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John Harvard and Stratford-upon-Avon: 'Friendship between Two Nations'

Today is the birthday of John Harvard, son of a Stratford-upon-Avon native and the founder of Harvard University.

Sheila McVey

For such a big American name, John Harvard has a surprising and perhaps little known connection to Stratford-upon-Avon. In fact, the home of his mother sits in the heart of the town. His local connections have resulted in some wonderful - and a bit weird - Harvard-related material finding its way into our collection.

Harvard Rogers marriage 1605
Harvard-Rogers marriage 1605

Starting at the beginning, this page from Holy Trinity Church's parish register records the marriage of John Harvard's parents on 8 April 1605. See if you can spot the union of 'Robertus Harvard to Katherina Rogers.' Harvard's maternal grandfather, Thomas Rogers, served in the local government with Shakespeare's father John. Could the Shakespeares and Rogers-Harvards have been friends? It is an intriguing and very personal connection.

Even more 'personal' is this curious relic in the museum collection: a lock of John Harvard's hair. Early Stratford-upon-Avon historians were keen to collect any material relating to Shakespeare and other notable locals. Whether or not we believe this is really a lock of Harvard's lovely dark hair, it probably tells us more about 18th-19th century collecting than about the man himself.

Lock of John Harvard’s hair? [SBT1971-12/1.7]
Lock of John Harvard’s hair? [SBT1971-12/1.7]

Harvard and his links to Stratford and Shakespeare continued to capture imaginations into the 20th century. The author Marie Corelli was instrumental in purchasing Harvard House in Stratford with the aim of preserving and promoting its heritage.

‘One shilling’ – Harvard House guidebook by Marie Corelli [87.32 COR]
‘One shilling’ – Harvard House guidebook by Marie Corelli [87.32 COR]

In her own words, "You may call it a romantic notion, perhaps but I should like to think that the house of John Harvard's mother was a link with John Harvard's University, and a sign of friendship between the two nations."