^ Home
< Back
? Search
Print this page




Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

Directory Listings





Parish Records




War Memorials



What follows are two obituaries written for one of Exeter's most distinguished citizens - a man of great talent called Harry Hems who was greatly loved by the poor people of Exeter for whom he did so much, usually by stealth, and also by the men of the Rifle Volunteers who he supported for years. He was a great craftsman who created a treasure trove of beautiful artefacts throughout Devon and indeed, throughout the world.  Curiously, he never seems to have achieved the recognition he deserved within the City of Exeter. 


He had an odd sense of humour which sometimes jarred - like naming his little boy who died soon after birth "Lord Archibald Hems"; he had a couple of well-publicised (by him) brushes with the Inland Revenue in which he was clearly in the wrong; and he fanned the flames of publicity whenever he could see a benefit to his business - in other words, he was a maverick in the Victorian business world who sometimes shocked and puzzled other influential men in the town, and perhaps even made them feel uncomfortable. But you should have heard the rafters ring for him at the 1st Rifle Volunteers' Smoking Evenings and you should read this extract from a poem written by an elderly local man on the day following his death:


"The poor will miss him, and the poor will weep,

The aged and infirm, with nought to crave

Save kindliness and sustenance and sleep,

And a verdant carpet to a lowly grave - 

These will remember how he loved to take

Their hands in his and lead them to the feast

Of old-time Christmas, and desired to make

Them all at home, the greatest with the least."



From The Exeter Flying Post

8 January 1916:

"Mr. Harry Hems who passed away on Wednesday morning at his residence, Fairpark, Longbrook Street, had been in poor health for a considerable time, succumbing finally to Bright's Disease and the hardening of the arteries due to advancing years.


He was 73, having been born in Islington in June 1842, and had lived at Exeter just fifty years and one month.

Fairpark, Longbrook Street, Exeter

Fairpark - the Longbrook Street home of Harry Hems.

©Richard J. Brine


The horseshoe found by Harry Hems

At first apprenticed to a Sheffield cutler, he soon transferred his energies to wood carving and, after a short time in London, he went to Italy to seek inspiration under the best masters. Arrested as a Garibaldian spy, he was released after a night in prison, but his experiences led him to come home, though he had to tramp across Europe to do it.


It was on 4 December 1866* that he came to Exeter to assist in the erection of the Albert Memorial Museum and it was on his way from the railway station to the city that he picked up the "lucky" horseshoe which henceforward was always associated with his name.


After the Museum was finished, he set up in business for himself in Paris Street, removing some 30 years ago to the site of the present works, running from the bottom of Longbrook Street to St. Sidwell's Church lane.

Detail from the facade of the former workshop of Harry Hems.  The date is 1 December 1866* (not the 4th as stated in this obituary) and below it hangs the very "lucky" horseshoe found by Harry. Notice too his motto - Faithful not fawning" and the Latin numerals used to read " I excel".

©Richard J. Brine


Information about the Long Brook fixed to Harry Hems' building

©Richard J. Brine





^ Home
< Back
? Search
Print this page