Catalogue description Manuscripts in the Society of Antiquaries of London

This record is held by Society of Antiquaries of London

Details of SAL/MS
Reference: SAL/MS
Title: Manuscripts in the Society of Antiquaries of London

PLEASE NOTE: The manuscripts and archive collection of the Society is currently undergoing rearrangement and renumbering. Information held here is gradually being updated but for a full detailed catalogue please visit

The manuscript collections of the Society of Antiquaries of London reflect the interests of the Fellows of the Society from its foundation in 1717 to the present day. The Lindsey Psalter and Winton Domesday are the best known manuscripts, but there is a wide range of material in many languages, dating from the late tenth to the twentieth century, and including a number of fine illuminated manuscripts. The collections relate mainly to antiquities, history and law, theology and liturgy, heraldry and literature and contain many antiquarian curiosities, and there are early archaeological reports as well as recent surveys. Other illustrated records relate to antiquities, architecture and topography.


The Society's manuscript collections range from the tenth to the twentieth century. They are mostly in Latin, English, including Middle English, French, German and Italian. There are some manuscripts in Greek, Church Slavonic, other Slavonic languages, Spanish, Portuguese, Welsh, Dutch and Flemish, and Norwegian. There are two Ethiopic manuscripts, a number, mostly Korans, in Arabic, and a few in Chinese, Bengali and Hindi.




A.H. Anno Hegirae


A.J. The Antiquaries Journal


Ants. Corr. and Papers Correspondence and papers in the archives of the Society of Antiquaries


Arch.Cant. Archaeologia Cantiana


Aspilogia I (1950) and II (1967) A. R. Wagner, A Catalogue of English Medieval Rolls of Arms (1950); T. D. Tremlett, H. S. London, Rolls of Arms Henry III (1967), with Sir A. Wagner, Additions and Corrections to Vol. I


BAA British Archaeological Association


BAR British Archaeological Reports


BL British Library


BM British Museum


BRUC A. B. Emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Cambridge to 1500 (1963)


CBA Council for British Archaeology


CSPD Calendar of State Papers Domestic


DNB Dictionary of National Biography


EETS Early English Text Society


Ellis (1816) H. Ellis, A Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Library of the Society of Antiquaries (1816)


Evans (1956) J. Evans, A History of the Society of Antiquaries (1956)


FGS Fellow of the Geological Society


FRCS Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons


FRIBA Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects


FRS Fellow of the Royal Society


FSA Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries


GEC G. E. Cokayne, The Complete Peerage (2nd edn, 1910-59)


Gent. Mag. The Gentleman's Magazine


Harl.Misc. Harleian Miscellany (8 vols, 1744-6)


HMC Historical Manuscripts Commission


JBAA Journal of the British Archaeological Society


JRIBA Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects


Ker, MLGB (1964) N. R. Ker, Medieval Libraries of Great Britain (Royal Historical Society, Guides and Handbooks, No. 3, 2nd edn, 1964)


Ker, MMBL, I (1969) N. R. Ker, Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries, I (1969)


LL.D. Doctor of Laws


Mon.Angl. W. Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum (3 vols, 1655-61, and later editions)


Mus.Cat. A. Way, Catalogue of Antiquities, Coins, Pictures, and Miscellaneous Curiosities, in the possession of the Society of Antiquaries of London (1847) (copy revised and annotated by B. de Cardi, 1981-9, in SAL)


OSB Order of St Benedict


Papworth John W. Papworth, Ordinary of British Armorials (1874)


Phil. Trans. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society


PL J. P. Migne, Patrologia Latina


Proc. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries


PRO Public Record Office


PRS President of the Royal Society


PSA President of the Society of Antiquaries


RAI Royal Archaeological Institute


RCHM Royal Commission on Historical Monuments


RIBA Royal Institute of British Architects


Rolls Series Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages (published under the direction of the Master of the Rolls)


SAL Library of the Society of Antiquaries


S.C. F. Madan, etc., A Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford (7 vols, 1895-1953)


SR A. Luders, etc., The Statutes of the Realm (11 vols, 1810-28)


STC A. W. Pollard, G. R. Redgrave, A Short-title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland ... 1475-1640 (1926; and 2nd edn, 3 vols, 1986-91)


u/i Unidentified


VCH Victoria County History


VPSA Vice-President of the Society of Antiquaries


w/cols Water colours


Compiled by Pamela J. Willetts FSA.

