the Middle Ages. Intertwined within this thread are invaders from now lost empires, seafarers who came to raid and trade, powerful religious houses and vanishing castles. The gallery focuses on some of the most important stories drawn from the Museum's archaeological collections.
A further gallery continues the story of Bedfordshire and its people's history. It explores Bedford and its growth from a small but busy medieval market town to a centre of industry and business today. Bedfordshire's agricultural and engineering heritage is celebrated with a focus on J. & F. Howard's Britannia Ironworks, W. H. Allen's Queen's Engineering Works, and the brickworks. The town and countryside and the people who live in Bedfordshire have all changed significantly over the centuries. The displays feature local people and show how they have responded to events, including the Agricultural Revolution, the coming of the railways, the growth of Victorian Bedford, the Second World War, newcomers looking for work and modern commercial and technology industries.
How to get there: Leave Ampthill on B530 heading north up Bedford Street. Carry on the B530 until you eventually come to a set of traffic lights on the outskirts of Bedford – at the lights turn left into Ampthill Road (A5141) and drive straight along the A5141 until you reach a roundabout. Take the second exit onto Rope Walk. At the next roundabout, take the second exit onto Longholme Way – after a short distance you will cross the river, take the next left into The Embankment. Keep going along The Embankment until you reach the junction with Newham Road (on your right) – turn at the mini-roundabout into Newham Road. You will come to a junction, turn left into Castle Lane – follow this road round to the left and you will find The Higgins on your left. The Sat Nav postcode is MK40 3XD but there are brown signs if you don't have a sat nav. It takes about half an hour (9 miles) depending on traffic conditions.
Arrival: There are 4 car parking spaces at the entrance of The Higgins for visitors with Blue Badges. There is pay and display parking spaces along the Embankment (max. stay 2 hours) and the nearest public car park is at Lurke Street, just 5 minutes walk from The Higgins. Alternatively, there is a Park and Ride service from Elstow, with frequent buses into the Town Centre. On Saturdays 2 hours are free in Council owned car parks.
Parking in Bedford