As a young man, William Harpur (about 1496 – February 27, 1574), a man of humble beginnings from Bedford, headed to London to make his fortune. He was admitted to the guild of Merchant Taylors in 1533 and went on to amass a large fortune as a merchant tailor. Not forgetting his roots, in 1562 he bought a large plot of land, at a very good price, in Holborn which he vested in support of four independent schools in his home county; one of which, the Bedford School he himself attended. The endowment was to become the Harpur Trust, which still exists today. In a rather varied career, he went on to become one of the leading citizens of his day. He was elected alderman for the wards of Bridge Without and later, Dowgate; served as treasurer of St Bartholomew’s Hospital; Sheriff of the City of London from 1556–1557, and Lord Mayor of London in 1561. In 1562 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I. The street appears on John Rocque’s 1746 map as Theobalds Court; much of the estate was developed by the unscrupulous builder Nicholas Barbon, who built houses all over the Bloomsbury/Holborn area without necessarily obtaining the permission of the legal owner first. Within the space of 50 years it had been so-named. Shirley Green in Who Owns London estimates that while the estate is reduced now to some 3 acres it is still worth millions, assuring the future of the schools.
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