Date: 10th century - 20th century
Held by: Society of Antiquaries of London, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Society of Antiquaries of London 1707-

Physical description: 1010 MS
Custodial history:

The manuscript collections of the Society of Antiquaries of London reflect the wide interests and connections of the Fellows and have grown mainly by gift or bequest. Opportunities were also taken from the eighteenth century onwards to purchase a number of important items relating to the Society's concerns. The present Catalogue does not include the Society's archives or the separate collections of prints and drawings and brass rubbings. A few items have from time to time been transferred from these collections and numbered as manuscripts; details are given in the Catalogue entries below. The manuscripts are now numbered 1 to 1010; some of these numbers relate to very large collections (for example, SAL/MSS/520, 728, 786, 790 and 817).


In the first half of the eighteenth century growth of the collections was restricted by the lack of a permanent home for the Society. Early meetings were held in the Mitre Tavern in Fleet Street. In 1753 the Society obtained a lease of a house in Chancery Lane and in 1780 it was able to move to grander apartments in Sir William Chambers' new building at Somerset House. The move to Burlington House came in 1874. The background to these events is given by Joan Evans in A History of the Society of Antiquaries (1956).


Growth of the collections - the early years


The Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Library of the Society of Antiquaries (1816), prepared by (Sir) Henry Ellis, included 216 manuscripts and 34 rolls and charters. As will be seen, a number of other manuscripts were also acquired before this date but not numbered until later.


The early years of the Society are described by Joan Evans (1956). The activities of Fellows are recorded in the Society's Minute Books and in a remarkable group of registers (now numbered SAL/MSS/262, 264, 264B and 265), compiled by officers and Fellows, which contain transcripts and autograph accounts of current antiquarian work and discoveries, often with illustrations. Evans shows a list of early donations and purchases (SAL/MS/264, fol. 135), including churchwardens' accounts (actually accounts of overseers of the poor) of St Clement Danes, 1616 (SAL/MS/67), and a manuscript genealogy of Robin Hood (transcript in SAL/MS/264, fol. 15), both presented on 23 May 1721 by Dr William Stukeley (according to Minute Book I). Many antiquarian collections and discourses by Stukeley himself are included in the collections, although some were not acquired, or not numbered, until much later.


No provenance has been found for a number of early acquisitions and it is unfortunate that another early register, of donations and purchases, cannot now be traced in the archives. In 1735 James Theobald proposed that an exact list of benefactions and purchases be made. The new Secretary, Alexander Gordon, obtained 'a book of 4 quires of blank paper in rough-binding' (Minute Book II, 22 May, 5, 19 June 1735; Minute Book III, page 306, gives some further details of this register. It was marked 'O', described as a 'List of the donations to & purchases made by ye society'; eight pages were entered, and, at the end, other items, pamphlets, printed books and a 'Catalogue of MSS', prints and drawings and 'miscellaneous things', which included 'rolls of vellum deeds &c'. It is possible that it was kept up only during the term of office of Alexander Gordon (1735-41). The list transcribed in SAL/MS/264 may give part of the information.


Some early acquisitions appear to have been exhibited and presented as curiosities but there were other more significant gifts. An important collection of state letters addressed to Oliver Cromwell (SAL/MS/138), formerly in the care of John Milton as Latin Secretary, and mostly published (1743) by John Nickolls, junior, FSA, was presented shortly after the latter's death in 1746, by his father. The Society is also indebted to John Nickolls, junior, for the original grid plan by John Evelyn for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire, brought by Nickolls to a meeting on 14 June 1744. The plan survives, not, as one might have expected, in the official Society register of transcripts of important papers (SAL/MS/262, fols. 147-53v), but in Joseph Ames' own register (SAL/MS/264B, p. 263). This later passed through many hands until it was presented to the Society by Dr Esmond De Beer, FSA, in 1957. An unusual gift was a fifteenth-century volume of Byzantine chant (SAL/MS/48), said to have been recovered from the Turks on the recapture of Buda in 1686, and later owned by Humfrey Wanley; this was presented by Edward Umfreville, FSA, in 1745.


An important purchase, c. 1761, was the collection of deeds relating to coinage, dating from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, with proclamations and treatises, many formerly owned by Sir Robert Cotton (SAL/MS/116). This was relevant to the Society's current interests in producing a revised edition of Martin Folkes' Tables of coins.


The royal charter granted in 1751 enabled the Society to receive bequests. This was important. Many of the most valuable later acquisitions were bequests. The first major bequest of manuscripts (and books) was from Dr Charles Lyttelton, Bishop of Carlisle, PSA (d. 1768). This included the Lindsey Psalter (SAL/MS/59), the most important illuminated manuscript in the Society's collections, Books of Hours (SAL/MSS/13 and 19), Middle English poetry (SAL/MS/134), an unusual Slavonic heraldic manuscript (SAL/MS/54), Lyttelton family correspondence (SAL/MSS/140, 142 and 215) and substantial collections relating to Worcestershire, including the Habington collection (SAL/MSS/143-8). Lyttelton's ecclesiastical, family and social connections, and antiquarian interests, produced a greater contribution to the Society's work and collections than has sometimes been recognized.


