Bedford Modern School

Bedford Modern School (often called BMS) is a Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference independent school in Bedford, England.[1] The school has its origins in The Harpur Trust, born from the endowments left by Sir William Harpur in the sixteenth century.[2] BMS comprises a junior school (ages 6–11) and a senior school (ages 11–18).[1]

Bedford Modern School
Bedford Modern School - Crest.jpg
Manton Lane

, ,
MK41 7NT

TypePublic school
Independent day school
MottoFloreat Bedfordia
(May Bedford flourish)
Religious affiliation(s)Interdenominational
Established1764; 257 years ago (1764)
Department for Education URN109728 Tables
ChairSally Peck
HeadmasterAlex Tate
Age7 to 18
Colour(s)Black and red
PublicationThe Eagle/ The Sports Eagle/ The Eaglet
School song"School of the Black and Red"
Boat clubBedford Modern School Boat Club Bedford Modern School Boat Club Rowing Blade.svg
Former pupilsOld Bedford Modernians
Unofficial Motto"Modern 'til I Die"

The school has had four names.[2] In 1873 the school became Bedford Modern School to reflect its modern curriculum, providing an education for the professions.[2] BMS provided education not only for the locality but also for colonial and military personnel abroad, seeking good education for their young families.[2]


Bedford Modern School has its origins in The Harpur Trust, born from the endowments left by Sir William Harpur in the sixteenth century.[3] Since the separation of Bedford School and BMS in 1764, the School has had four names – the Writing School, the English School, the Commercial School and finally Bedford Modern School, the last change being made in 1873 to reflect the School's modern curriculum, providing an education for the professions.[2]

Bedford Modern School: Blore Building

BMS provided education not only for the locality but also for colonial and military personnel seeking good education for their young families.[2] In 1834 BMS moved from its original premises in St Paul's Square to buildings designed by Edward Blore in Harpur Square, Bedford.[2]

The ‘Long Swim’ was established under Dr Poole (headmaster of BMS from 1877 to 1900), a ‘free-for-all’ swimming race in the River Great Ouse from Bedford town bridge to the ‘Suspension Bridge’. The gruelling event was stopped in 1957 due to river pollution.[2] An annual compulsory steeplechase still takes place at the school for each year group.[4]

During World War II, the inventors Cecil Vandepeer Clarke and Stuart Macrae took a prototype of their limpet mine to Bedford Modern School swimming baths, which were closed for such occasions. Clarke was an excellent swimmer and was able to propel himself through the water with a prototype bomb attached to a keeper plate on webbing around his waist.[5]

Inspection of the BMS OTC by Field Marshal Earl Roberts VC, 1914

Dame Alice Owen's School was evacuated to BMS for the entire duration of World War II.[2][6]

The school’s Prichard Museum, a collection of artefacts sent back to the school mainly from old boys around the world, became Bedford Museum.[2] George Witt was a major benefactor to the school's museum.[7]

The successful growth of the school meant that the buildings became increasingly cramped and in 1974 the school moved to new premises in Bedford.[2] The Foundation Stone for the new building was laid by Margaret Thatcher.[2] On 11 May 1976, Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a commemorative panel at the new school building during her visit with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.[2]

BMS became a coeducational day school in 2003. In 2014, BMS celebrated the 250th anniversary of its separation from Bedford School.[4] David Scott Daniell wrote about his schooldays at BMS in his first novel, Young English.[8][9]

School housesEdit

House name and Colour[4]

Following a tradition of over a hundred years the Senior School Houses of BMS were: North, South, East, West, County and United Boarders.[2] United Boarders comprised the combined boarding houses: Culver, Shakespeare, and School House.[2] The day boy houses often, though not always, reflected the parts of the town or county from which the boys hailed and were mentioned in the chorus of the school song.[2]

A decision was made in October 1997 for the house system to play a more central role in the school and to reinvigorate internal competition whilst upholding its traditions.[4] Six heads of house were appointed from the staff under the direction of a senior head of house, with the brief to establish a modern house system to be integrated into a new school structure and working week, beginning in September 1998.[4] A competition was launched to establish the new house names. The houses were named in honour of six Old Bedford Modernians who had gained national or international recognition in their field.[4]

