Henry Smith HARPER (c.1820–1887)
St Giles’s (Ss Philip & James’s) section: Row 50, Grave K41

Henry Harper



AGED 67.


The cross that stood on this base is now laid flat in front of it

Henry Smith Harper was born in Camberwell in c.1820. His father John Harper (born in London in 1773) was a wine merchant.

35 Holywell

In about 1830 the family moved to Oxford, and by November 1835 Henry’s father was leasing 35 Holywell Street (right). This house was put up for sale by the owners that year, and was described thus: Lot 1.— The DWELLING HOUSE, No. 35, Holywell-street, occupied by Mr. Harper, wine merchant, and Mr. Hope, builder; it contains two sitting rooms, office, and kitchen, on the ground floor, with six bed rooms above.

At the time of the 1841 census Henry (20) was an assistant librarian at the Bodleian Library, living at 35 Holywell Street with his father John Harper, and his older sister Susan and his younger sister/brother Frances, plus a servant.

Bedel with stave

On 2 February 1843 Henry was elected a University Bedel. The following notice appeared in the Standard on 3 February:

In a Convocation holden this day, Mr. Henry Smith Harper, one of the assistants in the Bodleian Library, was unanimously elected Inferior Bedel of Medicine and Arts, in the room of Mr. John Brown, resigned.

The University of Oxford then had four Yeomen Bedels (compared to six today): they were in order of importance Divinity, Law, Medicine, and Arts, and their tasks included acting as attendants to the Vice-Chancellor, and opening Convocation meetings with the words “Intretis in Convocationem, Magistri, intretis.” There were also three Esquire Bedels until the office was abolished in 1856 (although George Valentine Cox, Esquire Bedel in Medicine & Arts, was allowed to continue in the position until he retired in 1866, and his successor William Waters Harrison remained Esquire Bedel in Law until the 1880s). Cox wrote in 1868, “Of the Yeomen Bedels, in my long experience, I have little to say; they have been truly respectable men, though none of them more so than the present trio, Messrs. Pillinger, Harper, and Haines.”

Right: One of the University Bedels in attendance on the Vice-Chancellor at the St Giles’s Remembrance Service in 2006, showing the type of stave Harper would have carried. Unlike the city’s great mace, which is much heavier and borne on the shoulder, it is is carried in the crook of the arm.

On 1 April 1843 in West Hackney church, Henry Smith Harper (recorded in the original register as Henry Stanley Harper, with his occupation given as “gentleman”) married his first wife Cecilia Jane Frost. For more on his first marriage and daughters, see Cecilia’s grave.

They were living at 58 Cornmarket Street in St Martin's parish in the mid-1840s. On 31 March 1847 he was matriculated as a privileged person at the University of Oxford.

By the time of the 1851 census, Henry (31) was living over James Russell’s music and musical instrument shop at 125 High Street (now Jack Wills) with his wife and first two daughters. His father was now aged 77 and living alone at 35 Holywell Street with his servant. By 1854 they had moved to New College Lane.

His father John Harper died in 1856 at the age of 83 and was buried in St Cross churchyard on 2 July.

The family moved to Park Town at some point between March 1856 and 1861, and Henry’s first wife Cecilia Harper died there in early 1861.

At the time of the 1861 census Henry Harper (41), described as a Yeoman Bedel in the University as well as a librarian, was at home at Park Town with his four children: Florence (17) was a music teacher, and Kate (12), Grace (6), and Minnie (5) were at school. They had one servant.

Two year’s after Cecilia’s death, in Kensington in the third quarter of 1863, Henry Smith Harper married his second wife Mary Hurd Wood of Notting Hill, and continued to live at Park Town with her. They had one child:

  • Henry Guy Harper (born at Park Town on 5 November 1865 and baptised at Ss Philip & James’s Church on 27 December).

They continued to look after Grace and Minnie, the youngest daughters from his first marriage; but Minnie died at Park Crescent at the age of 10 on 2 December 1866 and was buried with her mother.

At the time of the 1871 census Henry (51) was still a Yeoman Bedel and librarian and living at 6 Park Crescent with his second wife Mary (31) and their son Henry (5), as well as his youngest daughter Grace (16) from his first marriage to Cecilia, plus a servant.

They were still there in 1881 with their son Henry (15). Henry attended Magdalen College School, and on 16 October 1884 was matriculated at the University of Oxford the age of 18 by Magdalen College.

Henry Smith Harper died in 1887, and is buried on his own:

† Henry Smith Harper died at 6 Park Crescent at the age of 66 (according to his death notice) or 67 (according to his grave marker) on 23 September 1887 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 27 September (burial recorded in the parish register of St Giles’s and Ss Philip & James’ Church).

His death notice in Jackson’s Oxford Journal read simply: “Sept. 23, at his residence in Park Town, Oxford, Mr. Henry Smith Harper, senior assistant at the Bodleian Library, aged 66.”

His effects came to £3,767 11s. 2d., and his executors were his wife Mary and son Henry Guy Harper, who was described as a gentleman, and Dr John Hurdwood.

His wife Mary Hurd Harper and son Henry Guy Harper had moved to 1 Darnley Road, Notting Hill, by the date of probate on 10 February 1888.

The son of Henry Smith Harper and his second wife Mary
  • Henry Guy Harper (born 1865) married Ethel Maud Nassau Kirby in London on 3 January 1891, and the notice in the Essex Standard read: “HARPER—KIRBY.—Jan 3rd, at St. Andrew’s, Fulham, Henry Guy, son of the late Henry Smith Harper, of Oxford, to Ethel Maud Nassau, daughter of John R. Kirby, of St. Osyth, and granddaughter of the late W. F. Nassau, of St. Osyth Priory.” At the time of the 1891 census Guy (as he called himself) was a dental surgeon of 25, living at 24 Somerset Street, Marylebone with his wife Ethel (22) and their cook and housemaid. In 1909 his wife petitioned for divorce. In 1911 Guy (45) described himself as single and was working at home as a dental surgeon at 3 Pevesney Road, Eastbourne.



Please email stsepulchres@gmail.com
if you would like to add information

These biographies would not have been possible without the outstanding transcription services
provided by the Oxfordshire Family History Society

© Friends of St Sepulchre’s Cemetery 2012–2017