There are few pleasures like exploring an unfamiliar town on foot for the first time. A new series of posts on this website, In Praise of Ordinary Places, will look at Middle England towns that are overlooked by tourists (Oxford, Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon need not apply). This is the antidote to Crap Towns. I’ll speak as I find and won’t overlook ugliness, tackiness and misery. But I’ll also celebrate authenticity, unexpected surprises, and the ordinariness of places that rarely feature in Best Places to Live contests. First up: Bedford.
Donald Trump lives in Bedford.
Bedford NY that is, until he moved into the White House in January (his neighbours there include actors Chevy Chase, Glenn Close, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Blake Lively, Ryan Reynolds, Bruce Willis, Kate and Rooney Mara and the designer Ralph Lauren).
In the US there are more than a dozen Bedfords, two of them in New York state. As well as Trump’s swanky outlying suburb, 40 miles north of Manhattan, NYC itself has Bedford Stuyvesant, a traditionally African-American district of Brooklyn, now being rapidly gentrified. The Bedford is one of Chicago’s most exclusive cocktail bars. It’s a Wonderful Life was set in the fictional town of Bedford Falls.
Just about every large western city has a suburb called Bedford, and Bedford Hotels – in Brighton, London, Sidmouth, Tavistock, Blackpool, Brussels, South Africa – are almost as ubiquitous as the Hotel Bristol. Bedford is a brand name that crops up on just about everything – a millennial blog template, a guitar made in Sheffield, an American wine importer, a Californian clothing retailer, a 1960s television set and a new e-cigarette brand, Bedford Slims. From the 1930s to the 90s Bedford was a British truckmaker, later renamed Vauxhall by its owner General Motors (even Vauxhall’s Griffin logo has its origins in Bedfordshire: it is derived from the heraldic crest of Falkes de Breauté, who was granted the Manor of Luton by King John, and whose London home Fulk’s Hall lent its name to the district of Vauxhall). Continue reading