The next substantial bequest was that of John Thorpe, junior, FSA (d. 1792), comprising the collections of his father, John Thorpe, senior, MD (d. 1750), relating mainly to Rochester and Kent, with some earlier material, and additions by John Thorpe, junior. The main Kent collections are SAL/MSS/155 to 202 but manuscripts originating from the Thorpes are scattered through the collections (see Index), and it is possible that other material of uncertain provenance, particularly items relating to Kent and medicine, may have formed part of this bequest.


It is obvious that there were many omissions from the Ellis catalogue and some items recorded as gifts to the Society in the eighteenth century got away before numbering. A documented case is that of 'The Antiquities of Boxgrove Priory in Sussex', presented by Sir Joseph Banks (Council Minutes, 8 April 1785) and lent to Richard Gough (Council Minutes, 10 November 1787). This now appears among the Gough manuscripts in the Bodleian Library (MS Gough Sussex 3; S.C. 18252). The loan to Gough was in accordance with a recent regulation that loans of manuscripts and certain other items required the express order of Council (Council Minutes, 20 February 1786), but procedures for monitoring the return of approved loans were apparently ineffective.


A more surprising loss was that of a Middle English manuscript of Sir John Mandeville's travels, recorded as a gift by Samuel Swan, junior, in Archaeologia 11 (1794), 450. The manuscript was exhibited at the meeting of 9 January 1794 when it was said to have been 'lately found' at a farmhouse in Derbyshire. Sufficient details were given (Minute Book XXV, p. 53) to place it as an abridged text of the travels; the date of Mandeville's departure is given as 1332 and the account is said to have been written in 1366. A considerable search has been made for this stray manuscript. It appeared to have some similarity to one of the Douce manuscripts in the Bodleian Library (MS Douce 33) and I am grateful to Dr Martin Kaufmann for sending me information which eliminated this manuscript from my enquiries.


The beneficial results of particular activities of officials and Fellows are well demonstrated by the achievements of John Topham, Treasurer to the Society from 1787. Topham's interests included early household books and inventories and he contributed many papers on these topics. Topham's researches and his friendship with another Fellow, Gustavus Brander, were discussed by Dr David Starkey in a talk to the Society (24 October 1996). Topham bid successfully on behalf of the Society (Council Minutes, 19 February 1790) at the sale of Gustavus Brander's library (8 to 13 February 1790) for two of the prime manuscripts in the Society's collections, the Winton Domesday (SAL/MS/154) and the inventory of Henry VIII (SAL/MS/129). It is also possible that at this same sale Topham was responsible for the recovery of the first volume of the Society's Minute Books; a volume very like Stukeley's Minutes was acquired by the Society at this sale (lot 1128). As has been seen, manuscripts were borrowed by Fellows. Topham may have known that an important item had strayed from the Society's archives. Topham acquired a substantial private library and this appears to have become confused with the Society's collections. At his death it was necessary to claim back SAL/MSS/208 and 216 from his sale, 9 to 12 February 1804 (Council Minutes, 10 February, 2 March 1804). Other items acquired by the Society at Topham's sale were possibly SAL/MSS/541, 543 and 545. It has, unfortunately, been impossible to identify the collection of deeds acquired at the same sale (lot 565). Many charters remain without provenance in the present Catalogue.


The wardrobe books of Edward I and Edward II (SAL/MSS/119 to 122) were presented by the Hon. Daines Barrington, VPSA, in 1785. The first volume was published by the Society as Liber Contrarotulatoris Garderobae (1787). Plans were made for the publication of other manuscripts relating to royal households (SAL/MSS/129, 208, 209 and 211) but only one of these (SAL/MS/211) came to fruition (in A Collection of Ordinances and Regulations, 1790). The inventory of Henry VIII (SAL/MS/129) was finally published in 1998. It is strange that the exact provenance of the Howard household books (SAL/MSS/76 and 77) is not known; SAL/MS/76 was in the collections by 1800 when it was included in John Brand's report to the Select Committee on Public Records.


Another notable bequest (1790) was one of the sources of General Roy's 'Military Antiquities of the Romans in North Britain', illustrated with many maps and plans (SAL/MS/480, previously numbered SAL/MS/214). This was published by the Society in 1793.


The astonishingly varied gift by George Allan of Darlington, FSA, in 1798, included a large collection by the Rev. William Smith relating to Oxford University (SAL/MS/72), a fifteenth-century translation of Aristotle's Politics (SAL/MS/2), prayers of St Anselm and others, twelfth-century (SAL/MS/7), works of Prudentius and Virgil, fifteenth-century (SAL/MS/44), an important fifteenth-century miscellany (SAL/MS/47), and a Koran (SAL/MS/98).


