The Market Harborough & The Bowdens Charity was formed in 1994 following the amalgamation of the Market Harborough Town Estate and Bates Charity, the Little Bowden Town Estate and the Great Bowden (Town Lands) Charity.  Although the Charity existed as two separate entities, in 2007, the two entities were finally merged and the Market Harborough & The Bowdens Charity was formed as a single financial reporting structure regulated by the Charity Commission.

The Market Harborough Town Estate and Bates Charity was the largest of the three original charities in terms of disposable income, and traces its history back to the earliest known property records in the form of a Deed of Feoffment dated 1570. It is very likely however that the Charity’s actual origins significantly pre-date this document.

In 1570 the Estate comprised seven houses and most probably (but not documented) certain other lands. By 1776 the Estate had been consolidated into four blocks of land totalling 118 acres. Subsequent to 1776 there is little documented history, although it is known that certain land was converted into allotments, and most of the land and buildings belonging to the Estate were sold.

The earliest known document relating to the Little Bowden Town Estate is again a Deed of Feoffment, this being dated 1683 but referring to an earlier Feoffment in 1639. It is known that in 1683 the Charity’s Estate consisted of a house and land, this now comprising in part the site of the Charity’s flats at Scotland End. The 1780 Enclosure Award saw the Charity’s scattered landholdings replaced by a single plot of land to the west of Northampton Road. By 1832 the Charity also held seventeen houses.

The Court of Chancery approved a new scheme for the Charity in 1847, this specifying the application of the Charity’s income be split equally between the relief of the poor and the apprenticing of children of poor families. Between 1848 and 1926 sixty-three children were apprenticed through the Charity’s scheme. In 1973 the scheme was further amended, and this led in 1974 to the construction of the twelve flats at the Charity’s Scotland End site.

The first reference to the Great Bowden Town Lands Estate is found in a rental record of the Lord of the Manor of Harborough and Bowden, dated 1624. At Enclosure in 1776 the dispersed landholdings of the Charity were consolidated into a single holding off Burnmill Road. The objectives of the Charity as first recorded in 1650 have quite remarkably remained unchanged through until 1994, and effectively provided for a three-way split in the application of the Charity’s income between the Parish Church of Great Bowden, the relief of the poor of the village, and repairs to the bridges/highways/causeways in so far as the inhabitants of the village would have been liable for such repair (this latter area of benefit subsequently falling into the responsibility of the Local Authority and, therefore, beyond the scope of the Charity).

Since the amalgamation of the three charities in 1994, The Market Harborough & The Bowdens Charity has been through a significant period of change and growth. The value of the endowment has increased seven fold in the fifteen years since the amalgamation, and the disposable income, available for the support of Relief in Need and projects providing public benefit in the town, has grown five fold. In addition, the Charity has taken responsibility for the Old Grammar School situated in the centre of the town and has acquired over 130 acres of land on the outskirts of the town. This land holding includes a Site of Special Scientific Interest.