Kempston is a town and civil parish located in Bedfordshire, England. Once known as the largest village in England, Kempston is now a town with its own town council. It has a population of about 20,000, and together with Bedford, it forms an urban area with around 100,000 inhabitants, which is the sole significant urban area in the Borough of Bedford. Kempston serves principally as a dormitory town for Bedford and for Milton Keynes, which is about ten miles away.
Until the 19th century Kempston was a mainly rural parish. It was one of the largest in Bedfordshire with an area of 5,025 acres (20 km²) at the time of enclosure in 1804, and was in Redbornstoke Hundred. Historically there was no central village; settlement was divided between a number of hamlets called "Ends", for example, Up End, Bell End, Wood End and Box End. Kempston's parish church, All Saints, was in Church End, which was not the largest end but is fairly central. In the 19th century East End, Bell End and Up End began to coalesce into a larger settlement. In 1870 developers began to attempt to develop land on the road from Kempston to Bedford under the name Kempston New Town. Construction was slow at first, but the new district soon began to expand steadily and Kempston acquired a more urban feel. A permanent military presence was established in the town with the completion of Kempston Barracks in 1876.
In 1896 the parish was divided into Kempston Urban District covering 1,255 acres (5.1 km²) and the civil parish of Kempston Rural covering 3,770 acres (15 km²). The Urban District was based on East End, Up End and Kempston New Town all of which are in the north eastern part of the parish close to Bedford, and had 86.8% of the total population at the UK census of 1901 census. Kempston Rural was three times larger in area, but remained sparsely populated. Church End, with its original parish church, remains a small hamlet in the rural part of Kempston.
The growth of Kempston's population levelled off in the early decades of the 20th century, with a rise of just 12% between 1901 and 1931, but it then began to expand rapidly. The 1951 population of just under 10,000 was 60% higher that that of 1931; in the second half of the 20th century, the population nearly doubled. In 1974 Kempston Urban District was abolished and Kempston reverted to being a civil parish, in the Borough of Bedford but with a separate town council with minor powers. For borough election purposes the town is divided into four wards called Kempston Central and East, Kempston North, Kempston South and Kempston West. Kempston Rural (also within the Borough of Bedford) remains a civil parish and is part of Turvey Ward for borough election purposes.
Note 1: 1981 figures are provisional (more up to date source needed).