Heraldic manuscripts, which form such a large part of later accessions, are also represented in the early collections. SAL/MS/136/1-4, presented by Joseph Jekyll, FSA, MP, in 1796, include the original Antiquaries roll, c. 1352-60, a jousting cheque, and arms of sovereigns and peers. The collections of William Tillotson (SAL/MS/4, presented by Peter Muilman, FSA, in 1771), which relate mainly to Suffolk and Norfolk, include arms in churches and evidence of a now lost Buckhurst roll.


Acquisitions after 1816


The growth of the collections continued to reflect the interests of Fellows, with some purchases linked to Society policy. Funds for purchases were limited and bequests and gifts, mostly from Fellows, formed the majority of new acquisitions.


Large topographical and historical collections included the bequest in 1840 by Peter Prattinton of his extensive collections relating to Worcestershire (SAL/MS/520), and the Wakeman collection relating to Monmouthshire (SAL/MS/790), which had passed to Octavius Morgan, FSA, and was presented in 1891 by his nephew, Henry Salusbury Milman, Director. In the same year the collection of Canon John Edward Jackson, FSA, relating to Wiltshire (SAL/MS/817) was presented by his nephew. A large part of the important collection of Edward James Willson, FSA, relating to Lincolnshire (SAL/MS/786), which had been sold after his death, was later purchased from Sotheby's in 1901. Part of the dispersed collections of Bryan Faussett relating to Kent were purchased in 1991 at Sotheby's (SAL/MSS/920-2); fragments acquired earlier are in SAL/MS/723.


A generous bequest from Sir Thomas Brooke in 1908 brought another treasure to the Society. The Brooke Antiphonal (SAL/MS/450) is of value not only for its fine illuminations, which were at one time attributed to Mantegna, but for its liturgical and medical interest connected with the cult of SS Cosmas and Damian. One famous illumination depicts the miraculous transplant of a leg.


Other acquisitions have illustrations of high quality, mostly relating to antiquities. These include one of the few extant albums of the Marqués del Carpio (SAL/MS/879), a gift from Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks, Director and later President, in 1882. This represents the collection of antiquities formed by Carpio when Spanish Ambassador in Rome in 1676-82. Later wide-ranging antiquarian collections are often well illustrated and may depict items which no longer survive. One such is the large collection of Albert Way, Director (SAL/MS/700), which includes six volumes of archaeological drawings. The smaller collections of William Michael Wylie, FSA, and Bradford Wilmer, FSA (SAL/MS/871), and John Mitchell Kemble (SAL/MS/682) include illustrations of many finds at continental burial sites.


Early archaeological collections include William Cunnington's account of barrows in Wiltshire (SAL/MS/217) and Thomas Farmer Dukes' collections relating to Uriconium (SAL/MS/218). The collections of Charles Roach Smith, FSA (SAL/MS/857), bring together considerable information and correspondence on the state of archaeology in his time and are of importance in recording the early days of serious excavation, particularly at Richborough. Further material relating to Richborough is preserved in the collection of George Dowker, FSA (SAL/MS/900). There are many collections, some substantial, concerning later archaeological investigations, for instance, those of Sir Mortimer Wheeler, FSA, of Iron Age sites in northern France (SAL/MS/951), interrupted by the last war, of which the Society holds the surviving records.


Single-subject collections reflecting special interests of Fellows range from bells and fonts to stained glass and graffiti. There are many architectural collections relating particularly to churches and castles. Some are finely illustrated such as the bequest (1950) of Dr Francis Harold Fairweather, FSA, which has only recently been numbered among the MSS/(SAL/MS/1002).


The fortunate association of Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks as Director and President for many years led to the development of the Society's major heraldic collections. The Franks Bequest consisted mainly of heraldic books and manuscripts (see SAL/MSS/344-443) although his interests extended much more widely. There had been close connections with the College of Arms since the foundation of the Society. Peter Le Neve, Norroy, was the first President. Many heralds have been Fellows and many Fellows have had a serious interest in heraldry. These connections have produced many gifts and bequests. They include the large collections of Hugh Stanford London (SAL/MSS/925-36, etc.) and Oswald Barron (SAL/MS/728) and many other gifts from Fellows such as Ralph Griffin. The bequest (1926) of Lt Col George Babington Croft Lyons, VPSA, was intended to fund a new edition of Papworth's Ordinary. Important heraldic manuscripts, acquired from the Bequest Fund to assist in the preparation of this edition, included the seventeenth-century Hatton-Dugdale facsimiles of earlier heraldic sources, some no longer extant (SAL/MS/664). The Barron and London collections already mentioned came to the Society largely in connection with the Papworth project.


