Our history

We were founded in 1566 by Sir William Harpur (c.1497-1574), a former Master of the Merchant Taylors’ Company. A man of Bedford, William Harpur became Lord Mayor of London in 1561.

In 1566, William and his wife, Dame Alice, executed a deed of gift creating an endowment to sustain a grammar school which Harpur had already helped to establish in Bedford. Bedford Grammar School (now Bedford School) which may have existed from c.1548 was granted ‘letters patent’ by Edward VI in 1552. The 1566 endowment also made provision for the award of dowries on the marriage of ‘poor maids’ of the town, for poor children to be ‘nourished and informed”, and for any residue to be distributed amongst the poor.

These ideals evolved over the years and are now our three charitable objects:

  • The promotion of education.
  • The relief of those who are sick or in need, hardship or distress.
  • The provision of recreational facilities with a social welfare purpose.

The endowment originally consisted of the schoolhouse (now the Old Town Hall) and some property in Bedford, and 13 acres and one rood of farmland in Holborn, just outside the City of London. The Holborn estate was developed for housing in the late 17th century. This greatly increased the value of the endowment, which in 2013/14 was valued at £72 million*.

Today, our activities are still inspired by Sir William Harpur’s vision. He understood the value of education, and saw the real needs to be addressed among the disadvantaged, poor and sick in his home town of Bedford.

*Based on 2013/14 audited accounts

A change of status and identity

On 1st July 2012 The Harpur Trust became an incorporated company limited by guarantee and celebrated the occasion by launching its vibrant, new visual identity.

Trustees of the former Bedford Charity (The Harpur Trust) decided to bring the Charity's constitution and legal structure up to date by a process known as 'incorporation' and formed a company limited by guarantee and registered it as a charity. The company's new name is simply 'The Harpur Trust'.

The new visual identity acknowledges the Trust's history and heritage by using part of the previous heraldic shield to create a striking capital 'H', reminiscent of the weave and weft found within fabric; pertinent given our founder, Sir William Harpur, was a tailor.