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Thomas Harley

Thomas Harley was born in Osgathorpe to Francis and Ruth Harley in 1613, the second child of a family of six children.  It is likely that the Harley’s were a typical small landowning family that were the backbone of rural life at that time. Francis, the eldest son of the family, would inherit the majority of the estate and would stay at home. The rest of the family needed to seek their own fortunes.


Thomas went to London. Camden's Britannia described him as ‘Thomas Harley citizen of London’.  It is not known if he was in business and if so what type, but he was married to and survived two wives, Joan and Mary. Both had been widows of citizens of London.  Whatever Thomas Harley's affairs were, they were carried on during a very turbulent and dangerous time in English history, the Civil War between Parliamentary and Royalist forces. During this time Thomas kept close ties with this area, many of his lands and holdings recorded as being in and around Snibston, Hugglescote, Walton, Belton and Whitwick.


Francis Harley senior died in 1658 and his son about a year later, leaving a widow Sarah and three children. Approaching fifty years of age Thomas was now the senior member of the family and by the early 1660’s he was again resident in Osgathorpe, possibly at Osgathorpe Hall.  He married for a third time to yet another widow, Mary Blount, who was previously married to the Rector of Walton.  


Thomas assigned some of his holdings to a fund in order to found a free school in the village for local children, the intention was to ultimately send Divinity students to Cambridge. In 1668 Mary was pregnant and Thomas wanted to drop the school plans to make provision for his new heir.  Mary persuaded him to continue with the project and must have been instrumental in adding a home for ‘clergyman's widows’ to the scheme.  At that time most clergymen’s widows immediately lost the family home.


Mary Harley was born in August 1668, proving to be the only heir. Thomas died in January 1670 aged fifty six years.  Both Thomas and Mary were buried in St Mary’s Church.



(This information is kindly allowed to be reproduced by the Thomas Harley Estate, Charity Reg No 500537 further details can be found on the website

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As the second son of a small landowning family, Thomas Harley, born in Osgathorpe in 1613, was unlikely to inherit much. Therefore, he set off to London to seek his livelihood. It is not known what business he entered but somehow, during the turbulent period of the Civil War, he amassed a substantial fortune partly via shrewd marriages to three widows in succession. In later life, he returned to the village of his birth

Thomas decided to use some of his wealth to benefit the village of his birth. His first project was the building of a school for local children on a piece of land then known as Brewett ’s Hempleck. The oldest reference to a schoolmaster was Cornelius Smedley with a date of 1685/1686. It is recorded that the Reverend Doctor Theophilus Henry Hastings Kelk was appointed Headmaster in 1833, with 42 pupils registered in 1839

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He also provided a schoolmaster ’s house alongside the school. They were both built of the same stone (Charnwood granite) and, conveniently, the house had a door directly into the school. The schoolmaster was required to be a clergyman and was expected to stay in the role for life on an annual salary of £40. The house is now a private dwelling. Thomas Harley should be remembered as a great benefactor, an innovative thinker and a credit to the history of the village.

Perhaps because one of his wives was a clergyman’s widow, his final project was to provide accommodation for the widows of clergymen of this area. The building is by the school, aligned at 90 deg to the road. Clergy widows are still supported financially today through the Harley Trust. The building is now a private dwelling, known as ‘The Residence’ as cited in the 1841 census.

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