Bedford Level, a district of England, consisting of an extensive tract of level country bounded N. E. by the German ocean, and on all other sides by highlands which encompass it like a horseshoe. It embraces the isle of Ely, in Cambridge, and portions of Huntingdon, Northampton, Lincoln, Norfolk, and Suffolk; length about 60 m., breadth 40 m.; area probably about 400,000 acres. There is good reason to suppose that at the time of the Roman invasion the surface of the district was much lower than now, and covered by one of those vast forests into which the natives used to retreat, and which it was the general policy of the conquerors to destroy. The subjugated people were employed in felling the trees and erecting great embankments to keep out the sea. At the beginning of the 3d century the emperor Severus built roads through the marshes, one of which, from Peterborough to Denver, was 60 ft. wide and made of gravel 3 ft. deep; it is now covered by from 3 to 5 ft. of soil. For many years the district was fertile and well cultivated; but in 1236, during a violent storm, the sea burst through the embankment at Wisbeach and other places, doing immense damage to life and property, and reducing the surviving inhabitants to great distress.

A second accident of the same kind occurred in 1253, and a third a few years later. The evil was sometimes aggravated by improper measures taken for its cure, so that in the course of time the greater part of the district became a vast morass, some portions of which were covered with pools of stagnant, putrid water from 10 to 20 ft. deep. Efforts to drain it were set on foot in the reigns of Henry VII., Elizabeth, and James I., but all failed. In the time of Charles I. the earl of Bedford, after whom the district was named, made a partially successful attempt, which was renewed in 1649 by his son, who brought the work to a close and received 95,000 acres of the reclaimed land as a compensation. A regular system for preserving and improving the drained lands was now inaugurated. A corporation for their management, consisting of a governor, 6 bailiffs, 20 conservators, and a commonalty, was chartered and is still kept up. Of late years important improvements have been made in the old system of drainage, which in some respects proved defective.

The reclaimed lands produce fine crops of grain, flax, and cole seed, but the harvests have occasionally suffered by fresh inundations, one of which in 1841 involved a loss of over £150,000.