Another connection, with William Morris (elected a Fellow in 1894), led to the bequest (1938), by his daughter May, of Kelmscott Manor and important literary manuscripts of Morris (SAL/MSS/905-10). These have been supplemented by other gifts and bequests. Professor Ney Lannes MacMinn bequeathed (1967) autograph letters of Morris and research materials (SAL/MSS/944-5). More recently, in 1994, an interesting thirteenth-century Bible owned by Morris, which has fine embroidery repairs (SAL/MS/956), was presented by Mrs Chloe Morton. Calligraphic fragments, with a notebook, photographs and other material (SAL/MS/984), were given in 1995 by Mrs Sandys-Renton, daughter of Arthur Richard Dufty, PSA, curator of Kelmscott Manor.


Other literary autographs, with historical and artistic material, are contained in the sumptuous collections of autographs (SAL/MS/444) bequeathed by Mrs Cely-Trevilian in 1915. These have added interest in containing many documents relating to members of the Herbert and Bing families from whom Lady Vincent, the chief compiler of the collections, was descended.


Cataloguing of the collections


The first printed catalogue (1816) of the Society's manuscripts was prepared by (Sir) Henry Ellis, then Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum and Senior Secretary of the Society. It is uneven in content and does not include all the manuscripts acquired by that date, but serves an important purpose in giving a terminus for the acquisition of SAL/MSS/1 to 216 and thirty-four rolls and charters. Detailed lists are given of the contents of the two Peterborough registers (SAL/MSS/38 and 60) and other important manuscripts, such as the collection of records concerning coinage (SAL/MS/116). The description of the Thorpe Bequest is remarkably full given that many of the manuscripts were still in brown paper parcels (see below). Yet for other manuscripts Ellis gives little more than a note of titles on flyleaves without further investigation.


There had already been problems before 1800 about accommodation for the library and its organization (see Evans (1956), 216-18). Despite the publication of catalogues of the printed books and manuscripts in 1816 there were complaints from Fellows about access to the collections. In 1845 (Council Minutes, 18 December 1845) Council decided to appoint a Library Committee (Evans (1956), 256). It met between 3 June 1846 and 29 June 1847. Attention was mostly given to the printed books, although improvements in storage included the fitting of a cabinet for rarities and manuscripts. Robert Lemon, junior, prepared a detailed progress report on binding and rearrangement of the printed books (Library Committee, 16 November 1846), which was noted by Council on 4 December 1846. Nicholas Carlisle sent a large packet of slips relating to additional printed books and these were ordered to be laid down.


So far there was little mention of manuscripts but work was in progress. Deeds 'of various dates', found in a box left after the death of John Brand in 1806 (see below), were added to the collections (Council Minutes, 13 November 1849). At the same meeting 'certain old M.S.S.', found in apartments lately occupied by John Martin, the library clerk, who had recently died, were ordered to be placed in the library. Robert Lemon was thanked by Council (19 February 1850) for his restoration of manuscript notes concerning Algernon Sidney (SAL/MS/240, a recent gift from Benjamin Williams, FSA, 6 December 1849). Further stimulus came from a letter, 13 August 1850, from James W. Pycroft, FSA. He complained that the Ellis catalogue had not been kept up to date. He estimated that 'since Sir Henry Ellis Catalogue we have acquired upwards of 200 Volumes of Mss & Charters & therefore it would seem desirable that at least the Catalogue on our own Library Table should be made complete'. This figure presumably included the Prattinton collection which was the immediate cause of Pycroft's complaint. His letter was considered at the next Council meeting (26 November 1850) and it was decided to reappoint the Library Committee. At the same meeting Council acknowledged the offer of assistance from Sir Henry Ellis 'in the further completion of the Catalogue of the Society's Manuscripts'. Then matters moved fast for a while. The new Committee met on 11 December 1850 and resolved that attention should first be given to the manuscripts. The Treasurer, John Bruce, and Resident Secretary, John Akerman, were ordered to report on the condition of the manuscripts, and how far they had been catalogued. An interleaved copy of the printed catalogue was to be provided immediately for use in the library and a check was to be made of the manuscripts against the catalogue. It was also resolved that it was desirable that unbound sections of the Prattinton Collection should be arranged and bound. On 20 December 1850 Bruce reported that only three manuscripts were mislaid (they are now present) but that very many were in need of repair and binding. Many were 'mere bundles of loose sheets of paper, without arrangement, in a filthy state from dust, not easy to be consulted...'. The thirty-four rolls and charters were scattered through the library and needed a locker. Mr Tuckett, the Society's binder, was invited to inspect the manuscripts. The attention of the Committee was also drawn to various uncatalogued manuscripts which had been placed in a locker by themselves. The offer of Sir Henry Ellis to inspect these was accepted and the Revd Joseph Hunter had also agreed to attend with Sir Henry. By the next meeting of the Library Committee, 29 January 1851, Sir Henry reported that he had compiled a catalogue of the additional manuscripts and would have this pasted down and sent to the Library. On 22 April 1851 Sir Henry laid before the Committee his catalogue 'already printed'; it did not include the Prattinton Bequest. Unfortunately, no copy of this 'catalogue' can at present be located; it may have been merely a list. Some progress was made with binding and repairs but it was noted that more funds were needed. Work was required on the Prattinton Bequest and on Dr Bromet's recent bequest (SAL/MS/449).


