‘Angel of Afghanistan’ to attend 450th Thanksgiving

On Friday 22nd April 2016 at 11.30am, 600 pupils and staff from across the Harpur Trust schools and the charity’s headquarters, will gather for a service to give thanks to the legacy left to the town of Bedford by Sir William Harpur.  The occasion marks the official 450th anniversary of the founding of the Harpur Trust which was established in 1566, when Queen Elizabeth 1st sat on the throne.

The inspirational guest speaker will be 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. She will talk about the values that she gained whilst at school and how these have shaped her in her career.

In what promises to be an uplifting and moving service, pupils from each of the four schools (Bedford School, Bedford Girls School, Bedford Modern School and Pilgrims Pre-preparatory School) will perform together with a 450th Anniversary Choir and Orchestra specially formed for the occasion.  As well as being involved in readings and prayers, a child from each of the schools will also lay a wreath on the tomb of Sir William Harpur, who is buried in the Trinity Chapel of the church.

Amongst the guests will be Helen Nellis, (the Lord Lieutenant), Charles Whitworth, (The High Sheriff), the Rt Revd Richard Atkinson (the Bishop of Bedford), and Patrons of the Trust Mayor Dave Hodgson and Richard Fuller MP.

Tributes will be paid to Sir William Harpur who was born in Bedford to humble beginnings; the son of a tailor, he rose through Tudor Court circles to become Lord Mayor of London.  Following the dissolution of the monasteries, he bought a small piece of meadowland in what is now Holburn in London.  In 1566 he endowed the land to fund a small school for 30 boys in his home town of Bedford (the original school house is opposite the church and will soon be converted into the new Registry Office).  Today Harpur’s endowment is worth £78 million and the income is used to provide over £1 million in grants per year to benefit those in Bedford Borough, and a further £2.75 million a year in bursaries to help local children attend the Trust’s 4 schools.

Following the service, the guests will continue the celebrations with a reception at the Corn Exchange complete with a 450th birthday cake.

The Thanksgiving Service is 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).   The Trust has also given 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.