24 December 2007
Southwark is quite rightly proud of its sons who go on and make an impact on the world stage - Chaplin and Caine's efforts on the silver screen, and on us, have rightly been given a plaque in their honour. David Haye made us develop a spring in our step, when he crossed the channel and came back world champion in recent weeks as well.
But one of the first Southwark boys to make an impact worldwide that lasts to this day is John Harvard.
The name of the quite and pious butcher's son from the Borough is synonymous with one of the finest learning institutions in the world, Harvard University in Massachusetts.
A seat of learning that has shaped numerous US presidents, writers, philosophers and scientists that influence today's world. Harvard left half of his estate and all of his substantial library to the university on his death in 1638, donations that allowed it to develop into the renowned institution it is now.
John Harvard came from humble beginnings however, the son of a "fleshmonger", or butcher as it is now know, he was born in 1607 and was part of a large family.
He was baptised in Southwark Cathedral, then known as St Saviours Church, and attended a school of the same name of which his father was governor.
Although his father instilled in him the importance of learning and education that he would pass on to the world, it was through his mother Katherine Rogers that he obtained the financial security that enabled him to pursue his passion.
In 1625 when the plague was sweeping through London, it also swept through the Harvard clan. John Harvard lost all of his family and only he, his brother and mother survived.
His mother was to remarry on two further occasions, and it is thought that through these marriages she obtained the estate and fortune that she eventually passed to her remaining two sons.
Harvard was puritan, and studied at Emmanuel College in Cambridge which was renowned as both excellent educational establishment and a place of staunch puritanical practice where he spent seven years of his life.
It was not until he left there and returned to Southwark that he found that his mother has passed away and left her two sons a large legacy. It is debated about how she came to own her property and fortune, but one property that she left John was the Queen's Head Inn that was sited at Queen's Head Yard on Borough High Street.
Whichever way it came into Harvard's ownership, there is little doubt that the Inn was a source of income that enabled to him to drive on with his passion for learning, and to amass a vast array of books to broaden his mind.
Soon after obtaining his legacy Harvard decided to up sticks and head across to the exciting and dangerous frontiers in America, the financial security he had gained meant there was no need to do so, and it is not well documented why he made the decision.
It might have been the less than hospitable attitude that the Charles I had towards the puritan lifestyle, or it could have been he saw the opportunity to educate and spread knowledge in the new world as too great to resist. But in 1637 he took the plunge and upped sticks to New England.
By this stage he was married to Ann Sadler, and she took the great journey with him. Also on that journey were said to be more than 400 books that would be the basis of the new library in Harvard University.
Although he only spent just over a year in America before dying of consumption in 1638, he clearly made an impact.
He was a minister of the church in his newly adopted town of Cambridge and a well respected man of knowledge who played an important role in the schooling of the town.
John Harvard already has two monuments to his memory in Southwark. A chapel in Southwark Cathedral is named after him, where a celebration of the 400th anniversary of his baptism took place last month.
But he would probably be more proud of the library named after him near the place of his birth. Although less grandiose than its American counterpart it means that places of learning with his name endowed on them now exist in the places of his birth and death.
If you would like to vote for any of the nominees for the blue plaque e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7525 2000.
Detail of Gallery, Queen's Head Inn form photograph prior to 1886.
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