Problems concerning the manuscripts could not easily be solved since the resources in time and money required were considerable. The Library Committee continued to meet. On 19 April 1853 John Bruce reported on further manuscript material (possibly that moved from Martin's apartments in 1849); much of this related to the present Archives (Ants. Corr. and Papers), to judge from some of the details given.


In 1864 there was a further campaign of action. In a report to the Library Committee on 27 January 1864 the Secretary, Charles Knight Watson, had recommended that 'the MSS now lying in paper parcels be bound, without delay, by Mr Tuckett'. But matters were not so simple. In a later report on the state of the library, 1 November 1864 (printed in Proc, 2nd ser, 3 (1864-7), 5-15) Knight Watson gave a graphic account of the scale of the problems - and the need for 'constant and unremitting care'. He reported another check of the library and changes of storage arrangements for its better protection, and made recommendations for binding. He paid tribute to Charles Spencer Perceval, FSA (later Treasurer), for 'the sorting out and arranging for binding not less than fifty parcels of manuscripts, which in their former state of confusion had been abandoned in sheer despair'. Perceval's letter of 14 November 1864 in the same report identified these as 'the residuum of the collections (and indeed the sweepings of the Library) of Dr. Thorpe...'. Some items which Perceval had regarded as rubbish and, it seems, obtained permission to destroy, may now be regretted by garden historians. The 'Notes on Botany' (SAL/MS/199, art 2, in Ellis (1816), 53; not now preserved) consisted mainly of 'schemes for planting a garden of Dr. Thorpe's, near Rochester, and of his friends' answers to his applications for seeds'. Perceval's labours are still well represented by the many soundly bound volumes of Thorpe MSS. Cataloguing the Thorpe Bequest has been a complex problem since items in many of the parcels described by Ellis were removed by Perceval and bound in composite volumes (marked by an asterisk in the present Catalogue; see the introduction to SAL/MSS/155 to 202). Perceval's detailed contents lists, interleaved in many of the composite volumes, are an admirable summary. Perceval also arranged other manuscripts for binding. One bundle (SAL/MS/203, Cottington Papers, etc.) did not impress him; he agreed with Ellis that 'of the whole bundle about twelve papers only seem of any importance'. Perceval declined to enter on a detailed examination unless 'armed with full powers to destroy everything that, in my own opinion, is clearly not worth preserving'. It is not known what, if anything, was destroyed. The remainder now seems of considerable interest. Similarly Perceval wished to have power to sort and destroy some of the materials relating to Rochester bridge. A sizeable collection (four volumes) remains in SAL/MS/198.


In a further report to the Library Committee, 3 July 1867, Knight Watson stated that he had made another check and found duplicate numbers; one of these still survives (SAL/MS/140*). He hoped that Perceval could throw light on further bundles of the Thorpe Bequest. As well as the Prattinton Collection 'there are about 40 other MSS of which I can find no record'; he reserved a note on the state of the rolls and charters for another meeting. Knight Watson and Perceval had achieved a great deal. Their remaining time must have been much occupied with the next move of the Society, to Burlington House in 1874.


In 1907 the Executive Committee (21 February 1907) asked Council 'to consider the propriety of printing a Catalogue of the Society's MSS' and suggested that Mr Herbert of the Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum be asked to undertake the work. Terms were agreed and Herbert was allowed to borrow manuscripts a few at a time (Council Minutes, 29 April, 29 May 1907, 20 January 1909). John Alexander Herbert, FSA, is now remembered for his publications on illuminated manuscripts. He held a full-time post at the Museum and cannot have had much spare time for the Society's work. It is surprisingly difficult to establish exactly what progress was made. On 30 January 1919 he was invited to attend a meeting of the Executive Committee and 'expressed his regret that he had been unable to complete the catalogue within a reasonable time' and his desire to be relieved of the undertaking. He stated that the cataloguing of some sixty of the manuscripts was 'more or less completed'. However, he proved reluctant to hand over completed work so that his remuneration could be calculated. In subsequent correspondence and meetings (Executive Committee, 25 March, 15, 29 April, 6, 20 May 1920) various estimates of completed work were given. On 26 March 1920 Herbert forwarded descriptions of seven manuscripts and on 6 May the Committee agreed that he should complete his work on SAL/MSS/1 to 72 for a pro rata fee of 17/6d per manuscript. No trace of this cataloguing project can now be found apart from correspondence, 1907-8, 1919-20, and references in minutes.


