Sir William Harpur
1768. Sculptor: Benjamin Palmer
Location: Niche above entrance to present-day Bedford Pilgrim Housing Association (former Grammar School building), St Paul'
Sir William Harpur (1496-1574) is believed to have been educated in School Lane (now Mill Street), Bedford but later moved to London and trained as an apprentice tailor. He became a successful businessman, becoming Master of the Guild of Merchant Tailors, an alderman, then Sheriff, and finally the Lord Mayor of London in 1561. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1562.
In 1566 he set up a charity, still in existence today, now known as the Harpur Trust [The Bedford Charity], to benefit Bedford Grammar School and other charitable aims, based on the income from lands in Holborn he left in his will which later became lucrative investments. Harpur Trust Schools' pupils, retired people in the Trust' s alms houses and other worthy causes continue to benefit from his beneficence in the twenty-first century.
The figure you see portrayed in this statue of Portland stone is not a likeness of William Harpur, since no known portrait exists from the sixteenth century, nor would he have been dressed like this, clad in the coat of an alderman of the eighteenth century, the time in which the statue was commissioned. The Latin inscription reads, in an English translation: "Traveller! here is a bodily representation of Sir William Harpur, knight, the munificent founder of this school, which you see so spacious and adorned. If you wish to behold a picture of his mind, you will find it delineated in the record of his benefactions".
There are other memorials to Sir William Harpur in St Paul' s Church, including the Harpur Monument, also by Benjamin Palmer, in the Trinity Chapel, a memorial brass on his grave, with him dressed as a knight (together with his second wife, Dame Margaret), and a stained glass window of 1976, where he is dressed as a Tudor alderman, together with the supposed figure of his first wife, Dame Alice.
Benjamin Palmer (c1712-1778) also produced the Harpur monument (1768), in St Paul' s Church, Bedford. He had a mason' s yard in Holborn, London. Other works include two monuments featuring portrait busts in Westminster Abbey, London, and over thirty funerary monuments in churchyards around England and Wales. The precise date for the installation of the Bedford statue is not known.
Page last updated: 24th September 2015