Bedford School pupils were among over 400 children who took part in a special Thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Church to mark the 450th anniversary The Harpur Trust on Friday 22 April 2016.  The pupils were joined by teachers and staff from across the Trust’s three other schools: Pilgrims Pre-Preparatory School, Bedford Girls’ School and Bedford Modern School, as well as representatives from the Bedford Academy. 

The Lord Lieutenant Helen Nellis, High Sheriff Charles Whitbread, The Bishop of Bedford, Revd Richard Atkins, Councillors, Trustees and local MP and Patron of the Trust Richard Fuller, as well as some of the residents of the Trust’s Almshouses were amongst the invited guests.

During the service, tributes were paid to Sir William Harpur who founded the charity in 1566, and pupils laid wreaths on the tomb where he lies within the Trinity Chapel, as well as performing in a joint choir and brass ensemble.

The inspirational guest speaker was former pupil Squadron Leader Charlotte Thompson-Edgar who was dubbed the ‘Angel of Afghanistan’ after rescuing over 600 wounded troops by helicopter in Helmand Province.  Last year, she was awarded nursing’s highest honour, the Royal Red Cross Second Class for exceptional services and devotion to duty. Among the many she helped to save was Britain’s first surviving triple amputee of the war. Mark Ormrod lost both legs and an arm when he stepped on a homemade bomb on Christmas Eve 2007.  Charlotte attended the former Bedford High School which merged with Dame Alice School in 2012 to become Bedford Girls’ School. During her address to the congregation, she talked passionately about the values which she had gained whilst at school and how these values have supported her in her career; resilience, compassion and kindness, self-respect and respect for others, and the confidence to ask for help.  Afterwards she said that she felt “delighted and honoured to have been asked to speak during the service and to play a part in the Trust’s 450th celebrations”.  Asked how she felt about her nickname, she replied that it was very flattering but undeserved as she had just been doing a job which supported others doing their job.

Harpur was born in Bedford to humble beginnings; the son of a tailor, he rose through Tudor Court circles to become Lord Mayor of London before being knighted by Queen Elizabeth 1st.  He purchased a small piece of meadowland in what is now Holburn in London, which he and his wife Dame Alice endowed in 1566 to fund a small school for boys here in Bedford.  Today Harpur’s endowment is worth £78 million and the income is used to provide over £1 million in grants per year for projects and organisations which focus on education, relief and recreation, helping and supporting some of the most vulnerable people in Bedford’s community.  A further £2.75 million a year is given away in bursaries to help local children attend the Trust’s four independent schools.

The Thanksgiving Service was the first in a series of public events which are being held across 2016 to mark the anniversary of the Trust, including a Run and Fun Day in May at Priory Country Park, and a play about Bedford’s history at Quarry Theatre in September.  There will also be a series of events involving local schools (a writing competition with John Bunyan Museum, a major art competition culminating in a two month exhibition at The Higgins Bedford and a children’s concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Corn Exchange).   Earlier this year, the Trust gave away 6,700 copies of local history book ‘The Bedford Chronicles’ to school children across the borough.   Finally, the Trust is offering forty five £1000 grants for capital projects, aimed at local voluntary organisations and groups as part of its anniversary small grants programme.

Further information about all the events is available on the Trust’s website

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