The next attempt to update the catalogue of manuscripts was pragmatic and far more successful. Mill Stephenson, a Fellow of long-standing and a member of the Executive Committee, was able to devote much of his time to his antiquarian interests, especially monumental brasses. He worked regularly in the Library and seems to have dealt with the arrears of manuscript cataloguing on a voluntary basis. He not only numbered and wrote succinct descriptions of manuscripts acquired since 1816, and some earlier acquisitions omitted by Ellis, in two volumes of Registers of Manuscripts (SAL/MSS/217 to 500 and 501 to 670), but transcribed and indexed many volumes of heraldic manuscripts. References to his work will be found throughout this Catalogue. Mill Stephenson's decision to group some accessions by subject has proved most helpful. SAL/MSS/261 to 270 relate to the Society's records and include the important group of registers already mentioned; the Franks Bequest and some other heraldic manuscripts are numbered within the series 344 to 499; SAL/MSS/501 to 656 are mostly rolls and charters.


This steady work of incorporation was interrupted by Mill Stephenson's death in 1937 and the war. The manuscripts were evacuated in 1940/1 to a number of locations and returned to London by the end of 1945. On 26 May 1949 Council decided to set up a Catalogues Sub-committee 'to enquire into the possibility of compiling and publishing catalogues of the Society's manuscripts, pictures, prints and drawings, and antiquities'. Advice was sought from Fellows. Dr Cyril E. Wright, FSA, reported on the state of the MSS collections and catalogues. He found the existing catalogues little more than inventories, and lacking in details of provenance, and recommended that a quantity of unincorporated manuscripts 'scattered in cupboards and on shelves in various rooms' should be numbered. Similar reports having been received regarding the other collections, the Catalogues Sub-committee moved towards the appointment of a cataloguer in 1950 to work on the whole range of materials. Dr Pamela Wynn Reeves (later Dr Tudor-Craig) was appointed in October 1952 and made considerable progress on the arrears of manuscript cataloguing. She recorded supplementary information on manuscripts already catalogued by Ellis and Mill Stephenson, and continued the work of incorporation to SAL/MS/791. Many large collections had to be dealt with in a summary manner and were given block numbers. In a report of 20 December 1954, when about to move to another appointment, Dr Wynn Reeves stated that she had hoped to clear the remaining unnumbered manuscripts but that 'as I drew towards the end of them further piles of manuscripts were gradually discovered in other parts of the library ...'. After 1955 some manuscripts were numbered and entered in the Registers by various officers of the Society and members of the cataloguing staff. Assistance was received from a number of Fellows concerning particular items.


Parts of the Society's collections have been catalogued in outside publications. The work and interest of three Fellows led to the publication in 1931 of a detailed catalogue of one large collection (E. A. Barnard, The Prattinton Collections of Worcestershire History). In 1951-2 Barnard catalogued additional material from the Prattinton collection which had come to light. The collection was at last numbered (SAL/MS/520), using a vacant number (in 1934 Council had decided to give accounts of the college of St Mary, later New College, previously numbered SAL/MS/520, to New College, Oxford). The Willson collection relating to Lincolnshire (SAL/MS/786) has been catalogued by Lincolnshire Archives and Lincolnshire Museum Service (1982). The earlier rolls in the heraldic collections are included by (Sir) Anthony Wagner in A Catalogue of English Mediaeval Rolls of Arms (Aspilogia I (1950); Aspilogia II (1967), 257-81, contains additions and corrections). The most important of the Society's medieval manuscripts (pre-1500) are described in detail by Neil Ker in Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries I (1969).


A considerable amount of work on the manuscript collections was undertaken by Irvine Gray, FSA, in the early 1980s. The results were presented in his Report on the manuscript collections of the Society of Antiquaries of London 12th-20th cent (typescript, 1985) for the Historical Manuscripts Commission's National Register of Archives. Certain categories of manuscripts were excluded, heraldry (unless connected with particular families), archaeological reports and foreign and literary manuscripts, but the Report covers about half of the manuscripts numbered between SAL/MS/4 and SAL/MS/886. Other lists and calendars by Irvine Gray are preserved with the collections or in annotations to the MS Registers. Publication of the Report was considered by the Library Committee but it was decided to move forward to a fuller catalogue of the manuscript collections.


