A cartoon of H.D. Harper as Sherborne’s Guardian Angel.

When Hugo Daniel Harper (1821-1895) was appointed headmaster of Sherborne School in 1850 he brought with him 30 pupils from his former school, Cowbridge Grammar School in the Vale of Glamorgan, including Lewis Morris who went on to became a famous poet of the Anglo-Welsh school.

Harper, a graduate of Jesus College, Oxford, had been headmaster of Cowbridge Grammar School for three years, during which time he transformed the failing school and increased the school roll from 12 to 80.

It was hoped by the Governors of Sherborne School that Harper would bring about similar changes at their school.  When Harper arrived at Sherborne in 1850 he discovered dilapidated and cramped buildings and only 40 pupils on the school roll, with just two boarders.

Design by Clayton & Bell for the Harper Memorial Window (c.1895)

Harper remained at Sherborne for 27 years, becoming one of Sherborne School’s longest-serving headmasters.  By the time he left Sherborne in 1877, he had increased the number of school buildings tenfold, with the acquisition and conversion of the former monastic buildings into what are now the chapel, library and headmaster’s building (1855), and new buildings including the Custos Lodge (1852-53), School House (1860-61), the English block (1870), Fives courts and outdoor swimming bath (1873), and the Big School Room (1877-1879).  The number of pupils had also increased from 40 in 1850, to 278 in 1877 (248 of whom were boarders).

Harper’s achievements are commemorated at Sherborne School.  In the east end of the School chapel can be seen the Harper Memorial Window, designed by Clayton and Bell and costing £312, it was unveiled by Harper’s widow at Commemoration Day in 1896.  In the south aisle of the chapel there is also a memorial window for Harper’s son, W.J. Harper, who died in 1881 as the result of injuries sustained during a game of rugby.

Portrait of H.D. Harper, Old School Room.

In the Old School Room can be seen a portrait of Harper, a copy of a portrait in the Principal’s Lodgings at Jesus College, Oxford, where Harper was Principal from 1878 to 1895.  If you look carefully at the painting you can see in the foreground a cicada, which is believed to be a pun on Harper’s surname, as in Greek the words used to describe the noise made by a cicada and by a harp are the same.  In the west window of the Old School Room can also be seen Harper’s crest, with the motto ‘Numen Lumen’ – ‘God, our light’.

In 1910, one of Sherborne School’s boarding houses, The Retreat in Hound Street, was renamed Harper House in honour of H.D. Harper.

After leaving Sherborne, Harper was Principal of Jesus College, Oxford.  He died on 8 January 1895, aged 73, and was buried at Oxford on 12 January 1895.

See also:
Headmasters of Sherborne School
Portraits of Headmasters of Sherborne School (flickr)
The Stained Glass of Sherborne School (flickr)
Ghosts of Christmas Past: Christmas celebrations at Sherborne School in the 1870s
History of Harper House

Posted 1 March 2018 by Sherborne School Archives.

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