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'BEDFORD SCHOOL for Expats' (and others who may be interested!) is part of the 'Travelling Days' series. These pages contain both recent (2004) and historic pictures and descriptions of one of Britain's largest public schools, Bedford School.

References are made throughout the pages to other related sites in the 'Travelling Days' series and direct links are often supplied to them.

This writer is indepted to the authors of two books, Michael De-la-Noy ('Bedford School: A History' published in 1999), and M.E. Barlen, M.P. Stambach, and D.P.C. Stileman ('Bedford School and the Great Fire' published in 1984) who have provided much of the information contained herein.

Links to the topics covered in this site may be seen on the black index bar at the top of each page.

ON 15 AUGUST 1552, during the short reign of Edward VI, the 'Mayor, Bailiffs, Burgesses and Commonalty' of the Town of Bedford were, by letters patent, granted the right to ‘erect, make, found and establish a free and perpetual Grammar school’ which was to provide ‘education, institution and instruction of Boys and Youths in Grammar, Literature and Good Manners.’

The School’s roots, however, date from the time of the Newnham Priory, dating from around 1166, until its suppression in 1540 when premises for a school were acquired in Mill Street. A deed of gift by Sir William Harper, (born in Bedford in 1497) and Dame Alice, his wife, on 12 April 1566, to the Mayor Burgesses, etc. of Bedford was to provide funds (later known as the ‘Harpur Trust’) in perpetuity for the ‘poore chylders ther to be nurryshed and enformed’ and other categories of the poor and needy. The source of the money was from the buildings and land in Holborn acquired by Harper he had left Bedford as a young man to seek his fortune in London. In 1552 he had provided the school in Mill Street with new premises in St Paul’s Square and a house for the first headmaster, Edmund Greene.

William was elected Lord Mayor of London in 1561 and knighted the following year. His coat of arms and crest included the eagle which has remained as a symbol presently used by the four Harpur Trust schools. Sir William Harper died on 27 February 1574 and was buried at St Paul’s Church in Bedford. (The name ‘Harper’ was, it has been said, changed to ‘Harpur’ in 1764 in the belief that the new spelling looked much better when used in the Latin inscription applied on a new facade for the school building!)

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JAMES SURTEES PHILLPOTTS was appointed as the twenty-second headmaster of Bedford Grammar School in 1874 at the age of thirty-five. He was to remain in that position until his retirement in 1903. On 29 October 1891 a procession of staff, pupils and Old Boys moved fom the old school premises in St Paul’s Square to new premises built on land purchased to the north of St Peter’s Green.

The building in Victorian Gothic style (picture above left, taken circa 1900) included a Great Hall with galleries opening to classrooms on the second and third floors. The ground floor included the headmaster’s study, the Bell Room, and common rooms for teachers and, later, for monitors, as well as more classrooms to make up a total of forty two in all. Access to the upper floors was by narrow staircases situated at each end of the building.

    More details of the history of the school are given in the 'Bedford in the 1940s' which can be found by clicking 'here'.

This, the school’s main building, remained in that form until the disastrous fire on 3 March 1979 (pictured above right) destroyed all but the west end where the Bell Room and headmaster’s study were situated. All that remained of the rest was the brick shell which was incorporated in the restored building. The new premises were opened on 10 September 1981.

In the interim the school had functioned in twenty two temporary huts erected near the Science Block and by using the Howard and Craig buildings on the school estate for teaching purposes. The girls’ High School allowed the school to use its hall for speech day and prize giving and the hall at the Harpur Centre in the town became an examination hall until the school’s new recreation centre was completed in 1980.

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THE MAIN BUILDING after the 1979 restoration. Note that the original dormer windows have not been replaced.

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SOUTH ELEVATION of the main building in 1897.

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VIEW of the main building from the south in 2003. A porch leading to the main foyer of the school was designed and introduced during reconstruction following the 1979 fire.

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