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Cecil Higgins Museum and Art Gallery

Castle Close House in 1941 [Z50/13/278]
Castle Close House in 1941 [Z50/13/278]

Charles Higgins established his brewery in Castle Lane in the 1830s. The site was owned by the Duke of Bedford and Higgins leased it. He took his son George as a business partner. At the same time W. Berrill drew up specifications for the building of a dwelling house to be built alongside the brewery. George Higgins was to have built a house with an entrance hall, two good parlours and a smaller one, six bedrooms, kitchens and other offices. The foundations were to be eighteen inch thick stonework and fourteen inch brickwork floors. The partitions were to be framed with memel and Dantzig fir timber at a cost of not less than £1,200 and to complete the Club Room that was partially built in 1840 [HF40/5/2/2].

 The site of Castle Close House in 1836
The site of Castle Close House in 1836

However, the building of the Brewery proved very expensive and the House was still not built in 1842. Thomas Bennett in a letter of 2nd March 1842 states that "the Malting, Brewery and Plant had cost him about £8,000 but of this the plant and trade fixtures were about £2,000 leaving the cost of the building £6,000" [R3/4676] - more than the Brewery and dwellinghouse together were budgeted to cost! Another letter of 24th June 1842 states: "Higgins was forced to mortgage the property to the Ouse Navigation because of the outlay required for building his Brewery together with buying and building Public Houses, Beershops etc. exhausted his spare capital and to buy other houses to make and increase his trade, he has had to borrow money" [R3/4578/2].

The Ouse Navigation at this time was trying to establish a wharf at Bedford much to the annoyance of the local tradesmen. The Navigation was keen to use the site of the house and garden for this wharf, using the recently widened and arched over watercourses running between the house and Newnham Road. The scheme fizzled out, however, due to the hostility of the town to it. Higgins, therefore, reverted to his former plan and built Castle Close House (now part of Cecil Higgins Museum and Art Gallery) which was not completed until February 1846 when it was rated for the first time.

Castle Close House in 1881 
Castle Close House in 1881

In 1884-1885 John Usher, well-known Bedford architect, prepared plans for a new drainage system for Castle Close House [CDE38]. Lawrence Read Colburne Higgins and Cecil Charles Norman Colburne Higgins, sons of George Higgins, had taken over the brewery and firm in 1883 on their father's death and lived at Castle Close House until 1909. In 1908 Higgins and Sons Limited bought the site of their brewery, as well as the house and the remains of Bedford Castle from the Duke of Bedford for £13,250 [R6/5/20/23/1]

In 1909 the house was offered together with the garden down to the Embankment to Bedford Corporation for £12,000 [X369/31]. The Corporation turned the offer down and the house was leased to Edward Colby Sharpin, a physician and surgeon. Lawrence Higgins died in May 1930 in Bedford. Cecil then used his personal fortune to collect china, glass and period furniture. He died on 9th April 1941 at Exmouth [Devon] but was buried in Bedford Cemetery. He left an estate of £163,033/9/7. The greater part of this, together with his collections and Castle Close House, was left in trust to found a museum for Bedford and the Cecil Higgins Museum and Art Gallery opened in 1949. The museum and art gallery remains in residence at the time of writing [2009].

Castle Close House (behind the Castle Rooms) in 1901
Castle Close House (behind the Castle Rooms) in 1901