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Railings at the Swan Hotel

A Grade II Listed Building in Castle, Bedford

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Latitude: 52.1348 / 52°8'5"N

Longitude: -0.4655 / 0°27'55"W

OS Eastings: 505124

OS Northings: 249611

OS Grid: TL051496

Mapcode National: GBR G25.340

Mapcode Global: VHFQ7.WL8T

Plus Code: 9C4X4GMM+WR

Entry Name: Railings at the Swan Hotel

Listing Date: 14 May 1971

Last Amended: 10 February 2023

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1321006

English Heritage Legacy ID: 35521

ID on this website: 101321006

Location: Bedford, Bedfordshire, MK40

County: Bedford

Electoral Ward/Division: Castle

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Bedford

Traditional County: Bedfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Bedfordshire

Church of England Parish: Bedford St Paul

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans

Tagged with: Guard rail

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Railings of the Swan Hotel, erected in the early or mid-C19.


Railings of the Swan Hotel, erected in the early or mid-C19.

MATERIALS: the railings are cast-iron, and the plinth wall ashlar stone.

PLAN: the railings run east-west along the south side of the Swan Hotel for approximately 40m.

EXTERIOR: the cast-iron railings stand on a cushioned plinth wall constructed of ashlar stone. The railings comprise a repeated series of 9 cast-iron swanneck balusters and a rectangular margined panel, all unified by a top rail with two pointed finials over each baluster.


Bedford lies in the shallow valley of the River Great Ouse, and from the Middle Saxon period evidence appears for the beginnings of a settlement at ‘Beda’s ford’, a key river crossing point. The Middle Saxon core of Bedford developed on the north side of the river with an early street pattern (still recognisable) and was surrounded by a defensive ditch. In the C10 and C11, Bedford was important both as a trading centre, with coins minted in the town, and as the central burh of the shire. The town’s main north-south route, comprising what is now High Street to the north of the river and St Mary’s and St John’s Streets to the south of the river, was developed by this time. After 1066, Bedford became a stronghold of the new Norman regime and during the reign of William II, a motte and bailey castle was built in a strategic position on the north bank of the river and then rebuilt in stone. A period of unrest, however, led to a siege of the castle in 1224 and, when it fell, Henry III ordered it to be dismantled. Despite political struggles, the town experienced a period of consolidation during the Norman and Medieval periods, when local commerce flourished and religious houses and hospitals were founded. The population of the town was decimated by the Black Death in the C14, and a new river crossing at Great Barford undermined the local economy by drawing traffic and trade away from the town. There was little further growth and the town was largely contained within its Saxon framework, as can be seen from John Speed’s map of Bedford dated 1610.

The dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII dealt a further blow to the town’s prosperity but its fortunes began to revive with the receipt of letters patent from Edward VI, allowing the foundation of a grammar school. Bedford also benefitted from the River Navigation Act, which made the River Great Ouse navigable between Bedford and King’s Lynn (completed in 1689). The town became the headquarters of Cromwell’s army between 1646 and 1647 and the puritan influence established during the Civil War lived on after the Declaration of Indulgence in 1672, when the town became a centre for non-conformist preachers such as John Bunyan. Despite this prosperity, Bedford remained of modest size through to the end of the C18, as illustrated on Thomas Jefferys’ map of 1765. An Improvement Act in 1803 allowed for the erection of a new river bridge between 1811 and 1813 (widened in 1938), and clearance of the Market Square. Continuing prosperity in the early C19 was accompanied by modest growth, but by far the most dramatic expansion of Bedford followed the building of the Midland railway in 1873, linking the town with London, and associated industrialisation. In the early years of the C20, some houses in the town centre were replaced by department stores, banks and cinemas to serve the expanding population; The Arcade was built and other properties in and around the centre were converted to shops and offices. The High Street is characterised by narrow three and four-storey frontages, with long buildings, closes and yards occupying medieval burgage plots to the rear, those on the eastern side of High Street being particularly long.

The Swan Hotel was built between 1794 and 1796 for Francis Russell, the 5th Duke of Bedford, as a hotel and political office of the Duke. The new edifice was constructed on the site of a C16 timber-framed coaching inn, known as the Swan Inn, which served as Bedford’s first post office in 1678 and was acquired by the 5th Duke in 1787. The new hotel was designed by Henry Holland (1745-1806), a well-known architect to the English nobility who designed many country houses for the whig elite and laid out parts of Knightsbridge and Chelsea. Holland’s design originally had two flanking gates to the north and south; the south gate can be seen in a view of Bedford Bridge by Matthiason in 1824; the print does not appear to show the railings running along the south side of the building. A historic photograph of the hotel taken by J Barnard, possibly around 1870, shows the south gate and railings before the south gate was removed around 1880 to create the Embankment. It appears that the railings were moved closer to the building as part of the road widening, with a rounded southwest corner added. The railings are shown in their current position on a historic photo of the waterfront taken in 1897 (Francis Frith), and on the 1901 Ordnance Survey map.

Reasons for Listing

The railings at the Swan Hotel are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* added to the riverside elevation of the Swan Hotel in the early to mid-C19, they compliment the architectural quality of the late-C18 hotel.

Historic interest:

* for their contribution to the architectural quality and diversity of Bedford’s historic High Street.

Group value:

* for their functional and historic group value with the attached Swan Hotel (Grade II*).

External Links

External links are from the relevant listing authority and, where applicable, Wikidata. Wikidata IDs may be related buildings as well as this specific building. If you want to add or update a link, you will need to do so by editing the Wikidata entry.

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