Is a small, low‐lying, and predominantly agricultural county, drained largely by the river Ouse. In pre‐Roman times it formed part of the kingdom of the Catuvellauni. In 571 a victory of the English over the Britons seems to have secured the northern parts of the area for the kingdom of the Middle Angles, and later for Mercia. In the 9th cent., Alfred, king of Wessex, divided the region with Guthrum, the Danish leader, who took the eastern lands. Forty years later, it was recovered by Edward the Elder, king of Wessex, who fortified the town of Bedford in 919. It succumbed once more to the Danes in the early 11th cent. By that time Bedfordshire was taking shape as a county and was mentioned in the Anglo‐Saxon Chronicle for 1011. Bedford itself commanded an important river crossing over the Ouse, and was the point from which the river was navigable by barges.
Despite its nearness to London, Bedfordshire remained something of a backwater. The cottage industry of straw‐plaiting brought a modest prosperity, but in 1793 John Byng described Bedford as a ‘vile, unimproved place’. The 19th cent. saw dramatic changes. By 1851 Luton had overtaken Bedford as the largest town. A boost to the local economy was the coming of the railways: the line from Bedford to St Pancras opened in 1868. Brick‐making developed as an alternative to the declining hat trade and Luton turned to engineering. The Vauxhall car company established its headquarters in the town in 1907. By 1961 Bedford's population had risen to 63,000, Luton's to 131,000.