Each house has its own tie which consists of stripes of the three school colours and their own house colour.[4] Inter-house sports cover all major and minor sports run by the school, at both junior and senior level, and range from rugby and hockey (major sports) to shooting and fencing (minor sports).[4] There are also non-sporting events such as quizzes and Music and Drama competitions.[4] Students take leadership roles as house captain or house deputies.[4]


Bedford Modern School: Prize Book, Midsummer 1889

Monitors are selected, following a written application process, from students in the upper sixth.[4] Each team of monitors works with a specific year group, and are led by two senior monitors, appointed by the head master.[4] Senior monitors, along with the heads of school, are entitled to wear a red trim on their blazer.[4]


Boys in years 7 to 11 wear their house tie and school blazer alongside black trousers and a white shirt.[4] Girls may wear the school skirt or black trousers with the school blazer (girls' blazers have a red and black braid). Sixth form students wear a business suit.[4]


Until 2003, BMS was a day and boarding school for boys.[4] Following 12 years of discussions, Bedford Modern School closed its boarding houses and became coeducational in September 2003.[4] In 2013, BMS celebrated 10 years of coeducation, with a play written by Mark Burgess commissioned to celebrate the event.

Extracurricular activitiesEdit


Bedford Modern School, first sortie to Henley in 1882
Bedford Modern School Cricket Pavilion
King George V addressing the Bedford Modern School CCF, 1918

BMS competes against Bedford School, Berkhamsted School, Bishop's Stortford College, Eton College, Hampton School, Harrow School, Kimbolton School, Haileybury, Merchant Taylors, Oakham School, Oundle School, St Albans School, Stowe School and Stamford School in rugby union or rowing. Other sports include cricket, hockey, athletics, fencing, rugby fives, football, swimming, table tennis, tennis and water polo.

Bedford Modern has had former students going on to compete at national and international levels including two former captains of the England national rugby union team and a former captain of the England cricket team.

The school was selected as an official training site for the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics.[18]

Performance artsEdit

Each year, the school puts on two productions, normally musicals, with full orchestra and set, in its 300-seat auditorium. It also hosts its own Shakespeare Festival, in which local schools are invited to take part. The sixth form has its own theatre company, Theatre in Transit, which puts on a piece of theatre each year at professional venues.[19] In September 2014, the Chamber Choir performed The Armed Man at the Royal Albert Hall as part of Sing UK's 'A Mass for Peace'.[20]

Combined cadet forceEdit

The school's CCF has existed since 1863. BMS is one of very few schools in the UK to have had all four arms of the Service within its Corps: Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Royal Marines. The Royal Marines section of the CCF closed in July 2017. Bedford Modern CCF invites students from nearby Bedford Greenacre Independent School and Bedford Free School to be part of the Corps.

Eagle magazineEdit

The Eagle, The Magazine of Bedford Modern School, first published in 1881

The school has several of its own publications, the most prominent of which is named The Eagle.[1][21]

The Eagle has been published mostly biannually since 1881 and doubles as an archive of life at the school during that year.[1][21] The Eagle is predominantly designed and edited by sixth form students, and since 2000 is printed as a glossy magazine with around 48 pages.[1] It often also includes feature articles and interviews from former students.[1][21]

In addition to The Eagle, other publications include The Eaglet, which, until recently, was included as part of the main magazine, and includes articles from the Junior School.[1][21] Another publication is the Eagle News, which is published for the benefit of OBMs.[1][21] It includes School news, and follow-up articles of former pupils.[1][21] In 1906, the mathematician Eric Temple Bell reported news of an earthquake in San Francisco, where he was resident at the time.[22]

The school is still known for this magazine in the Bedford area, where extra copies were often distributed.[1][21] However, distribution externally is now limited.[1]

List of headmastersEdit

The following have been Headmasters of Bedford Modern School.

Notable staffEdit

Bedford Modern School: The Harpur Window

Old Bedford ModerniansEdit

Former pupils of the school are known as Old Bedford Modernians or OBMs.

