Skip Navigation

Welcome to Bedford Borough Council

Home > Guide to Collections > General guide to collections

General guide to collections

This brief overview of our holdings is broken down by subject rather than by collection and will be helpful to anyone wanting to get started. For more detailed information please speak to staff either in person at the office or by telephone or send e-mail us with your detailed query.

Maps & Plans

  • Printed county maps and town plans from 1576 such as the 1610 map of Bedfordshire by John Speed and the 1841 map of Bedford by Reynolds
  • Estate maps including hand-drawn maps and plans of property belonging to the major landowners and estates from as early as 1581 but mainly after 1750
  • Inclosure maps - large-scale maps drawn up in connection with Parliamentary Inclosure Awards, mainly between 1790 and 1840 and often accompanied by lists of names and property
  • Tithe maps - manuscript maps with schedules listing landowners and occupiers, dating from about 1840 (not as common in Bedfordshire as in some other counties due to the preponderance of Inclosure Awards)
  • Ordnance Survey maps - a good coverage of the whole county for OS maps of various scales and dates from c.1835 to date and including 6" and 25" editions of 1880, 1901, 1926 and 1970s
  • Goad Insurance plans for Luton of 1895

Architectural Plans & Drawings

Building plans from several local authorities including Bedford and Dunstable Borough Councils as well as the current District Councils of Bedfordshire and their predecessors, for new buildings and alterations to existing buildings from as early as the 1860s, but the coverage is patchy.

  • Architectural drawings from local firms of architects and builders - for more details see Business Records
  • Plans and drawings of country houses, churches, schools and other major buildings, often backed up by specifications, building accounts, inventories of contents and other documents

Property Records

  • Title deeds and conveyances from as early as 1188 but mainly after 1600.
  • Rating valuation records and rate books from 1576 but mainly 18th and 19th centuries and including the county-wide surveys of 1910 and 1925
  • Land Tax returns beginning in 1797 for most parishes, but with some earlier returns. Terriers and inventories of church property, especially for 1610, 1708 and 1822 - these include descriptions of parsonages. Manorial records, for copyhold and customary tenure of property from medieval times to 1925 for some manors, usually in Latin until 1733 - these are especially good sources for the towns of Biggleswade, Leighton Buzzard and Potton
  • Surveys and rentals - mainly to be found among the archives of landed estates such as the Bedford Estate (Russell) archives, the Wrest Park (Lucas) collection of Southill (Whitbread) papers - see Family & Estate Papers
  • Sale catalogues, auction particulars and estate agents' archives from the early 19th century onwards, often with maps and sometimes with photographs


  • Archives of the Archdeaconry of Bedford, including most of the modern county of Bedfordshire, under the Diocese of Lincoln until 1837 then in Ely until the transfer to St.Albans in 1914 - the records begin in 1537
  • Anglican parish records - held for nearly all ecclesiastical parishes
  • Nonconformist church records with especially good coverage for Methodist, Bunyan Meeting (Congregationalists) and Moravians

Health & Welfare

  • Records of the parish Overseers of the Poor from as early as 1599 to 1834, full of fascinating detail on individual paupers and how they were cared for
    See: Poor Law Records pre 1834
  • Poor Law Union archives from 1834 to the mid 20th century - not just Union Workhouses but help and support for people in need in a variety of ways
    See: Poor Law Union Records
    Poor Law Unions Conspectus
  • Hospital and Lunatic Asylum records from the 19th century including minutes for the hospitals at Bedford and Luton and case papers for the Bedford and Three Counties (Fairfield) mental hospitals see: Hospital Records Part One
    Hospital Records Part Two
    Hospital Records Part Three: Conspectus
  • Charity and welfare society records - local material from the 16th century to the present day
  • Social Services and National Health Service administration since 1947

Crime & Punishment

Court records for the Assizes (mainly 1653-1694), Quarter Sessions (1651-1972) and Petty Sessions (from the 1830s)
Bedford Prison records - detailed records from 1799 (indexed to 1837) and some earlier prison lists

Employment & Recreation

  • Records of local companies - some include wages books and staff records
  • Business records - see Business Records
  • Apprenticeships - information from a number of sources
  • Sports - records of most sports, particularly cricket, football, rugby and tennis from the clubs themselves and from other sources
  • Clubs and societies - many local organisations have deposited their records here and they provide information on social and local events


Local Administration

Minutes and other records of local authorities, boards and committees including the County and District Councils, Parish Councils, Highway Boards etc. from the mid 19th centuryRecords of the former public utilities - gas, water and electricity companies and of the emergency services such as the Fire Service and Police

Military Archives

  • Bedfordshire (later Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire) Regimental archives - few personal records but an excellent collection of photographs and ephemera
  • Bedfordshire Yeomanry, Territorial Association and other local units - administrative records and photographs
  • Personal papers of some local servicemen

Pictorial Material

An extensive collection of photographs, aerial views, prints and images of Bedfordshire and its people - comprehensively indexed