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Home > Community and living > Archives and records service > Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service


Blars Centenary logo gold

The Bedfordshire Record Office, as it was formerly known, was established in 1913 by Dr George Herbert Fowler  and was the first County record office in England.  We hold the archives for the entire County dating from 1166 to the present day.

 We are based in the Riverside Building |at Borough Hall, Bedford, where visitors are welcome to come in and use the archives for research without appointment at any time during our opening hours of 9 - 7 Monday and 9 - 5 Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday (We are closed on all Bank Holidays). Staff are on hand to help and advise you.

Please note: Due to circumstances beyond our control the service will be short of staff for the foreseeable future. With this in mind we would be grateful if, from now on, anyone wanting to visit us would let us know in advance. Please contact us by telephone (01234-228833) or e-mail ( saying when you would like to visit and an idea of what material you would like to see. We hope to be able to accommodate your visit but may have to advise you that we will be better able to meet your needs on another day.

At busy times we would ask you to be patient if documents ordered from the stackroom are not made available within five minutes or if we take a little longer to give you our attention when you have a query.

We are collaborating with local history societies to commemorate the Centenary of the First World War|.

If you want to prepare for your visit you can search over 75% of our catalogues| online. If you are unable to visit us in person we offer an enquiry & research service|.

Explore the World in Bedfordshire Archives

World Map

Our new online exhibition| highlights some of the archives held by BLARS which show the impact of Bedfordshire people world wide, and the influence of the wider world on Bedfordshire. For centuries people have been migrating to and from the County, businesses have traded far and wide, and travellers have recorded their experiences in letters and photographs.

Opening the Archives to Bedfordshire Schools

Heritage Lottery Fund Logo 

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has been granted £82,400 by The Heritage Lottery Fund by employ a Learning Officer for three years to work with Bedfordshire schools. The officer will work in Luton for the academic year 2013-14, in Bedford Borough in 2014-15 and in Central Bedfordshire in 2015-16. The Learning Officer will work with primary and secondary schools of all types – LEA controlled, academies, free schools and private schools. If you would like more information about this exciting project please contact us|.

Follow us on Twitter!

We can now be followed on!/BedsArchives|  for regular updates of new catalogues, web pages and events.


Levi Welch [QGV10-4-150]

Records of Bedford Gaol

This chap is one of the most notorious criminals detained in Bedford Gaol| in the 19th century, Levi Welch |from Luton. Only a fraction of the prisoners had their photo taken - those deemed  habitual or frequent offenders -  but 41,500 descriptive records of the prisoners in Bedford gaol in the 19th Century are available on our online database|Please note that recent versions of Internet Explorer will not work with the database and searches will return no results. If this happens please use an alternative browser.


Paths to Crime

The exciting  Paths to Crime| two year project to catalogue the Bedfordshire Quarter Sessions Rolls from 1831-1900 is now complete. To celebrate the completion of the project we have launched two Paths to Crime Walks| where you can follow a trail through history in Harrold, Odell and Sharnbrook.

Objectives of the Archive Service: 
  • To collect and preserve, as part of a national network of archive repositories, in secure and environmentally controlled conditions, a comprehensive and evolving archive illustrating all aspects of Bedfordshire life and history including contemporary records of archival value.

  • To encourage public and community access to the records by processing archives and producing a range of finding aids, both in hard copy and on the world wide web; providing a public Searchroom service; offering a ‘one stop shop’ service point for all  enquiries about the County’s land, people and their
    activities as the sole repository for Bedfordshire’s written heritage

  • To promote use of the archives for business (legal and administrative), educational, cultural and recreational purposes

What are the ‘archives’ and ‘records’ we hold and who uses them?

 ‘Archives’ are written documents which were once working ‘records’ and have come to be preserved, often after selection (‘appraisal’ as we call it), for research and/or historical purposes. They represent the recorded memory of the organisation or individual which created them but also have a wider significance in terms of the information they contain for researchers.

The Archives held by the Service span over 800 years  and come from official and private sources. They include public records, local government archives and other official papers, church records, and archives from local families, businesses, societies and individuals. We also have extensive collections of maps, pictures and newspapers. To find out more about the variety of records held here browse our Guides to Collections| , Newsletter Articles| and Summary List of our Archive Holdings.|

The Archives are available to all. Anyone who wants to see them or obtain information may visit us. Researchers can use the material directly  as visitors on-site to the searchroom| (‘the research room‘) where you can see, handle and use the original records and where trained staff will help you to find what you want and give advice on your research. People who are unable to visit can make contact |by telephone, letter, fax and e-mail and use our enquiry and research service| . Increasingly, people are able to consult our archive catalogues |on the internet. Many others benefit indirectly from the products of direct research by the use of text and images in publications, marketing and advertising, media research and reporting.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service actively encourages access to the records in its care. However, sometimes records are embargoed (closed) – or may not otherwise be available - for example they may contain confidential or sensitive information, and access is restricted under the Data Protection rules.

There is no admission charge for visitors, and you do not have to pay to see the archives and records we hold. You will have to pay for any copying|, and for research work |which is carried out for you by staff. See our Scale of Charges| for full details.

We are committed to exploiting the potential of information technology and the internet, particularly in eventually placing all our archive catalogues on-line| so they can be consulted and index searched by the widest possible range of users. It is hoped that all our catalogues will be on line by 2015. We also have a popular online database of 19th Century prisoners| in Bedford gaol.

We have been working to bring the history of Bedfordshire's towns, villages & hamlets online in our Community Archives| section.

A records management service| was established in 1989 to serve the internal record keeping needs of Bedfordshire County Council, and since April 2009 has served the three unitary councils. The service has become a national leader in detailed appraisal, listing and indexing of Council archives; these are a vital 20th Century source for areas such as education, social conditions, house histories, and local history through the planning process and the Fire Service. Records with such historical value are transferred to the archives for permanent preservation.

Since 1st April 2009 the Archive Service has been jointly funded by the three councils: Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Luton Borough.

Archive Service Annual Report

View our 2012 - 2013 Annual Report  here| (pdf)