The Bunyan Meeting is a Free Church congregation in Bedford which dates back to 1650 and was led by Rev John Bunyan (1628-1688) from the time of his release from his first imprisonment in 1672 until his death.
John Bunyan is regarded as a literary giant as the author of Pilgrim’s Progress (1678/84), which is at once a great devotional work and a precursor of the English novel. One section of Part Two became the hymn of which the original first line is ‘Who would true valour see’.
His life was a remarkable journey from working as a tinker, through an agonising religious conversion to imprisonment for his Puritan beliefs in the Restoration period and a subsequent career as a powerful popular preacher.
The fine 1849 galleried chapel has stained-glass windows and elaborate bronze doors by Frederick Thrupp depicting scenes from Pilgrim’s Progress, and Bunyan’s life is commemorated in a compact, vividly displayed museum adjacent to the Meeting church: http://www.bunyanmeeting.co.uk/museum.
The great prison reformer John Howard (1726-1790) is Bedford’s other figure of international importance.
He had an estate nearby at Cardington: when he attended the Bunyan Meeting services he stayed at the adjacent house from Saturday night to Monday morning so that his coachman didn’t have to drive on the Sabbath.
As a result of the controversy over paedobaptism, John Howard founded a breakaway congregation which became the Howard Church (1775-6): http://www.howardmemorialchurch.co.uk/HistoryFOMPages/HFOM2.html.