I’m starting to learn that even the smallest of places can contain some intriguing slices of history. After my trip to the Glenn Miller Museum at RAF Twinwood last month, I went in search of more interesting or unusual places in Bedford, the town that is my base for a little longer, and uncovered this gem: The Panacea Museum.
The museum preserves buildings and artifacts belonging to the Panacea Society, an early twentieth century religious organisation which was comprised mainly of women. They believed that Jesus would return to earth for the millennium, and they looked after and publicised Joanna Southcott’s Box, a chest of prophecies left by the woman whom they believed had predicted this one hundred years earlier. They embarked on a campaign to persuade the Bishops of the Church of England to open the box, but it still sits in the main building today.
The society no longer exists, but the communal homes that they created have been preserved by a charitable trust and turned into the museum, so you can walk around the houses that the leaders of the society lived in, and there are videos and displays telling visitors more about the history of the society. They gained a worldwide following, and members moved to Bedford from all over to join their peers in person.
The thing which most intrigued me, however, was their belief that the original site of the Garden of Eden was right here in Bedford, in the grounds of what they called their “campus”. This meant that they also believed that Jesus would return right here, to the site of the origins of evil to make it all well again, and they kept a house for him.
Whatever you think of religion or of the society’s somewhat bizarre beliefs, this really is a piece of sociological and cultural history, hidden away on an unassuming road on the edge of Bedford town centre. I am not religious in the slightest, but found it a fascinating experience. The whole society is steeped in the political and historical context of the time; the significance of women claiming agency through becoming prophets or recipients of divine missives during a time where women were starting to fight for equality (several of the society members were active Suffragettes) is interesting, however you view the organisation.
There is no religious aspect to the museum; the people behind it purely want to preserve this little gem, and you are at no risk of conversion attempts if you visit! For me, the Panacea Museum is a must-do for anyone looking for unusual attractions in this part of the world.