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Harvey, John Hooper (1911–1997), architectural and garden historian, was born on 25 May 1911 in St John's Wood, London, the only child of William Harvey (1883–1962), architect, and his wife, Alice Mabel Wilcox (1874–1958). He attended St John's School, Leatherhead, from 1923 to 1927. In 1928 he joined the office of Sir Herbert Baker, architect, and while there went to the Regent Street Polytechnic (1929–32) to study architecture, in both cases following in his father's footsteps. He spent the years 1933 to 1935 with his father in Palestine assisting in the compilation of survey reports on ancient buildings. In 1934 he returned to marry, on 24 February, (Sarah) Cordelia Story (1903–1996). They had two sons, Richard (b. 1938) and Charles (1940–2000), and one daughter, Eleanour (b. 1945).

Harvey entered the office of works in 1936. As he refused all forms of war work ‘on aesthetic and historical grounds’ (private information), he was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs for six months in 1942. After release he joined his father—now living in Bookham, Surrey—in identifying buildings of historic interest at risk from enemy action. This early ‘listing’ of buildings was resumed on a more general footing in 1947, and Harvey briefly became one of its investigators in 1949. He was appointed consultant architect (for conservation matters) to Winchester College (1947–64), and this gave him the experience needed to become in 1950 the lecturer in the first dedicated conservation course at the Bartlett school of architecture at University College, London (until 1959). In 1972 he published The Conservation of Buildings. For over thirty years from 1960 he sat on the council of the Ancient Monuments Society.

In 1930 Harvey had begun to compile biographical information about medieval architects, and it became his mission to celebrate their work and enhance their status in the eyes of history. A short biography, Henry Yevele (1944), was followed over the next thirty years by a constant stream of articles and an overlapping series of books, including Gothic England: a Survey of National Culture (1947); The Plantagenets (1948); Tudor Architecture (1949); The Gothic World (1950); The Mediaeval Architect (1972); Mediaeval Craftsmen (1975); The Black Prince and his Age (1976); and The Perpendicular Style (1978). Although the range of scholarship displayed in all these books was impressive, the most significant was English Mediaeval Architects: a Biographical Dictionary Down to 1550 (1954, with contributions by Arthur Oswald). This work of reference rapidly became indispensable: as Eric Fernie wrote, it ‘demolishes the idea of medieval architectural anonymity’ (Fernie). An expanded edition was published in 1984, funded by subscription. This won Harvey the Alice Davis Hitchcock medallion of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain in 1987. Of his other works, The Perpendicular Style contained the fullest account of his researches.

Throughout this body of work Harvey sought to establish the artistic importance of England in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. He wanted to demonstrate that in this period the visual arts cohered to form a national style, analogous to the national language used by Chaucer. For Harvey, the fortunes of this artistic movement were closely bound up with those of the later Plantagenets. It was their wish to foster national identity through architecture which had made the Perpendicular ‘the most important phenomenon of English art’ (J. Harvey, The Perpendicular Style, 1978, 13) with Yevele as ‘our greatest architect’ (J. Harvey, Henry Yevele, 1944, vii). While the depth of his scholarship was freely acknowledged, many contemporaries were not convinced by these central ideas. Younger scholars have, however, vindicated his methods and confirmed the concept of artistic identity in this period.

In the later stages of this campaign Harvey was living (from 1963) in York, where he was employed by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England) as an editor (1963–70). In 1975 the family moved to Frome in Somerset. Although he maintained his wide interests concurrently, in these later years he moved increasingly into the field of garden history, which he pursued through a similar attention to neglected sources and an interest in the techniques and materials available to English gardeners. Early Gardening Catalogues (1972) and Early Nurserymen (1974) were crucial texts in establishing the story of how plants were introduced, propagated, and diffused. Many articles, mostly published in Garden History, examined this story in greater detail and supplied the background to introductions from other countries, especially in the Islamic world, where he delighted to travel. In 1981 he published Mediaeval Gardens. He became a leading figure in the Garden History Society and was president from 1982 to 1985; in addition to his articles, the society published his Availability of Hardy Plants of the Late Eighteenth Century in 1988.

Contemporaries were dazzled by the breadth and authority with which Harvey wrote, and he was elected a fellow of the Society of Genealogists (1939), the Royal Society of Literature (1945), and the Society of Antiquaries (1949). The University of York conferred an honorary doctorate in 1976. He was a shy man, and of unbending principle; he could seem reserved and austere. The prodigious, almost obsessive labours by which he transformed medieval architectural studies were driven by a faith in the past, and hatred of much of modern life, which set him apart from most of his contemporaries, although to his inner circle he was jovial and to all who sought information he was punctiliously generous. He died at his home, 32 Christchurch Street East, Frome, on 18 November 1997 of heart failure, and was cremated at Bath crematorium. He was survived by his three children, his wife having predeceased him.

David Brock

Sources  

The Independent (25 Nov 1997) · Daily Telegraph (4 Dec 1997) · J. Harvey and A. Oswald, English mediaeval architects: a biographical dictionary down to 1550, 2nd edn (1984), lii–lvii · A. Clifton-Taylor, ‘John Harvey: a decade of letters’, Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, new ser., 25 (1981), 27–37 · J. H. Harvey, ‘Listing as I knew it in 1949’, Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, new ser., 38 (1994), 97–104 · J. H. Harvey, ‘The origins of listed buildings’, Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, new ser., 37 (1993), 1–20 · J. Harvey, The conservation of buildings (1972), preface · R. Gorer, ‘John Harvey and garden history’, Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, new ser., 25 (1981), 38–46 · L. S. Colchester, ‘Bibliography of John H. Harvey’, Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, new ser., 25 (1981), 47–52 · [L. S. Colchester], ‘Bibliography of John H. Harvey: additions’, Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, new ser., 26 (1982), 249–52 · J. H. Harvey, ‘Published writings by John Hooper Harvey (1911–97) on garden history and related topics’, Garden History, 26/1 (1998), 102–5 · P. Kidson, review of The Perpendicular Style, Antiquaries Journal, 62 (1982), 167–8 · E. Fernie, ‘Contrasts in the methodology and interpretation of medieval ecclesiastical architecture’, Archaeological Journal, 145 (1988), 344–64 · personal knowledge (2004) · private information (2004) [Eleanour Harvey]

Archives  

Borth. Inst., papers on garden history · Guildford Museum, Surrey Archaeological Society, papers on history and topography of Surrey · priv. coll., papers on architectural history · priv. coll., personal papers


Likenesses  

G. Hall, photograph, 1978, repro. in Harvey, ‘Published writings by John Hooper Harvey’

Wealth at death  

under £180,000: probate, 17 March 1998, CGPLA Eng. & Wales