A Family History Collection



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The Harse Family In Oxford - Cricket Balls And Bicycles


Benjamin Harse (1822-1890), Son of John Harse and Sarah Singleton


Benjamin married Ann Adams.


Benjamin and Ann had ten children. Benjamin (1848-?), Sarah Ann (1850-?),

Mary (1852-1868), Clara Sophia (1854-?), Walter John (1856-?), Catherine Matilda (1858-?). Winfred George (1860-?), Alfred Colin (1861-199), Morton Philip (1864-?) and

George William (1865-1944).


When Benjamin reached 21 in 1843 the family home had to be sold. By September 1843 Benjamin had left  Wrington to live in Bristol where he worked as a journeyman shoemaker until moving to Oxford in 1860 or 1861. All of the Oxford Harses originate from this marriage. It is not known why Benjamin decided to move to Oxford.

The following extracts provide some insight into the family and their life.


A History of Socialism in Oxford, St Clements


There had been a radical culture, working class struggle, running through Oxford from the early nineteenth century. In the 1880’s there was as a whole, a growing interest of ‘Socialist’ ideas. The foundation of the Socialist League in London by William Morris had repercussions in St Clements. A group of Socialists had regular meetings in the ‘Druids Head’ pub on George Street until the landlord who was a Liberal, objected to the Socialists and expelled them from the pub. This group then went to meet on the Cowley Road in the ‘Elm Tree Tavern’. It was from here that the Oxford Socialist League was born. The formation of the Oxford Socialist League was motivated by Charles Faulkener, a mathematics lecturer at University College, who was also a friend of William Morris.

A document, known as the Foundation document of the Oxford Socialist League, prepared and sent to the Executive Committee of the Socialist League in London requesting affiliation to the national body. The group signed the letter of application on 9th March 1885. The names of those at the meeting included:


George Harse, St Mary’s Road

Walter Harse, St Mary’s Road

Morton Philip Harse, St Mary’s Road

Alfred Colin Harse, Hurst Street


Extract from Quilt Winders and Pod Shavers by Hugh Barty-King


Edward Martin had a cricket ball works at Teston in Kent. When he died in 1869 he bequeathed the Martin cricket ball works and its goodwill to the three or four craftsmen who worked for him and Alfred Reader, in equal shares.


Alfred Reader knew nothing about cricket balls and left the others to run the business. Without a traveller to solicit orders from clubs the business declined and was soon in debt. Alfred bought out the partners in 1871 and cleared the debts. In the same year, back at the University town which Edward Martin had left ( Fuller, Pilch and Martin, Christchurch Ground, Oxford). Benjamin Harse, sole maker of the noted “Oxford” ball, as he was to style himself, set up at 81 St Mary’s Road. In 1873 Alfred introduced the “Reader ball” which was an alternative to the “Duke” and “Twort”. In 1888 Alfred Reader employed six craftsmen making a range of fifteen qualities ranging from 36 dozen “B” match halls at 36 shillings a dozen to Youths at 5 shillings a dozen.


A notebook in 1895 indicates that Reader’s customers included Martin’s competitors the Harse brothers. The Oxford firm had been weak on the promotional side and it seemed they had failed to get their name across even after sixteen years. Benjamin Harse according to his business cards, offered “the most RELIABLE and CHEAPEST MATCH and CATGUT-SEWN BALLS in the trade. Of course, the Harse brothers were saddled with an unfortunate name from the point of view of promotion if they had to rely upon too many salesmen with the inability to aspirate. Meanwhile Alfred Reader continued to make rapid progress building a company that was to last sixty-three years.


Continued on page 2


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