The Higgins Bedford
The Higgins Bedford unites on one site three previous cultural venues : Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford Museum and Bedford Gallery. The buildings themselves date back 200 years and have their own rich history of occupation and use, even before they became used for their more recent cultural past.
Castle Close, c.1955
Cecil Higgins Museum circa 1955
The Higgins Family And Castle Lane
The site at Castle Lane, the Higgins family and the development of the art gallery and museum are intrinsically linked. Charles Higgins and his family moved to Bedford in the 1820s, founding the brewery at Castle Lane and building the family home next to it. The family business was very successful and they were important, influential figures within the town for over a hundred years. The brewery remained in the Higgins family until the late 1920s when Cecil Higgins, then over seventy, decided to sell it to Wells & Winch Ltd. in order to focus on his ambition to found a museum.
The Higgins Castle Brewery c.1895
Higgins Brewery circa 1895
Whilst the Higgins name is not as synonymous with Bedford as Bunyan, Harpur or Howard, the family fits well within this line of philanthropists. As well as founding the brewery, Charles Higgins (c.1789-1862) was a successful Liberal politician and Mayor of Bedford. During his tenure as Mayor he was presented with a silver salver (now on display in the Mayor's Parlour) recording the "zeal, ability and humanity extended by him" during the cholera epidemic of 1849.
Following Charles Higgins' lead, the Higgins family remained devoted to Bedford life. George Higgins (1816-1883), Cecil's father, was a Justice of the Peace, a member of the Town Council and a Trustee of the Harpur Charity. Lawrence (1849-1930), Cecil's brother, was also a Justice of the Peace, and Cecil (1856-1941) was a local magistrate for many years.
Cecil ran the family business for many years but devoted his later life to collecting fine and decorative arts with the aim of founding a museum "for the benefit, interest and education of the inhabitants of, and visitors to Bedford". Cecil Higgins Art Gallery opened in 1949 in the house that had been Cecil's family home. Bedford Museum moved into the former Higgins & Sons Brewery building in 1981.
History of the Site
The art gallery and museum inhabit a complex set of historic buildings. As well as the Higgins family home and the Higgins Brewery buildings, there is the Hexagonal Gallery which is the oldest part of the site, and Bedford Gallery, a Grade II listed building.
The Higgins Bedford