More For Your Money: Bedford

Many families are drawn to Bedford for its excellent Harpur Trust schools - the good-value houses mean they can afford the fees, too.
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The Independent Online

Thirty miles north of London, the riverside town of Bedford is close enough to the capital to attract commuters but far enough away to be neither too expensive nor too crowded.

Today as in the past, its schools are a big draw. Four of them - two for boys, two for girls - are run by the Harpur Trust, which was founded in 1566. Many of the town's Victorian suburbs grew as a result of families lured to the area by its reputation for education. A year at a Harpur secondary school now costs around £10,000, but grants are available.

"Families can still educate their kids at good public schools here but live inexpensively," says estate agent Gerry Langford, of Taylors Countrywide. "Our market is about 50-50 local and outsiders. The locals tend to be trading up, or are older people moving to smaller properties to release equity. Buyers from outside the area see great commuter links by road as well as rail. Homes are cheaper further north but are too far from London."

The England cricket player Monty Panesar attended Bedford Modern, a Harpur Trust school. The runner Paula Radcliffe grew up in the town, attended Lincroft Middle School and is a member of Bedford Athletic Club.

"We've moved several times in and around Bedford and we now live in Tingrith," says Simon Browning, who also grew up in Bedford, attended a Harpur Trust school and, after living in London while at university, moved back to Bedford 25 years ago to start up his own opticians. "My wife works in London, so we wanted to be nearer the station for her commute. Harlington Station is just minutes away. When we lived in Wilstead, the station was a 30-minute drive for her."

Bedford's population grew rapidly after the Second World War, when bricks were in high demand, and the town's clay-pits provided the raw materials. It is home, too, to a substantial Italian population. Now, the National Institute for Research into Aquatic Habitats (Nirah) wants to transform the pits into a gigantic aquarium.

"This will be big, like the Eden Project in Cornwall," says Browning. "There are also new homes being built. New people will bring new blood into town."

His current favourite amenity is the River Ouse: "I often wander down to the river embankment at lunchtime," he says. "Even on grey winter days, it feels like a holiday."

What do properties cost?

One-bedroomed flats are available for less than £75,000 but average prices are about £100,000 for studios and one-bedders, and £175,000 for three-bedroomed semis. Four-bedroomed houses with double garages start at about £320,000, and executive houses cost about £600,000. Popular village houses top £1m, and large piles with swimming pools that appeal to professional footballers sell for more than £2m.

How good are the transport links?

London is about 45 minutes by train, into St Pancras. There is also a good rail service to the Midlands, to Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield. Luton Airports is 21 miles and Stansted is 45 miles.

... and the shopping?

Bedford's High Road has lost its diversity and vitality, but, says Browning, "shopkeepers are fighting back, paying an additional levy over the business rates to fund rejuvenation projects which have been quite successful". The nearest major shopping, dining and cultural venues are Milton Keynes, Northampton and Cambridge.

What about the schools?

Some state primaries and secondaries achieve well-above-average results, and others don't. Harpur Trust school results are excellent.

And one for the pub quiz

Which two famous historical Bedford figures are associated with the slammer, either local or national?

Eales & Holland, 01234 216612; Haart 01234 218281; Taylors Countrywide, 01234 325081

What you can buy?

Barford, five miles from Bedford


A detached, Victorian house with three bedrooms, two reception rooms, 60ft south-facing garden, conservatory and parking. Taylor Brightwell, 01234 326444

Riverfield, Bedford


A generous modern house with four bedrooms, two bathrooms and double garage. Compass, 0845 402 8978



Three-bedroom terrace with 25ft living room and walled garden near Russell Park. Eales & Hollands, 0845 0715988