The building now known as Harvard House was built in 1596 by a wealthy townsman, Alderman Thomas Rogers, who had twice served as High Bailiff. His initials are carved on the front of the house alongside those of his wife Alice and his eldest son, William, and the date 1596. The elaborately carved façade, by far the richest example in the town, is testimony to Rogers's wealth and standing.
The link with Harvard dates from 1605 with the marriage of Roger’s daughter Katherine, and Robert Harvard of Southwark. It was their son, John, born in 1607, who emigrated to America in 1647. John Harvard worked as a preacher and teaching elder in Newtowne, where the Massachusetts Bay Colony had set up a fund for the founding of a new college. John died of tuberculosis in 1638, bequeathing £750 to the fund – in excess of £3 million today – along with his library of 230 books, and the new college took his name.
Harvard house has been home to many businesses, including butchers, blacksmiths, plumbers, ironmongers, glovers, apothecaries and latterly an auction house. Photographs in our collection show the changing use and businesses, the alterations that have been made and the constantly moving front door.
The house was bought in 1876 by H.W. Newton who undertook substantial restoration necessary because of subsidence. After his death the house was again sold and, through the efforts of Marie Corelli, the popular novelist who lived in Stratford, purchased by Edward Morris the American millionaire, and subsequently vested in Harvard University.
Harvard University, through a British trust, administered the property until 1990 when the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust assumed responsibility for it. In 1996, it became the Museum of British Pewter for some time, but it is now interpreted as a fine Tudor home displaying treasures from our material culture collection.