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John Bunyan


The refurbished Bunyan Library and new Reading Room were Officially Opened on 6th May 2010.

In addition to more than two hundred foreign language editions of Bunyan’s most celebrated work, The Pilgrim’s Progress, there are books by many other distinguished authors about Bunyan and his life and times. The variety of publications includes Braille, Pitman’s shorthand and Esperanto.

The library also contains contemporary works, and extensive historical background, including the history of Bunyan Meeting and other Nonconformist churches.

It has also become home to the library of the Congregational History Society, a collection of books and papers covering the history of local Congregational churches and county associations, ministerial training and the ‘Surman Index’, a biographical index of thousands of Congregational ministers from the sixteenth century to the present day and some Presbyterian ministers from the sixteenth to the eighteen century.

Access to the library is by appointment only, through the Curator Nicola Sherhod 01234 270303
or email curator@bunyan

Visit the Bunyan Meeting & Museum website here

One of the first things a visitor to the centre of Bedford sees is a handsome bronze statue of John Bunyan, looking upwards, and holding a book in his hand. Situated at the north end of the High Street, on St Peter’s Green, the statue was erected in 1874. It was a gift to the town by the Duke of Bedford, designed to commemorate the greatest writer to have been born in Bedfordshire.

Bunyan is famous as a prisoner of conscience, who was prepared to spend twelve years of his life in prison because he refused to submit to the power of the state to dictate how he should worship. But he is famous also as the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the greatest classics in the English language. First published in 1678, with a second part added in 1684, this amazing book has never been out of print.

In September 2004, as President of the International John Bunyan Society, I had the great pleasure of welcoming some 70 delegates from a dozen countries across the world who had gathered in Bedford for the fourth triennial conference of the society. Among the distinguished guests at the opening reception was Terry Waite. He spoke movingly of his own experiences as a prisoner in the Lebanon, and of his extraordinary encounter with Bunyan on a postcard sent to him by a woman in Bedford, and which, miraculously, had got through to him in his prison cell. The image reproduced on the postcard was the stained glass window in the Bunyan Meeting Free Church in Bedford – an image that has since become known throughout the world.

So who was John Bunyan, and why has his book become such a classic? He lived from 1628 to 1688 – a period of momentous political, social and religious change. In 1642 while he was still a boy, tensions between King Charles I and Parliament erupted into a bloody Civil War. It ended with the defeat and execution of the king, and the establishment of a republic under Oliver Cromwell. Even though the monarchy was restored in 1660, things could never be the same again. England was transformed from a country where the King aspired to absolute rule, and the Church of England was the only authorised place of public worship, to one where Parliament had ultimate power over the central government and where, eventually – thanks in large part to the heroic witness of people like Bunyan – nonconformists were allowed to worship freely.

Bunyan served as a soldier in the Parliamentary army towards the end of the Civil War. His most important intellectual development took place in the ferment of radical preaching and pamphleteering that characterised the English Revolution. Following a prolonged religious crisis in the early 1650s he experienced a religious conversion. He became a preacher himself, and began to publish sermons, theological treatises and poems. When King Charles II regained the throne in 1660, a determined attempt was made to suppress religious dissenters like Bunyan, who were perceived as a threat to social order. Parliament passed a law forbidding worship outside the established Church of England. Bunyan refused to give up preaching, and spent twelve years -- one third of his adult life -- locked up in Bedford gaol as a consequence. Read More

W. R. Owens, University of Bedfordshire.

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