Tuesday, February 10, 2009


On Sunday evening I attended a wonderful Legacy Concert at Bedford Corn Exchange performed by 200 Bedfordshire school children, celebrating the history and achievements of Bedfordshire County Council over the past 120 years. It was a fitting tribute from Bedfordshire Music Service and the award winning Bedfordshire & Luton Archive Service, both of which have well deserved national reputations for providing a first class public service .

Nigel Lutt, the County Archivist was the Narrator, telling us some fascinating historical stories, while we watched a series of old photographs and listened to a superb selection of music from each era from our very talented young musicians and singers. They had braved the snow last week to prepare for this special concert.

The Concert opened with Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No.4 and Nigel described the era 1889-1902, when Queen Victoria ruled over 25% of the world and Bedfordshire's population was only 160,000. Next we had 3 lively Gilbert & Sullivan pieces. The Leader of the Council, as the Lord High Executioner from The Mikado, read out her "Little List" of people, none of whom would be missed, including some well known Bedford figures, local journalists, rogue bankers and talkshow hosts.

Nigel told us about the period 1902-1919 when Frank Spooner, the Director of Education ran off with £5k of County Educational Funds about the time the Titanic sank, so it did not make the main headlines! In 1904, 400 driving licences were issued, including 3 to intrepid women, and dog licences were introduce in 1908.

The Legacy Orchestra then played William Walton's Facade Suite and we moved into the next age 1919-1939. In 1922 Amy Walmsley was the first female County Councillor and in the 1920's the Library and Adult Education Services were started and the first school meals were provided at Sharnbrook School in 1925.

Then it was 1939-1953. Children were evacuated to Bedfordshire to escape the London bombing during the War and in 1944 the last Glenn Miller Concert was held in Bedford before he disappeared in a plane over France. During the 1951 Festival of Britain, Moot Hall in Elstow was restored and John Bunyan's birthplace in Elstow was marked by a stone monument. After the interval we had a Glenn Miller selection from the Legacy Wind Band, who also played a lively Beatles medley to mark the 1953-1970 period. In 1957 Harold MacMillan, Prime Minister made a famous speech in Bedford using his famous phrase "Most people have never had it so good" . In 1959 the M1 Motorway was opened and Mander College, now Bedford College, was built by the County Council. The New County Hall was opened in 1970 by the Duchess of Kent.

So then it was 1970-1996 and Local Government Reorganisation in 1974 and the creation of the new Bedford Borough Council. Frank Branston, now the Mayor of Bedford, started his Bedford on Sunday newspaper in 1974. In 1983-86 a long, fierce and successful campaign was fought to stop NIREX from dumping nuclear waste in Elstow. In 1993, Bedfordshire Archive & Record Service received its 1st Charter Mark. Our next musical item was from the Dhol Drumming Group from Kymbrook Lower School - a small but very enthusiastic group of very young musicians.

So finally to 1996-2009 and we had the Legacy Choir and Rock Band performing Eric Clapton and a very emotional rendering of Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up". In 1997 Luton Borough Council became a Unitary Council, and Bedfordshire County Council went through a difficult period, rated a Poor Authority in 2003. However after the appointment of a new Chief Executive in 2004, the Council was transformed in 3 years from Poor to Good, moving from 0 Stars to 3 Stars. Its success was described by The Times as "A comeback of Lazarus proportions".

The Legacy Concert ended with a rousing rendition of the Queen Bohemian Rhapsody by the combined Legacy Orchestra, Wind and Rock Bands and Choir who received a standing ovation from a very appreciative audience. Bedfordshire Music now engages 50,000 children and adults in a range of musical activities, quite remarkable when you note that there are only 63,000 school children in Bedfordshire.

As a result of the latest Local Government Reorganisation, the Labour Government has decided that the County Council will be abolished on 31 March 2009, to be replaced by 2 new Unitary Councils, Bedford Borough and Central Beds. However, fortunately both Bedfordshire Music and the Bedfordshire and Luton Archive & Record Service will be retained as "Shared Services" and will continue to provide an excellent service.

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