“ John Harvard's house. It is now the property of Harvard University. „
Harvard House and the Museum of British Pewter, situated in the centre of Stratford on the High Street, within easy reach of the shops and just a short walk from Shakespeare's birthplace, is one of the 'tourist attractions' of the town. I have to say, however, I think the term 'attraction' has been used pretty loosely in this context.
The house was built in 1596 by Thomas Rogers, whose grandson, John Harvard, emigrated to America in 1637 and died shortly afterwards. He left half of his money, books and estate to a small college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which was renamed Harvard college in his honour and eventually became the well respected Harvard university that very clever and/or very rich Americans now attend.
Harvard university administered Harvard House until the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust took responsibility for it. In 1996 it became the Museum of British Pewter following the donation of a great deal of the stuff from a gentleman's private collection (I can only asssume he either got bored of it or his wife told him to stop clutttering up their home with it!) So now, the public has the opportunity to go inside, look round the house and, err, marvel at the pewter displays.
The house itself is very pretty - huge oak beams and lovely Elizabethan architecture. However, if you've already visited Shakespeare's birthplace or Hall's Croft (which are better known and more interesting tourist attractions), then it will be more of the same and you probably won't need to see it. The main reason for going, therefore, is the pewter.
In my opinion, you would need to really LOVE pewter to enjoy this place. And I mean love in a 'I want to marry it and have little half-human-half-pewter children with it'. There is a very extensive range of pewter plates, mugs, badges etc, and this collection fills up all 3 floors of the house. The exhibition traces the history of pewter from Roman times until the present. And there's a lot of detail here. Unfortunately, apart from one gruesome looking pewter syringe, I didn't find any of it very interesting. The only other thing to do, aside from look at the pewter, is a short film about the history of John Harvard.
Children may find the museum slightly more fun. For a charge of £1 they can try the decorative pewter craft of repoussé - basically they get a small thin sheet of pewter and rub it over an embossed shape to make another embossed shape. I'd probably have quite enjoyed that when I was 5 or 6. Also, they can play at being a 'pewter detective' (seriously!) in a small area where there are some questions about pewter, a couple of jugs that they can just about touch if they poke their fingers through small holes, and a magnifying glass to check out the engravings. It's all a little bit school-trip though, so I'm not sure how many would enjoy it.
Finally, the essentials: entry fee is £3.50, under 16s are free if accompanied. Adults get in free if they have a Shakespeare's Houses card which costs £9 and gives entry to Hall's Croft, Shakespeare's Birthplace, Anne Hathaway's Cottage and Nash's House. There are no on-site toilets but public ones are nearby.
I wouldn't recommend you go out of your way to go here - but if you're walking past and you already have a card which gives you free entry, you might as well go in for 10 minutes.
Harvard House was the home of Katherine Rogers, mother of John Harvard, whose bequest made possible the foundation of Harvard University. Built in 1596 it is a fine example of an Elizabethan town house.