How the Mayors of Bedford left their mark on history

The late Mayor of Bedford Borough Frank Branston

The creation of the new council in 1974 left the outgoing mayor in no doubt – he was the last “proper” Mayor of Bedford.

Councillor Graham Bates told the Bedfordshire Times; “I was visiting some pensioners recently, and one of them said to me ‘Oh you’re the last proper mayor, aren’t you?’ It struck me then, how sad it was.”

One of his last duties was to represent the council for the unveiling of the £1.2million inner relief road – better known as Longholme Way and Rope Walk. A crowd of 300 people joined him to see Bedford’s first new road bridge in 90 years.

Ironically, he shared the news pages that week with a young journalist who was making a name for himself. Frank Branston, chief reporter of the Bedfordshire Times and the Bedford Record, had been named Provincial Journalist of the Year. The judges highlighted his “outspoken campaign to expose and reform conditions in his local government area”.

30 years later and Frank was still reforming local government. By 2002 he was owner of another local newspaper, the Bedfordshire On Sunday, when the UK Government introduced directly-elected mayors with executive powers. Mayors no longer needed to be ceremonial figureheads but could lead the way in local government. Only major cities were expected to adopt this system – but Frank was determined that Bedford should have one too.

Frank’s newspaper launched a public campaign that there should be an elected Mayor of Bedford, the public agreed via a referendum, and who was the first man elected to the post? Frank Branston of course - and he was re-elected in 2007.

Frank’s mark on history wasn’t over, as his time saw yet another shake-up of local government when the former county council was abolished in 2009 and its powers were handed to the Borough Council. Even County Hall was renamed as Borough Hall when the council headquarter moved across the river. But, sadly for Frank and his family, he died just a few months later.

Frank was succeeded by Dave Hodgson, who was directly-elected mayor for an unprecedented 13-and-a-half years. Like his predecessor, Mayor Dave controlled the council through a coalition with other parties and various Independents. Most recently, the present Mayor, Tom Wootton, took office following last year’s election in May 2023.

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