Grants were obtained from the British Library, the Marc Fitch Fund and the Pilgrim Trust (as reported in AJ 68 (1988), 388; 69 (1989), 402) and the present writer was appointed for four years part-time, starting from January 1989. The project was extended so that a fuller account could be given of several very large collections; extra time was allowed to identify strays from earlier collections and catalogue a large number of previously unincorporated papers, discovered by the librarian, Bernard Nurse, FSA, and his assistants. Many of the collections formerly scattered through the building have been suitably boxed and moved to better storage. There has been a separate programme of conservation.


Inevitably, in a collection built up over three centuries and moved from Chancery Lane to Somerset House in 1780 and to Burlington House in 1874, there have been some losses, both of manuscripts and information. Some early losses were noted above. A few manuscripts among more recent acquisitions cannot at present be traced:


1 SAL/MS/432 (part of the Franks Bequest), a small nineteenth-century manuscript relating to Throckmorton arms. Mill Stephenson has left a detailed description in the MS Register. The manuscript could not be found in 1946 and was possibly a casualty of wartime moves either within Burlington House or outside. The manuscript is not specifically mentioned in surviving lists of items moved to sites outside London (Archives, Evacuation Papers).


2 Part of a large donation, SAL/MS/800, received in December 1956. Most has been recovered from various corners of Burlington House but only one of three account books, fifteenth to sixteenth century, has been found (numbered as SAL/MS/816).


3 Small sections from the Shepard and Wakeman collections (SAL/MSS/729 and 790) were not located.


4 A small heraldic manuscript entitled 'Arms of Nobility', bequeathed by E. R. J. Gambier Howe (AJ24 (1944), 175), was placed as a printed book and cannot at present be located.


There have been problems in discovering the provenance of many manuscripts since acquisition records are uneven in coverage and detail. They consist of the early Minute Books, Lists of Presents in Archaeologia 6 (1782) to 31 (1846), references to gifts scattered through the many volumes of Proceedings and Antiquaries Journal, two volumes of Donation Books covering the years 1848-77, and the continuing series (from 1936) of Giftbooks. Purchases were authorized by Council, and some special committees such as the Croft Lyons Committee. Some records do not distinguish clearly between manuscript, typescript or printed material and in other cases the information given is so meagre that it is difficult to identify a manuscript with certainty. A considerable search has been made but some manuscripts still have no provenance. On the other hand there is evidence of acquisition which cannot be firmly linked to particular manuscripts.


1 Council Minutes, 18 February 1802. Payment of £11 13s 0d was authorized to John Brand for books and manuscripts purchased by him. SAL/MS/75 may have been one of these but there were probably others.


2 At John Topham's sale, as well as items identified in this Catalogue, the Society purchased lot 565, 'a parcel of old Deeds, some with seals' (Council Minutes, 10 February 1804). What were these? There are a number of deeds without provenance.


3 After John Brand's death in 1806 a committee was appointed to examine papers left by him with a representative of his executor, to determine what belonged to the Society. In 1812 another committee was ordered to inspect the contents of a large chest filled with manuscripts found in Brand's apartment. They reported that it contained his collections relating to Newcastle and 'one or two heraldic MSS by Mr Holland' but no property of the Society. The manuscripts appear to relate to part of SAL/MS/448, and possibly SAL/MSS/397 and 405. In 1849 deeds 'of various dates found in what is called Mr. Brand's box' were ordered to be added to the Society's collections. In 1851 the Rev. Joseph Hunter was asked to examine a small bundle of Newcastle deeds and two instruments relating to Brand's parish of St Mary at Hill. His detailed report (Ants. Papers 1851) identifies these as part of SAL/MS/448 and SAL/MS/635. Lawyers for Brand's estate were again consulted and it was ordered that the deeds should be entered in the catalogue of manuscripts. Despite the many references in the Council Minutes (4 November 1806, 4, 25 June 1812, 13 November 1849, 14 January, 11 February, 17 June 1851), it is not clear how many manuscripts were incorporated from Brand's box. They probably included SAL/MS/586 and an interesting collection of Flemish deeds (SAL/MS/649). On 17 May 1861 Council authorized the purchase from Puttick & Simpson of notebooks owned by Brand; these may relate to the Society's Archives.


4 Council Minutes 11 November 1885 authorized the purchase of manuscript and printed material relating to the Society. This cannot be identified from the brief details given.

  • Society of Antiquaries of London, 1707-
Link to NRA Record:

Have you found an error with this catalogue description?

Help with your research