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The strange tale of how paradise came to be located in a Victorian semi not far from the town centre

That the Garden of Eden remains absent from travel bucket lists is, perhaps, unsurprising. Unlike El Dorado or Lyonesse, however, its location is no mystery. It even has an address: 12 Albany Road, Bedford. And while the Victorian house is modest in size, its garden does boast a cosy tearoom, and how it came to be there is as surprising as its geography.

More than 200 years ago, religious prophets – spiritual gurus of their day – attracted loyal followers and occasionally courted scandal. One such was Joanna Southcott from Devon, who in 1814, at the age of 64, declared herself pregnant with the new messiah. The baby failed to materialise and Southcott died a short while later, but not before presenting a mysterious locked box to her followers. It was to be opened in a time of national crisis, and would bring peace and prosperity on Earth – but only if 24 bishops prayed over it for three days. Bishops being busy fellows, Southcott’s box remained unopened and passed down through her followers until it came to the attention of Mabel Barltrop.

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