Bedford Physical Education Archive

Scope and Content

The Archive documents the development of Bedford Physical Training College from its foundation in 1903 through to its absorption into the Bedford College of Higher Education in 1976.  It consists of administrative records created by Bedford Physical Training College and its successor bodies, and of items donated to the Archive by former students and staff.
Contents include:

  • financial records, committee papers, building plans
  • syllabuses, timetables, examination papers
  • student records
  • student societies and club records
  • College publications
  • students' photograph albums
  • oral history recordings
  • artefacts, including uniforms
The Archive also contains the records of the Bedford Physical Education Old Students' Association from its creation in 1909 to the present day.

Administrative / Biographical History

Bedford Physical Training College was founded in 1903 by Margaret Stansfeld (1860-1951), a former student of Martina Bergman-Österberg (1849-1915) feminist and promoter of women's physical education, to train young women as physical training teachers. It was the third English college in the Ling tradition to be founded (following Hampstead Physical Training College (later Dartford Physical Training College) in 1885 and Anstey College of Physical Training in 1897), focussing its teaching on the pioneering ideas of Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839) Swedish gymnastics pioneer, who based gymnastics on anatomy and physiology, thereby opening up the remedial and educational possibilities of gymnastic exercise.
In 1909 the Board of Education based its physical education syllabus for elementary schools on the work of Ling and his system remained standard in girls' schools throughout Britain during the first half of the twentieth century.
The College began in a house bought by Margaret Stansfeld at 37 Lansdowne Road, Bedford and over the decades gradually expanded through the purchase of adjoining properties in Lansdowne Road and the acquisition of land in the adjacent Warwick Avenue.
The ethos of the College remained relatively unchanged until after Stansfeld's retirement as Principal in 1945. The appointment of Eileen Alexander (1911-2014) as Principal in 1951 marked the beginning of a 20-year period of profound change which began with the College moving out of private ownership into the control of Bedfordshire Local Education Authority in 1952. This was followed by an extensive building programme from the mid-1950s onwards, significant increases in student and staff numbers, and culminated in the College gaining approval to enter students for the award of a B.Ed. Degree, initially from the University of London in 1968 but then followed by the award of a B.Ed. Honours Degree from the University of Cambridge in 1971.
Patricia Bowen-West became the last Principal to be appointed and oversaw the merger of the College with Bedford Training College and Mander College of Further Education to become the Bedford College of Higher Education in 1976.


The collection has been arranged into the following twelve series:

  • Legal Framework
  • Estate Management
  • Curriculum
  • Administration
  • Student Societies and Clubs
  • Historical Reference
  • Photographs
  • Personal Papers
  • Education Policies & Initiatives
  • National Physical Education Associations
  • Government Agencies & Higher Education Institutions
  • Bedford Physical Education Old Students' Association

Access Information

The Bedford Physical Education Archive is held at the Bedford Campus Library of the University of Bedfordshire.
Items are available to consult by appointment, Monday to Friday, 09.00-16.00.
For enquiries, e-mail or telephone 01234 793257

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the collection must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from University of Bedfordshire Special Collections staff.


Daniels, Stephanie Big Societies: Bedford Physical Training College during World Wars One and Two (2011)
Fletcher, Sheila Women First: The Female Tradition in English Physical Education 1880-1980 (1984)
Smart, Richard On Others' Shoulders: An Illustrated History of the Polhill and Lansdowne Colleges (1994)