The Colledge Scene

While John Harvard’s life was about as glamorous as his statue’s left foot, he has certainly managed to leave his mark. His most obvious legacy is a small college in Boston (well, not in Boston, near Boston), but some of his influences are a little more subtle. Among them is the Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub.


John’s father was Robert Harvard, who lived in Southwark, England, and worked as a butcher and tavern owner to support his nine children. As many stories set in the early 1600s in England go, this one was violently interrupted by an outbreak of bubonic plague, and the family was whittled down to John, one brother, and Robert’s wife Katherine Rogers, who inherited her husband’s wealth and property.

Robert Harvard’s tavern was an old building, mentioned as far back as 1452 by the name of the Crossed Keys. Sometime in the next century, with the English looking less kindly on an establishment named after the papacy’s coat of arms, the name was changed to the Queen’s Head. When Rogers, surviving her second and third husbands, passed away, the Harvard estate made its way into the hands of John, a newly-minted Emmanuel College grad from England on his way to the New World.

Long life spans did not grace any member of the Harvard family. At just 30 years of age, only a year after after arriving in Charlestown, John succumbed to consumption. On his deathbed, John dictated his will to his wife, Ann Sadler. Half of his fortune went to Sadler, and the rest went to the fledgling college across the river in Newtowne. His generous donation prompted the grateful recipients to decree in the college’s charter that “the Colledge agreed upon formerly to bee built at Cambridg shalbee called Harvard Colledge.”

The Queen’s Head’s future, following the death of its childless proprietor, is far murkier than that of Harvard Colledge. Several hundred years later, in 2005, while playing a Harvard trivia game, a group of undergraduates stumbled upon the fact that John Harvard had bequeathed to the College, upon his death, a pub by the name of the Queen’s Head. They eagerly reported this to the team then elbow-deep in plans for a bar underneath Memorial Hall, which decided to name the new establishment in honor of this ancient college relic.

This version of the story then explains how the English pub fell victim to a great fire in 1676. The Queen’s Head, among other buildings, was “burn'd down, blown up, and wholly destroyed,” according to a 17th-century report. This tale of death-by-fire was included in the original website of the modern Queen’s Head, although they list date as 1886 instead, and a 2007 Crimson article listed it as 1876. There’s some confusion as to whether the pub even burned down at all. Photographs of the pub from 1881 exist, so if it did, it certainly wasn’t until then.

An account of the pub’s history in The Inns of Old Southwark and Their Associations reports that the deeds between 1637—around when John Harvard acquired the establishment—and 1650 are actually missing, making it hard to say for certain who actually owned the pub, Harvard Colledge or otherwise.

Frank W.C. Hersey ’99, an English instructor, gave a talk in Adams in 1935 in which he touched upon the particulars of John Harvard’s history. Hersey purported that John sold the Queen’s Head to fund his journey to the colonies, which would explain the large sum of money Harvard managed to possess upon his death.

This story has a less dramatic finish. The Queen’s Head passed through several owners and even had a brief stint as spillover space for a grammar school before entering the charge of a local brewer, where it remained until it was scheduled for demolition and summarily torn to the ground.


While it is difficult to say whether “the Colledge” found the issue of social spaces on campus to be particularly pressing, the Harvard College of 2005 was plagued with an all too familiar issue—fun on campus had been relegated to the few, leaving the many out to starve.

This phenomenon could be observed in Loker Commons, better known today as the basement of Annenberg Hall. In 1992, Katherine Bogdonovich Loker gave the University a $7 million donation to create a new student center. Despite high expectations, the Commons were quickly relegated to a space for problem sets and FlyBy lunches. The Commons were usually barren come the weekend.

With an unhappy and under-partied campus on his mind, then-Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’72 set out to revitalize the space. He turned to his current special assistant and recent graduate, Zac Corker ’04, to spearhead the offensive. Corker in turn gathered about him a team of undergraduates, who breathed life back into the dreary campus with the creation of Harvard Pub Nights.

Harvard Pub Nights were to be raucous events, featuring cheap food and drink and live entertainment. Corker’s team partnered with Harvard Student Agencies on the food and Veritas Records on the music. The first Pub Night took a month to plan but turned out to be a massive success.

“Pub Night could quite possibly be one of the best things to happen to the social scene at Harvard in a long time. Cheap beer, live music, food, and lots of friends—it almost sounds like what you might find at a college bar in a college town,” wrote the Crimson in 2005. The first night drew in more than 1,000 attendees. Pub Nights became a biweekly affair, with Corker reporting more than 4,500 total students in attendance at the first five events.

The student body, despite Corker’s triumph, was not ready to stop at Pub Nights. Many took the success of the events as an indication that Loker Commons was ready for much more.

Corker, now wielding the title of “Fun Czar,” agreed. “The success of Pub Nights is a clear indicator that Loker Commons, with the right adjustments, can be a real center for student life,” he wrote in an email in 2005. With support from William C. Kirby, then the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Gross, plans to renovate Loker Commons into a permanent campus pub were put into motion. Riding the momentum of Pub Nights, Corker himself was put in charge of the project.

With the renovation, the administration doubled down on its vision for a socially vibrant Loker Commons. The pub was to focus on programming and entertainment, boasting food and drink at hours and prices that appealed to the undergraduate community.

With the shadow of the failed Loker Commons renovation looming large, planners were careful and methodical with their preparations. Undergraduates played a role, helping determine the menu and aesthetic, and picking out a signature beer from a local brewery, which was named the “1636.”

The Queen’s Head opened, with ribbon cutting and associated fanfare, on April 19, 2007, to a crowd of just over 700. Menu items, in “floater or blocking group” sizes, ranged from “The Endowment” (appetizer sampler in the shape of an “H”) to “Freedom Fries.” And who would have the honor of the first pint? None other than Nick Stanton, Council Leader of Southwark, who flew in for the ceremony.


Almost nine years later, Stanton and Gross have left, but Harvard remains embroiled in a campus-wide discussion about social spaces. Undergraduate and graduate leadership of final clubs met last spring to discuss ways to help bolster the college’s social scene, and among the meeting notes lay suggestions to expand “social programming at the Queen’s Head pub.”

The pub, almost entirely undergraduate-run, has been making moves for the past year to increase its presence on campus. According to Antonia S. Washington ’18, the Queen’s Head’s Food Manager, undergraduates are a particular focus.

Integrating weekly live music, performed by student bands, into its weekly repertoire, the Queen’s Head stage has seen performers ranging from dorm room names like Black Tie Affair and the Intrinsics to smaller outfits. Other weekly events have ranged from sassy trivia nights to karaoke (which is, unfortunately, done for the semester). In October, in coordination with other groups on campus, the Queen’s Head helped host the Haunted Hall party, complete with costumes.

Has this spike in programming correlated to a spike in pub attendance? “It definitely has,” Frank Zhou ’18, who’s been working at the pub since his freshman year, says, “We still have a long way to go, but we’re making great strides.”

Not only does the bar have offerings for undergraduates, who remain the major focus of event planning, but also for graduates, faculty, and staff. “It’s something really unique that you don’t really see on any other social space on campus,” Zhou says.

Still, attendance may skew towards the younger crowd. It is not atypical for freshmen to appear in the fall and then disappear for good. To combat this, the pub is working towards hosting and running more events that upperclassmen will find appealing.

The issue of social spaces at Harvard will not be solved overnight, by a single Fun Czar, or with the unveiling of a single new establishment. While Loker Commons is still not the bustling campus hub that Loker or Corker imagined, the Queen’s Head remains hard at work to bring about as much positive change as possible.

“I don’t know if we’ve nailed it, but we’re working on that,” Washington says.