Dame Alice Harpur School

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Dame Alice Harpur School
Motto 'Ardent au devoir quotidien'
Discover your talents.
Be the best you can be.
Established 1882
Closed 2012
Type Selective Girls' independent school
Founder Harpur Trust
Location Cardington Road
MK42 0BX
Students 1000
Gender Girls
Ages 7–18
Houses Harpur, Howard, Bunyan, Russell
Colours Damson and blue
Publication Reflections

Dame Alice Harpur School (also known as DAHS), known from 1882 until 1946 as Bedford Girls' Modern School, was an independent girls school in Bedford, United Kingdom, for girls aged 7–18. In September 2010 the junior department of the school merged with the junior department of Bedford High School. From September 2011 to September 2012 the senior schools also merged, the new school is known as Bedford Girls' School.

Bedford Girls' Modern School, 1882 to 1946[edit]

The school was established in 1882 as the Bedford Girls' Modern School, at the same time and on the same site as the Bedford High School for girls, both of which were part of the Harpur Trust group of independent schools which also included the boys' schools Bedford School and Bedford Modern School. At first, it shared its premises with Bedford High School, until in 1892 it moved to St Paul's Square, occupying the William Cowper building left vacant by the Grammar School. Initially, the Girls' Modern School was much less successful in attracting girls than the more traditional High School, and in 1894 the number of pupils at the two was 146 and 553 respectively. However, under a new head mistress, Miss Edith Dolby (1894 to 1925), the school began to find its way. The curriculum was expanded, the girls stayed longer, and by 1908 numbers had reached 312.[1]

In 1938, having outgrown its St Paul's Square site, the school moved to new buildings designed by Oswald Milne on the southern bank of the Great Ouse on Cardington Road, Bedford, built on playing fields there already owned by the Harpur Trust and used by the school.[2]

Dame Alice Harpur School, 1946 to 2011[edit]

In 1946, the school changed its name to Dame Alice Harpur School, adopting the name of the wife of Sir William Harpur, who had originally endowed his foundation with land in Bedford and Holborn, London.

The school always had a Christian ethos, upholding traditional values and standards, but it was fundamentally ecumenical. Girls were divided into one of four houses representing famous figures from historic Bedford, these were Bunyan (Green), Harpur (Yellow), Howard (Blue) and Russell (Red).

After the move of 1938, the senior school had modern buildings, plus agreeable gardens and playing fields, on a riverside site. It was well equipped for sport, with a floodlit all-weather pitch, tennis courts, netball courts, hockey fields, indoor swimming pool, sports hall, gymnasium, sports pavilion, and a boathouse on the River Great Ouse. There were also facilities for design technology, textiles, art, and drama; two listed Georgian houses were adapted to provide a sixth-form centre, Chequers cafe and music centre. In 2006 a new Sixth Form centre was created and was opened by Gail Emms, an Olympic silver medalist who was an old girl of the school.

The school offered a broad general education and examination results were extremely good, with a 100% GCSE pass rate in 2003.[3] Drama was very strong and the music department was especially flourishing (with choirs, orchestras, string quartets, a string orchestra, wind band, and other ensembles). A wide range of sports and games were provided; many teams competed at county and regional level, and some regularly at national level. Extra-curricular activities included the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, Combined Cadet Force, debating, Youth Theatre, chess, field courses and a wide range of outdoor activities and visits.[4]

The last school uniform for senior school girls from ages eleven to sixteen consisted of a pleated skirt in navy blue, a navy blue v-neck jumper with a blue eagle representative of the Harpur Trust embroidered on the chest, a pale blue shirt, and a navy blue blazer with an embroidered school shield containing a cornflower, an eagle and a book. For the winter, it was optional for the girls to wear the school's formal long winter coat in place of the school blazer, but it had to be worn to the Christmas carol service. The uniform in years 12 and 13 consisted of a navy blue skirt, white blouse, plain V-neck navy blue jumper combined with black pumps or low heels.

In 2012 the Dame Alice Harpur school was listed by The Independent newspaper in the top ten independent schools in England, and it won numerous awards for both academic and extra-curricular achievement.

Jill Berry, head of Dame Alice Harpur School from 2000 to 2010, was the President of the Girls' Schools Association in 2009.


In July 2009, the Harpur Trust announced its intention to merge Dame Alice Harpur School with Bedford High School. The decision was made as both schools had seen a drop in pupil numbers over the years: In 1990 more than 2,000 girls were on the rolls of both schools, whilst in 2009 there were only 1,500. In November 2009, it was announced that the new merged school would be called Bedford Girls' School, and would be located on the campus of Dame Alice Harpur School at Cardington Road. The junior department of the new school opened in September 2010, when the junior schools of Bedford High and Dame Alice Harpur merged on the Cardington Road site.[5] The senior department of Dame Alice Harpur School started to transfer to the new school administration in September 2011, with the full merger, including the sixth form department completed in September 2012.[6]

Head Mistresses[edit]

Bedford Girls’ Modern School[edit]

  • 1882–1894: Miss Mary Eliza Porter (died 1905)[7]
  • 1894–1925: Miss Edith Emily Dolby, BA (Cantab.) (1863–1947)[1][8]
  • 1925–1939: Miss Beatrice Alice Tonkin MA (Cantab.) (1884–1953)[9]

Dame Alice Harpur School[edit]

  • 1946–1955: Miss Irene Forster BSc
  • 1955–1970: Miss Hilda Lawson-Brown[10]
  • 1970–1990: Miss Suzanne Morse[11]
  • 1990–2000: Mrs Rosanne Randle BA MA (Ed)
  • 2000–2010: Mrs Jill Berry BA MEd
  • 2010–2011: Miss Jo Mackenzie

Notable former pupils[edit]


  • 1991–2005: Mr Stewart Frater
  • 2005–2011: Mr Jean-Marc Hodgkin, BSc, FCA, FSI, ACIS, DChA

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Constance M. Broadway and Esther I. Buss, The History of the School 1882 B.G.M.S. - D.A.H.S. 1982 (Bedford, 1982, 191 pp.)


  1. ^ a b John Roach, Secondary Education in England 1870-1902: Public Activity and Private Enterprise (Routledge, 2012), p. 191
  2. ^ Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Volume 46 (1938), P. 137: "The old Bedford Girls' Modern School in the centre of the town became too cramped for its purpose, and it was necessary to move out and rebuild. The school already owned playing fields on the outskirts of the town, and it was decided to build..."
  3. ^ "BBC Education League Tables". BBC News. 2006-01-19. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  4. ^ "UK Schools Guide 2005". Schoolsguidebook.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  5. ^ "Bedfordshire Local News, Local News Headlines in Bedford | Bedfordshire Newspaper Online | Girls' schools confirm unification proposal". Bedfordshire-news.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-08-07. [permanent dead link]
  6. ^ [1][dead link]
  7. ^ Emily Davies, ed. Ann B. Murphy and Deirdre Raftery, Emily Davies: Collected Letters, 1861-1875 (2004) p. 508
  8. ^ Dolby, Edith at st-and.ac.uk, accessed 29 June 2014
  9. ^ The Times, July 30, 1953, Issue 52687, p. 8, col. D
  10. ^ The Times, August 2, 1954, Issue 52999, p. 8, col. B
  11. ^ Obituaries at bedfordgirlsschool.co.uk, accessed 16 June 2014

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°07′59″N 0°27′39″W / 52.13302°N 0.46078°W / 52.13302; -0.46078