INAUGURAL MEETING OF ‘BUNYAN ROUND TABLE’ IN BEDFORD
On 23 November 2017, a ‘Bunyan Round Table’ meeting was held at the Swan Hotel in Bedford. Organised and chaired by Ruth Broomhall, it brought together a group of about twenty people with particular interests in Bunyan. Two key issues were discussed. The first was how the profile of Bunyan, and knowledge about him, might be raised and sustained among local people in Bedford and Bedfordshire. The second was how tourist interest in Bunyan might be stimulated, and how visitors to Bedford might be given a richer sense of Bunyan’s importance in the history of the town than is offered at present.
There was general agreement at the meeting that much more could be done to make Bunyan and his Pilgrim’s Progress central to his home town of Bedford in the way that Shakespeare has become central to Stratford-upon-Avon. For example, road signs to Bedford and railway signs could highlight the link with his name and book. Other discussion focussed on ways of enhancing the experience of visitors to Bedford, by, for example, providing a coherent ‘Bunyan Pilgrimage’ package of information and activities, highlighting his literary, historical, and religious significance, taking in sites in Bedford, Elstow and other places. The specific needs of groups of visitors were also discussed. It was suggested that there might be a special ‘Bunyan Bus’ to take such groups to places associated with Bunyan, and that a series of ‘events’, including exhibitions, activities and talks for groups, might be laid on during the main tourist season.
Ruth Broomhall spoke about her own efforts to bring The Pilgrim’s Progress back into school classrooms in Bedford. She has recently published The Pilgrim’s Progress: A Curriculum for Schools, accompanied by a frieze illustrating the story for display on a classroom wall. These materials are designed to help teachers to bring the story to life for primary school children (see her website: palacebeautiful.co.uk.) One idea discussed at the meeting was the possibility of producing a more extensive ‘Bunyan Pack’ for distribution to Bedford schools. This might include a copy of the Curriculum for Schools together with other material such as a children’s version of The Pilgrim’s Progress, and resources such as Peter Morden’s biography of Bunyan, The People’s Pilgrim.
It was agreed that this inaugural meeting had been extremely useful in drawing together people who were already working to promote knowledge of Bunyan to share ideas about more effective coordination of and support for these efforts. It was agreed to explore the possibility of setting up a not-for-profit/charitable organisation, led by representatives of Elstow Abbey and Bunyan Meeting as the two key Bunyan historical sites. This organisation could then seek grants for specific projects and activities of the kinds discussed. A second meeting of the Bunyan Round Table will be held in February 2018. Further information may be obtained by contacting Ruth Broomhall at: email@example.com.
‘Bunyan Round Table’ group on the staircase from Houghton House, Ampthill (often thought to have inspired ‘Palace Beautiful’) now at The Bedford Swan Hotel.