|Focus||Education and Almshouses|
- providing and promoting education
- offering help and relief to anyone who is sick, in need, in hardship or distress
- providing recreational facilities with a social welfare purpose for the people of Bedford and its surroundings.
Reorganised as a company limited by guarantee in 2012, it was previously called The Bedford Charity (The Harpur Trust) as its legal name, but was most often referred to as the Harpur Trust.
The main activities of the charity are the operation of a number of independent schools and one academy in Bedford. The charity also operates a number of almshouses in the Bedford area. In addition, the charity supports the community by giving grants to local projects. In 2009/10 it donated over £1,900,000 in grants to projects based in and around Bedford. This money is intended to help local organisations and individuals to make a difference to their own lives or those of others.
The Harpur Trust was established by Sir William Harpur (c.1496–1574). Harpur was a merchant from Bedford who became Lord Mayor of London in 1561. He was knighted in the following year. Sir William and his wife, Dame Alice, gave an endowment which consisted of some property in Bedford and 13 acres (5.3 ha) of water-meadows which are now Holborn. It was to support free schooling, dowries for poor maidens and “nourishing and informing poor children”. In 1566, the Bedford Charity endowed Bedford School, which had been established in 1552, and founded "the Writing School" (later renamed Bedford Modern School) to teach copper plate handwriting. In 1764, the Harpur Trust was formally created by Act of Parliament. It was not until 1882 that girls' education was endowed by the trust.
Today the Harpur Trust runs a range of fee-charging private schools:
- Bedford School for boys
- Bedford Modern School, co-educational
- Bedford Girls' School (The school was founded in 2010 as the result of the merger between Dame Alice Harpur School and Bedford High School)
- Pilgrims Pre-Preparatory School, co-educational
It is these schools run by the Bedford Charity that make Bedford famous for the quality of its private education. In March 2009, the charity confirmed it would enter the state education sector with the opening of a new academy in Bedford: Bedford Academy opened in September 2010, and is sponsored by the charity along with Bedford College.
The Harpur Trust also owns almhouses in Bedford and the nearby village of Bromham. The Charity's endowment was valued at £53.9 million in June 2010 and it employs over 1,200 people in Bedford. Its current Chief Executive is David Russell.
- De-la-Noy, Michael (1999). Bedford School: A History. Bedford School. ISBN 0-9536685-0-9.
- Sargeaunt, John; Hockliffe, Ernest (1925). A History Of Bedford School. F.R.Hocliffe & T. Fisher Unwin Ltd. ISBN N/A.
- Godber, Joyce (1973). The Harpur Trust 1552–1973. White Crescent Press Ltd. ISBN 0-9502917-0-6.