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John Harvard London
(1607 – 1638)



At the end of the North Transept in Southwark Cathedral, London is a small chapel known as the Harvard Chapel.

Probably best known as the principal benefactor of America’s oldest and most respected university, John Harvard was born in Southwark on 26 November, 1607 and his baptism in St Saviour’s (Southwark Cathedral) is recorded in the church register, a copy of which is on display.

His father was a butcher and tavern-owner and his mother, Katherine (Rogers) came from Stratford-upon-Avon.

His father was a butcher and tavern-owner and his mother, Katherine (Rogers) came from Stratford-upon-Avon. William Shakespeare may have known the family, and could have attended young John’s baptism.

Early Life
His father and three siblings became victims of the Plague in 1625, but somehow John escaped it. In 1627 he entered Emmanuel College Cambridge and obtained a BA Degree five years later.
In 1635 his mother died and in 1636 John married 22 years old Anne Sadler from Ringmer in Sussex. A year later John Harvard’s only remaining sibling, Thomas, died.
Relocation to the New World
The Harvards decided on a new life in the New World and in May 1637, shortly after Thomas’s death they migrated to New England and settled in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Charlestown was an enclave of English migrants and they soon appointed John Harvard as Minister of the church. Unfortunately within 12 months he had contracted tuberculosis and died on 14th September 1638.
Harvard University
John Harvard died childless and he bequeathed half of his estate (£779) and his entire library of some 400 volumes to the New College of Cambridge, Massachusetts. In gratitude for this wonderful bequest the new University was named after him.
Memorials in Britain
- Stratford-upon-Avon
There is a further memorial to John Harvard in his mother’s home town of Stratford-upon-Avon. Katherine's father's 1594 Elizabethan home in High Street has been restored and is administered by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. For more details visit the Harvard House article in this website.
- Southwark Cathedral, London
The grateful people of America have responded by restoring and endowing the original 12th century Chapel of St John the Evangelist in Southwark Cathedral. The chapel has been rededicated as the Harvard Chapel.
The members of Harvard University provided the funds to restore the chapel and Joseph Choate, the American Ambassador (1899-1905), donated the beautiful stained glass East window. The window depicts St John baptising Christ flanked by two angels and contains the crests of Emmanual College, Cambridge and Harvard University. The window and chapel suffered bomb damage during the Second World War but Harvard University once again repaired the damage.
The communion table with its twisted ‘barley-sugar’ legs was given to St Saviour’s in 1623 by Joyce, Lady Clarke for use as the High Altar. An 1851 tabernacle designed by the great 19th century architect, Pugin, contains the Reserved Sacrament.
Also in the chapel is a memorial plaque to the American playwright and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II who died in 1960.  
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Southward Cathedral - Getting There
A good way for getting to Southwark Cathedral & the Harvard Chapel:
The Cathedral is well served by Mainline and Underground Rail and buses.
The Cathedral website has very good Web: 'how to find us" directions

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