On Saturday 12 May, a blue plaque was unveiled to recognise the achievements of Colonel Frederick Burnaby and his links with Bedford town and Bedford School.
After his time at Bedford School, Frederick Burnaby went on to be an officer of the Royal Horse Guards. He had a penchant for travel and exploration, and was pioneering when it came to ballooning as a new form of travel. Over time he became renowned both for his exploits and his writings about them. A Ride to Khiva (1876), the narrative of a journey on horseback across three thousand miles of the Russian steppes in winter, and On Horseback through Asia Minor (1877), which described a tour of Asia Minor during which he fought on behalf of the Turks against the Russians, were both best-sellers and made him a popular figure amongst Victorian Society.
The plaque was kindly unveiled by Old Bedfordian, David Fowler (47-56), who is a local historian, and who has been a driving force behind a number of blue plaques and historical information boards which have been positioned around the town in key locations in recent years. David himself has many local connections and in fact his mother, Winifred, was the first female Mayor of Bedford in the early 1970s.
The plaque was handed over to the Head Boy of the Prep School, Robert Parrish, as it will eventually be attached to the Inky building overlooking St Peter’s Street. Prior to its installation, boys in Burnaby Boarding House and the Prep School will have a chance to see the the plaque and learn more about the exploits of Frederick Burnaby. It was also a great pleasure to be joined by former Housemaster of Burnaby, Jim Davidson (54-87), and his daughter, Louise Fraser. Jim has kindly lent the school his print of the famous portrait of Burnaby by James Jaques Tissot painted in 1870, which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. In the painting he wears the uniform of a Captain in the 3rd Household Cavalry. From the painting we can see that he was a huge man, allegedly six feet four inches tall and twenty stone in weight. It was reputed that he was the strongest man in the British Army and was said to have once carried a pony under one arm!
Pictured above, from left to right: Ian Silk, Headmaster of the Prep School; Robert Parrish, Head Boy of the Prep School; David Fowler (47-56); Jim Davidson (54-87); Robert Heale, Burnaby Housemaster; and Philip Alberti, Burnaby Head of House