Hartley, Henry Robinson

Henry Robinson Hartley (1777-1850) was born in Southampton on 12 November 1777, the only surviving son of a prosperous but puritanical wine merchant. He attended Southampton Grammar School from c.1787, but although he demonstrated pronounced intellectual ability, he did not go on to university. A youthful rebellion against his strict upbringing led him to adopt some unconventional libertarian notions, which left him with a profound distaste for the social restrictions in 19th century English society and probably contributed to him contracting a severe venereal infection which tormented him throughout his life, and which aggravated a tendency to depression. In 1798 he married, in defiance of his parents’ wishes, Celia Anne Crowcher. The marriage was annulled in 1802, but only after Cecilia had given birth to a daughter. The child was probably not Henry’s and he always refused to acknowledge her.
On the death of his mother in 1821 he inherited both the family home on lower High Street and a considerable fortune. He then devoted his life to study and research, his favourite subjects being natural history, astronomy, antiquities and classics.

He disliked many of the changes that the town of Southampton was then undergoing and this led him into many acrimonious disputes with his neighbours. In 1825 he left Southampton never to return. He lived in Calais and London, returning to Calais in 1846, where he died on 24 May 1850. In his will he left the bulk of his estate to the town of Southampton with instructions to preserve his house as a museum. The will was contested by his disputed daughter and only half the original amount went to Southampton. It was used to establish the Hartley Institution (see below), forerunner of the University of Southampton.

1. Henry Robinson Hartley

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The only known portrait of Hartley, aged nine, by an unknown artist.


Further reading:

Hartleyana, by A. Anderson. (HS/ls)
The University of Southampton, by A. Temple Patterson, p9-23. (HS/ls)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, Volume 25.
Southampton People, by John Edgar Mann, p52-53. (HS/t)


Hartley Institution

The Hartley Institution (image 4) is the ancestor, via a University College, of the present University of Southampton. It was built 1860-1862 after Henry Robinson Hartley left money and property to the town in his will for the establishment of a cultural centre. The institution was opened by Lord Palmerston in 1862 (image 2) and soon became the focus for many of the town's intellectual activities. The hall was the venue for concerts, public meetings, debates and exhibitions. Although Hartley had not intended it to be a teaching college, it became a university college in the 1890s and in 1919 it moved to Highfield and eventually became the University of Southampton.

Hartley was a wealthy eccentric who was raised in Southampton and although he was often at odds with the town’s people and spent much of his life elsewhere, he maintained some affection for the town. The Institution occupied the site of his house (image 3) and its two neighbours, all built in the early 18th century, on the east side of High Street between Bernard Street and Gloucester Square. It was originally intended that the institution should be housed in Hartley's residence, but the bequest committee deemed it to be unsuitable; it was demolished and replaced with a new building. In 1936 the institution building was sold to Poupart and Co, fruit wholesalers. It was demolished in 1940.

2. The opening of the Hartley Institution, 1862

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A contemporary engraving showing Lord Palmerston arriving to open the Institution.

3. The Home of George Robinson Hartley on Southampton High Street

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A watercolour by unknown artist, c.1850

4. The Hartley Institution, High Street

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Photograph, 1930


See also:


Further reading:

Hartleyana, by A. Anderson. (HS/ls)
The University of Southampton, by A. Temple Patterson, p9-23. (HS/ls)
Stories of Southampton Streets, by A. G. K. Leonard, p36-38. (HS/h)
History of Southampton Vol. 3, by A. Temple Patterson, p133-134. (HS/h)
Public Life in Southampton Volume 1, by James Lemon, p34, 53, 220. (HS/l)
Architectural Competition, in The Builder, Vol. 17, 1859, p863.
Architectural Competition, in The Builder, Vol. 18, 1860, p101, 172, 255, 296.


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