The Redevelopment Plans

This plan offers an outline to our current thinking on the redevelopment. The images and plans featured here are at the draft stage only and are not intended to be detailed visuals of the final designs. All the detail is currently being worked up by the curatorial staff.

You can find answers to all our Frequently Asked Questions here

Read and download our leaflet here

Cecil Higgins Art Gallery and Bedford Museum’s collections are diverse and wide-ranging. Our visitors can enjoy watercolour, print and decorative art collections of international significance, including major collections of works by the extravagant Gothic Revival architect, William Burges, and 20th century British artist and designer, Edward Bawden.

Local collections tell the story of Bedford and its people through important archaeological finds, natural history, geology and social history. Important too are small but significant world archaeology and ethnography collections. 

The courtyard will form a single visitor entrance into the Art Gallery and Museum. From here, visitors will be able to access the café or the glass-fronted, double-height entrance foyer. Foyer The foyer will house the reception desk and shop, as well as providing a further route into the café. It will also act as the key orientation space, with clear, well designed signage that helps visitors to determine their preferred route around the galleries and other facilities. One section of the foyer will be used to house the Adams Mail Phaeton car, a key iconic object in the collections. A further display will introduce the Higgins Family, whose brewery and home now house the Art Gallery and Museum, and Cecil Higgins, whose collection of fine and decorative arts formed the basis of the Art Gallery.

Collection Gallery
The Collection Gallery will aim to celebrate the breadth and diversity of the collections. It will explore the role of individual collectors in the formation of the Art Gallery and Museum, what this tells us about Bedford’s relationship with the rest of the world, and how collecting is still central to our role. It will also offer a chance to better integrate the collections by allowing opportunities for comparison and contrast. Furthermore, it will increase access to a greater proportion of the collection and highlight little-known collections of international significance.

The central part of the gallery will be the Collectors Area, which will explore what collecting is and the role of individual collectors in the development of the Museum. A key strand will be the formation of the Bedford Modern School Museum and an emphasis on the stories of its collectors as people playing a role in the story of Bedford. Running along one side of this central space will be a full-height case featuring a stand-out display of our ethnography collection. This will be split into four themes: ‘ceremony and tradition’, ‘toys and games’, ‘gifts and exchange’ and ‘dress and ornamentation’. The objects will be displayed in the context of the Bedfordians who collected them, how, when and why, as well as what the objects may have meant to the people who originally made and used them.

Place Gallery 1
Place Gallery 1, arranged broadly chronologically, will aim to develop a ‘sense of place’ by telling the story of the development of Bedford and the impact of human activity on the landscape. The gallery will take the visitor through Bedford’s geological past and into palaeolithic, neolithic and mesolithic Bedford. It will look what life was like in the Bronze and Iron Ages, and the changes brought  by the Romans, Saxons and Vikings, before taking the visitor to Medieval Bedford.
Place Gallery 2
Place Gallery 2 will be an active, open and engaging gallery that aims to develop a ‘sense of place’ by telling the story of the development of Bedford and the impact of human activity on the landscape from the late Medieval period through to the present day. It will do so through the following themes:
• Town and County
• Agricultural Revolution
• Trade and Communications
• Industry
• Victorian Bedford
• Wartime Bedford
• Modern Bedford

People Gallery

Leading on from the Place Galleries, which will focus on the development of Bedford and the impact of human activity on the landscape, the People Gallery will focus specifically on stories of the people of Bedford, including the role of local characters and celebrities in the history of the local area, as well as exploring the development of Bedford’s cultural mix with the themes 'The Old', 'The Famous' and 'The New'.

Each area will feature a curved ‘installation’ style display with small display cases designed to hold objects relating to individual people. The displays will be rotated to feature the stories of different people – in order to achieve this, the graphic panels will be designed to change as easily as possible. In addition, pull-out drawers, activity points and audio will provide further ways of engaging with the stories told here.

