WELCOME to the stories behind THE VAULT!
You may be here as you have already borne witness to the stunning piece of 3D illusion art, The Vault, executed by international artist Julian Beever, now sitting on the bank of the River Great Ouse on top of the site of the first commercial bank in Bedford, established by John Barnard in 1799.
The piece was commissioned by Bedford Creative Arts on behalf of the High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) Cultural Consortium.
Image thanks to BCA
You may have arrived here but have not yet had the pleasure of seeing it in person. Fear not as the piece will remain in place for approximately two years (or until the site is developed) so you have many opportunities to see it for yourself.
To get the most from this stunning piece of 3D anamorphic artwork, it is best viewed through a camera lens. So do take a photo of the piece and share on social media using the hashtags #BedfordVault #HistoricHighStreets.
This website supported by Bedford BID, will provide you with more information on the special piece of work that captured the imaginations of the passing Bedford public who watched it come to life over a sunny bank holiday weekend in June 2021.
The artist at work. Image: A.Willsher
The stories behind the paint
The artwork depicts a local urban myth that a hidden treasure – a bank vault - is still buried underneath the site. Is it still full of coins and notes?!
What you will see as we ‘dig down’ into the piece are some wonderful impressions of real life treasures found in the area. Look closely to see depictions of commonly found artefacts in Bedford including this late Saxon (or 'Saxo-Norman') jar with thumb impressed vertical bands that came from the 2007 Castle Lane excavations.
(with thanks to Jeremy Oetgen BSc MCIfA of Albion Archaeology for the images and information)
Maybe you could let us know what else you can see in the earth between our world and the Vault!
People make a place
The artwork also shines a light on two characters as they enter the bank to place their well-earned income and wares into the safe keeping of the bank manager and his assistant who are proudly showing off the impressive Vault.
These two people were once present on Bedford high street and would have used the bank in their daily life.
Our gentleman is well-known historic Bedford figure Mr Thomas Lester
In 1821, there were seven lace dealers in Bedfordshire. One of the most significant was Thomas Lester, who invented his own style of lace Bedfordshire Maltese Pillow lace to try to compete with machine-made lace, inspired by lace he had seen at The Great Exhibition in 1851. He exhibited at a number of international exhibitions and won prizes for his designs.
Like other dealers, Lester would pay his lace makers by the yard of lace they produced. He was a businessman of significant local standing as a member and Deacon at Bunyan Meeting Church. He would offer gifts of lace bobbins inscribed ‘A Gift from Lester’ to workers who won his approval.
Picture from The Higgins Bedford collections
Our lady however, is not as well-known.
Mary Pearson was a baker working at 88 High Street, Bedford in the 1870's.
Maybe you have more information about Mary that you could share with us?
We would love for you to share your own stories of shopkeepers or local characters from the area to help build a rich collection of tales that will bring the high street to life and celebrate its relationship with local Bedfordians.
If you have stories you would like to share of the high street from unique characters to favourite high street shops past or present, please send your tales to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The piece was commissioned by Bedford Creative Arts on behalf of the High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) Cultural Consortium
Funded by Historic England, and Bedford BID, supported by SEMLEP and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the High Street Heritage Action Zones (HSHAZ) programme is set to unlock the potential of Bedford high street with the aim of boosting the economic, social and cultural recovery of the area post-pandemic.
The wider HSHAZ programme is being led by Bedford Borough Council and aims to make the High Street a more attractive place for communities to live, work and enjoy leisure activities. More information is available on the Bedford Borough Council website.
About Bedford Creative Arts
Bedford Creative Arts is a contemporary arts charity dedicated to commissioning high-quality art with and for communities, working with artists to explore new developments in socially engaged art practice. Our work is focused outside the gallery space in social spaces and in schools in Bedford and Bedfordshire. See our Projects page to find out more.
We also produce The Culture Challenge programme for schools and cultural providers, and are an Arts Award Supporter.
Bedford Creative Arts is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation and a registered charity.