Two bits of Bedford School history for you this week in my two assemblies; this first one is general.

Last weekend we had our Service of Commemoration of Founders and Benefactors. It is, as I mentioned, one of the most important ceremonies of the year; but unfortunately, one which only a few of you attend. So for the rest of your information, it is our chance to record our thanks to the school’s benefactors over the years, starting with Sir William Harpur and his wife, Dame Alice, and ending with benefactors to the school from as recent as this year. There are people who have given large sums of money and/or time to the school to help it grow. And if you look around you, almost all of our buildings today have been essentially given to us by benefactors and supporters of the school – so we have been extremely lucky.

During the service I recount the commemoration itself. And for those of you who did not hear it, I am going you recount it again in a moment. Nobody really knows where the form of words came from, but it is in quite old fashioned English – and we add to the list of benefactors on an almost annual basis.  It contains a basic, but useful, history of the school and it goes like this:

“Let us, according to our bounden duty, thankfully commemorate before Almighty God our pious Benefactors, by whose noble liberality the Glory of God has been advanced, Godliness and good learning fostered among us, and this our School endowed with special benefits and enlarged with manifold and singular privileges.

Be it first recorded that in the XIIth Century this our School, then belonging to the Canons Secular of the Church of St Paul, was by Deed Poll of Nicholas, Archdeacon of Bedford, surrendered to the Prior and Convent of Newnham in Bedford, by whom it was maintained until the dissolution of the convent in the year 1540.

The School was then continued by the Mayor, Bailiffs, Burgesses and Commonality of Bedford; who appointed Edmund Greene, Fellow of New College, its Master, in the year 1548; and were authorised by letters patent of King Edward VI in the year 1552 to establish a free and perpetual Grammar School and to hold lands for the sustentation of a Master and Usher and for the continuance of the School forever.

In the year 1566, by deed of gift, Sir William Harpur and Dame Alice his wife gave to the Mayor, Bailiffs, Burgesses and Commonality of Bedford possession of 13 acres and 1 rood of land situate in the Parish of St Andrew’s, Holborn, as also certain tenements and lands in the Town of Bedford, wherewith to endow the School and to serve other purposes of Charity; the said Sir William Harper erecting at his own costs the School House, whence the School was transferred to its present site in the year 1891. He departed this life on 27th day of February 1574.

 Of these our first Benefactors, Sir William Harpur and Dame Alice his wife, let the names be recorded before God in grateful memory, of their liberality. As also the names of other our Benefactors; such as were:

 Hastings, Ninth Duke of Bedford
John Govett
Thomas Barnard
Samuel Whitbread
Frederick Howard, Knight
James Surtees Phillpotts
Septimus Buller Phillpotts
Francis Thomas de Grey, Seventh Earl Cowper (pronounced Cooper)
John Edward King 
Thomas Cecil Fitzpatrick and Annie, his wife
Percy Tarbutt
George Turnour Atchison
Ellen Millicent Fuller
Frederick (Lewis) Brandon Siddons
Reginald Carter
Reginald (Ward) Edward Lane Poole
George Hayward Wells
John Murray Elger
Alexander Morrison and Gertrude, his wife
Robert Skinner
Sidney Richard Wells, Baronet
Clarence Noel Goodall
Herbert Stanley Aldred
Oswald Partridge Milne
Thomas (Geoffrey) Blackwell
John (Alfred Golding) Howard, Knight
Gilbert Cook
Douglas Galbraith
Gordon Thomas Lindsay-White
John and Betty Langham
Brian David Michael Saville
Gareth and Jill Quarry
Desmond Robert Kennedy Cahill
Professor John Peter Charles Roach
Alan Goode
Michael Edward Jeffery

Who, of their bounteous liberality, enlarged our endowments, erected and adorned our buildings, founded prizes, endowed scholarships and in diverse other ways advanced the well-being of this our ancient Foundation.

These are the chief but not the only Benefactors to our School. Many others have shown their love and loyalty towards it, as well by gifts as by services, which are duly recorded and remembered with becoming gratitude.

For all these let us now bless and praise Almighty God.”

I rather like it; and I hope that you noticed one or two things in particular. Firstly, that it is our duty to do this. Not everybody in Chapel last weekend particularly wanted to be there; but duty called. Duty is a pretty old-fashioned word; but a good one, and we must do our best to heed it on this and other occasions. 

Secondly, it refers to the founding of our school in 1552. There was in fact a school in Bedford right back as far as the Domesday Survey of 1086, if this be counted as our school (as it seems it could validly be), it would put Bedford among the 20 oldest schools in the country. However, it was attached to a convent and you will all know that Henry VIII underwent a dissolution of such institutions in the 1530s and 40s; so that when his son, the child King Edward VI, came to the throne, Bedford School was granted letters patent by that King to re-establish the School. Interestingly, all three schools in the UK which I have taught in (Tonbridge and Magdalen College School before here) were established by the teenage Edward VI within a year of each other in response to his father’s treatment of places of learning. He was quite prolific therefore – and his schools have played a long-lasting role in the future of UK education.

Lastly, the letters patent (a sovereign document) require that the Head Master is appointed by New College Oxford, the same as had been the case for Winchester. That tradition ceased about 100 years ago, but there still has to be a New College representative on our governing body and at the Harpur Trust. The current Warden (which is their equivalent of Head Master) of New College also happens to be an Old Bedfordian, which intensifies this special link even further.

Last term I went to the Bedford Borough Archive offices to see if these letters patent from 1552 still existed and, to my great delight, they do – in Latin, with a regal seal – and we were allowed to see them and photograph them. I have them with me here – and if anybody would like to see a copy, do please come past my office at some stage.

I hope that spurs us all into the duty of ensuring that we all hand over this amazing school in a really good place to the generations who follow us.

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