Harper House has been in continuous use as a school boarding house since 1873.
The private side of Harper House, originally known as The Retreat, was built c.1814 and was the property of the Digby family. Amongst the earliest tenants was in c.1820 John Mills Thorne (1786-1865), a brewer, banker and School Governor. Thorne purchased the land to the south of the property to create an extended garden with a serpentine driveway and an entrance from Long Street.
The Rev. John Blanch (1842-1907) purchased the freehold of The Retreat, added boarding accommodation and opened it as a school boarding house in January 1873. Blanch also purchased the garden to the west and turned it into a kitchen garden. Around 1896, Blanch sold the southern section of the garden adjoining Long Street. In 1910, The Retreat was renamed Harper House after Headmaster Hugo Daniel Harper. A new block was built by housemaster K.B. Tindall, allowing a considerable increase in numbers. In 1931 the School Governors purchased the property from the housemaster R.W. Macfarlane-Grieve. New studies were built in 1971-1972, and the property was refurbished in 1994-1995, with the addition of new study bedrooms, modern facilities for showering, changing and storing sports kit, a warm oak-panelled reading room/library, a television room, large common rooms, small kitchenettes, and an environmentally-friendly boiler.
In the garden to the west is the Shell House, a summer house with a shell and seaweed ceiling and a conical thatched roof. The first reference to the Shell House appears in 1791 in the will of Thomas Gollop (1746-1793).
Former Harper boys have included Tony Bethell (the youngest man to take part in the Great Escape from Stalag Luft III), Hugh Bonneville (actor best known for playing the Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey), Chris Chataway (politician, broadcaster, track athlete, represented GB at the 1952 and 1956 Olympic Games, pacemaker in 1954 for Roger Bannister when he became the first person to run the mile in under 4 minutes), Cecil Day-Lewis (poet laureate), James Daunt (founder of Daunt Books and managing director of Waterstones), William Frederick Evans (Wales Rugby International), Peter Oborne (author, journalist and broadcaster), John Pardoe (politician), James Purefoy (actor who has appeared in Rome, A Knight’s Tale and Fisherman’s Friends), Christopher Stanger-Leathes (England Rugby International), Basil Wright (documentary film maker, co-founder of the Realist Film Unit).
House letter: d.
House colours: light blue and black.
Dormitory names (named by Phil Jones after Welsh rivers): Towi, Usk, Teifi, Cothi, Dovey.
House magazines: The Critic, The Harpoon.
1873 John Blanch (1842-1907)
1901 Thomas Alfred Bell (1864-1940)
1910 William James Bensly (OS) (1874-1943)
1913 Kenneth Bassett Tindall (1884-1976)
1920 Armine Wodehouse Fox (1869-1947)
1929 Reginald William Macfarlane-Grieve MC (1887-1934)
1934 Ralph Mitford Marriot Barlow (1904-1977)
1948 John Melvin (1916-1999)
1959 Derek Bridge (1921-2012)
1974 Anthony Rouse (1935-2005)
1983 Philip Jones
1994 Charles Allen
1999 Simon Tremewan
2010 Jeremy Wadham
2020 Nicholas Scorer (OS)
- Harper House photographs
- Harper House roll of honour
- Harper House boys’ accounts of the bombing of Sherborne on 30 September 1940
- History of Sherborne School’s boarding houses
For further information about the Sherborne School Archives please contact the School Archivist
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