Further readingEdit

  • Underwood, Andrew (1981). Bedford Modern School of the Black and Red. ISBN 0-9507608-1-1.
  • Godber, Joyce (1973). The Harpur Trust 1552–1973. White Crescent Press Ltd. ISBN 0-9502917-0-6.
  • Conisbee, Lewis Ralph (1964). Bedford Modern School, Its Origin and Growth. Foundry Press Ltd., Brereton Printing Works, Bedford. OCLC 771167017.[33]
  • Vipan, Herbert Edwin (1901). A register of the old boys of the Bedford Modern School. OCLC 557698898.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Bedford Modern School". Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Bedford Modern School of the black & red. 1981. ISBN 9780950760803. OCLC 16558393.
  3. ^ The Harpur Trust, 1552-1973. ISBN 0950291706. OCLC 903515.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac School of the Black And Red by Andrew Underwood 1981. Reset and updated by Peter Boon, Paul Middleton and Richard Wildman in 2010
  5. ^ Clarke, John Vandepeer (2005b). "Wartime memories of my childhood in Bedford Part 1". WW2 People's War. BBC
  6. ^ "BBC - WW2 People's War - Some random memories of wartime Bedford - Part One - The Owen's School boys settle into Bedford". Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  7. ^ "British Museum - Term details". British Museum. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  8. ^ Young English, The story of a schoolboy. London, Jonathan Cape, 1931
  9. ^ Daniell, David Scott (1 July 1931). Young English: the story of a schoolboy. OCLC 315904957.
  10. ^ "The Windsor Magazine". Ward, Lock and Bowden. 1 July 1909 – via Google Books.
  11. ^ "Times Past: England cricketer in BMS side".
  12. ^ Davies, Interview: Gareth A. (14 August 2006). "My Sport: Monty Panesar" – via
  13. ^ Warner, P. F (1 July 1922). My cricketing life. 2nd ed. Hodder and Stoughton. OCLC 497463373.
  14. ^ "gully". Dictionary Central. Archived from the original on 1 February 2015. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  15. ^ "The Victoria History of the County of Bedford". Mocavo. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  16. ^ "Uruguay v Argentina, 20 July 1902". Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  17. ^ Pathé, British. "Henley Regatta".
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 July 2012. Retrieved 6 August 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) On Your Marks! Bedford Borough to host teams from around the world ahead of London 2012
  19. ^ "Theatre in Transit Performance". Bedford Modern School.
  20. ^ "Sing UK - Welcome to Sing UK!". Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g School of the Black and Red, A History of Bedford Modern School, by Andrew Underwood (1981); updated by Boon, Middleton and Wildman (2010)
  22. ^ Barker, Malcolm E. (30 June 1998). Three Fearful Days: San Francisco Memoirs of the 1906 Earthquake & Fire. Great West Books. ISBN 9780930235062. Retrieved 30 June 2019 – via Google Books.
  23. ^ a b c d e f Who Was Who, Published by A&C Black Limited
  24. ^ a b Who's Who 2014, Published by A&C Black Limited
  25. ^ "Bedford Modern School announces new headteacher".
  26. ^ "Hillhouse, William Professor (1850 – 1910)". Archived from the original on 4 December 2014. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  27. ^ "UCL Archives: Home Page".
  28. ^ Twentieth-century Children's Writers. Macmillan International Higher Education. 10 November 1978. ISBN 9781349036486 – via Google Books.
  29. ^ "Yesterday's men". 4 January 2006 – via
  30. ^ "Eagle news July 2016". Issuu.
  31. ^ Independent School Parent. "Bedford Modern School Head of Speech and Drama writes for BBC Radio 4". Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  32. ^ "England Rugby Star Joins BMS Coaching Team". Bedford Modern School. 8 September 2021.
  33. ^ Bedford Modern School (Bedford, England); CONISBEE, Lewis Ralph (12 December 1964). Bedford Modern School: its origin and growth. An outline history. By L.R. Conisbee, etc. [With plates. OCLC 771167017.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 52°08′53″N 0°28′55″W / 52.148°N 0.482°W / 52.148; -0.482