Edward Bawden Gallery
The Edward Bawden Gallery will house the great extent of the Edward Bawden collection, which numbers around 3,000 objects. It will provide access to an exciting and stimulating resource for both art and design students and the general public. The design will include the following: a flexible hanging system on the gallery walls to allow rotating, themed displays of framed works; accessible drawer units holding examples of Bawden’s commercial design work and book illustration; desk-top cases and an AV presentation exploring Bawden’s linocut technique; a display case housing ceramics designed by Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious; a plinth housing Bawden’s Bilston Garden Seat; and a central table and chairs providing workspace for visitors wishing to draw from the collection.

Watercolour and Print Gallery
This area will feature changing displays from the Art Gallery’s nationally-significant watercolour and print collections. A flexible walling system will be combined with showcases specifically designed for works on paper. Moveable sculpture plinths and mobile activity benches will increase the flexibility of the space.
The gallery will be able to be divided into two separate areas, used as one space or combined with Bedford Gallery, depending on the size of each exhibition.

Design Gallery
The Design Gallery will showcase the Cecil Higgins Collection’s nationally-significant decorative arts and furniture collections, with the aim of increasing understanding and appreciation of art and craft traditions. Arranged broadly chronologically, the gallery will explore stylistic developments in the decorative arts from the 17th to the 20th centuries. This will include Classicism, Rococo and Baroque, Neo-Classicism, early and high-Victorian styles, the Aesthetic Movement, Arts and Crafts, and 20th century movements such as Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Modernism.

Gothic Revival Gallery
The Gothic Revival Gallery will take the theme of ‘influence’ introduced in the Design Gallery and use it to explore the Gothic Revival movement in more depth, as an introduction to the William Burges collection.

The gallery will provide access to a significantly greater proportion of the collection than previously possible.

The William Burges Gallery.

Housed in the hexagonal ex-militia building, this will be a showpiece gallery of the redevelopment. An introductory area will explore Burges’ influences and his personal life. Graphic panels will show his elaborate architectural and decorative schemes, including those from his own home, while showcases will display examples of his smaller-scale work, such as the Zodiac tiles, Tulip vase and the Angell and Mendelson decanter. The main gallery space will feature the Art Gallery and Museum’s world-renowned collection of painted furniture designed by Burges, including the Sleeping Beauty bed and Narcissus washstand. The objects will be beautifully lit to highlight their architectural qualities and reveal the depth of detail in their decoration. A suspended ceiling panel will feature in its design some of the motifs used by Burges.

The House: Objects in use
The Design Gallery will focus on how decorative art objects and furniture are made: both the techniques employed in their manufacture and the influences at work on their designers. The House will use the decorative arts and furniture collections to explore how objects are used by the people who own them.
The key themes will be:
• How the use of objects has changed over time
• Who used different objects, how and why.
The house will be divided into spaces, such as the Hallway, Dining Room that describe the functions and activities of a Victorian family home. We have given two examples of this planned interpretation here. The Bedroom This area will use the collections to explore how the use of bedrooms has changed, and how the ways we use the objects within these spaces has changed, with a particular emphasis on the private lives of women. The space will explore two themes: ‘the woman’s realm’ and ‘dressing and toilette’. A central showcase will house changing display from the Art Gallery andMuseum’s costume collections, while visitors will also have the chance to try costume on for themselves.

The Sitting Room
This area will use the collections to explore how the use of sitting rooms has changed, and how the ways we use the objects within these spaces has changed. Part of the space will be designed as a room set based on a mid-to-late Victorian sitting room. The remaining space will use display cases, graphics, objects on open display and handling objects to explore two themes: ‘setting the fire’ and ‘taking tea’. ‘Setting the fire’ will use parts of the decorative arts collections (particularly metalwork) to explore the central role fireplaces played in houses in the past. ‘Taking tea’ will use the decorative arts collection to explore the customs, traditions and social hierarchies associated with entertaining.

There will be improved learning spaces for families and schools that will mean we can provide a greater variety of family activities. Our new galleries will include study areas for students and researchers. Some of the galleries are planned to be flexible, so that exhibitions
can be changed frequently and quickly. There will be spaces for community exhibitions and places where families can relax, or where staff and experts can meet with audiences. We plan to increase access to and engagement with Bedford’s unique heritage.

We would love to hear your thoughts about these plans. Please follow this link to fill in a short online survey.