I am working in Bedford and visited John Bunyan’s birthplace, a village called Elstow – not far from Bedford.
The village has a green where there used to be monthly fairs with all kinds of entertainment from jousting to maypole dancing. The green was the inspiration for Vanity Fair in Pilgrim’s Progress … “at this fair there are at all times to be seen jugglings, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind…. Here are to be seen, too, and that for nothing, thefts, murders, adulteries, false-swearers, and that of a blood-red colour”
The stump of a Market Cross remains, and the fine Moot House from the 15th Century.
Nearby is the Abbey Church of St Mary and St Helena. It was once the 7th richest Abbey in the Kingdom with a very extensive building.
A smaller church still remains, and some ruined walls.
Inside the church is the ‘original’ Wicket gate that John Bunyan immortalised in Pilgrim’s Progress. A Wicket Gate is a pedestrian door or gate, particularly one built into a larger door.
In the church is a window showing scenes from Pilgrim’s Progress, and another window, shown above, showing scenes from John Bunyan’s third book, ‘The Holy War – The Losing and Taking Again of the Town of Man-soul.‘ It shows the evil forces to the left, in green, and the good forces to the right, both trying to take the town of a man’s mind – the evil forces by force, and the good forces by invitation.
Pilgrims come in coaches and cars to visit the church and other places linked to John Bunyan. There are more from China and Japan than England. His allegorical book, Pilgrim’s Progress, and his being jailed for what he believed, are greatly admired in those countries.
Over the church door is a seal from the time the Abbey was handed over to King Henry VIII’s forces. It shows Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Saint Helena, who discovered the Holy Cross in Jerusalem.
Elstow itself also has a fine row of houses, some dating back before John Bunyan. The village is cut across by the very busy A421 Bedford Bypass, but you would hardly know it as the bridge over the road has such high walls.