Bedford is the county town of Bedfordshire, in the East of England. It is the administrative centre for the wider Borough of Bedford. According to the former Bedfordshire County Council's estimates, the town had a population of 80,000 in mid-2005, with 19,720 in the adjacent town of Kempston. The Bedford Built-up Area which includes Kempston, Elstow and Biddenham forms the 69th largest Urban Area in England and Wales with a population of 106,940. The wider borough, including a rural area, had a population of 153,000.
The name of the town is thought to derive from the name of a Saxon chief called Beda, and a ford crossing the River Great Ouse. Bedford was a market town for the surrounding agricultural region from the early Middle Ages The Anglo-Saxon King Offa of Mercia was buried in the town in 796. In 886 it became a boundary town separating Wessex and Danelaw. It was the seat of the Barony of Bedford. In 919 Edward the Elder built the town's first known fortress, on the south side of the River Ouse and there received the area's submission. This fortress was destroyed by the Danes. William II gave the barony of Bedford to Paine de Beauchamp who built a new, strong castle. The new Bedford Castle was razed in 1224 and today only a mound remains.
Bedford remained a small agricultural town, with wool being an important industry in the area for much of the Middle Ages. From the 16th century Bedford and much of Bedfordshire became one of the main centres of England's lace industry, and lace continued to be an important industry in Bedford until the early 20th century.
The River Great Ouse became navigable as far as Bedford in 1689. Wool declined in importance with brewing becoming a major industry in the town.
The 19th century saw Bedford transform into an important engineering hub. In 1832 Gas lighting was introduced, and the railway reached Bedford in 1846. The first Corn Exchange was built 1849, and the first drains and sewers were dug in 1864.