Category Archives: 18th century

Lizzie Bennett – Blacksmith

Percy Manning (1870-1917), an Oxfordshire antiquarian, archaeologist, and local historian, bequeathed his collection of drawings and prints, photos and detailed notes on everything from sports and pastimes to local folklore (and much more besides) to the Bodleian Library, while his archaeological collections went to the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museums.

To mark the upcoming centenary of his death, the Bodleian is contributing to a mapping project that will pinpoint these collections against the places they relate to, and this involves adding more details to our existing catalogue.

This collection is full of delights, from 18th-century prints of rural idylls that are now thoroughly built-up Oxford suburbs to detailed notes on Oxfordshire dialect words and obscure local festivals.

Elizabeth Bennett, blacksmith, in a 1708 manuscript account of works at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, MS. Top. Oxon. c. 230, fol. 45v.

MS. Top. Oxon. c. 230, fol. 45v – Click to enlarge

And this pleasing thing, the last entry in a 1708 account book that records building and landscaping work done on the then-unfinished Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, only 3 years into what would be an eyewateringly expensive 29-year construction project.

An account of blacksmithing work done in December 1708 by Eliz[abeth] Bennett at Blenheim ‘Castle’, her job included making 32 dozen holdfasts for the joiners (at 2 shillings a dozen), making new handles for three saws, mending a pump in the meadows, and making wedges and clouts (patches or plates) used in the stairs. But in addition to making items for a fixed price, she also charged for work by the pound weight. Twenty five pounds of iron works for a grindstone at 4 pence a pound earned her 8s 4d (100 pence total) and 31 pounds of wedges and clouts, also at 4 pence a pound, made her 10s 4d.

The total for what would have been several days or weeks of highly skilled work? 4 pounds, 17 shillings, 2 pence. Not bad at all if you compare it to a female servant’s income at about that time – maidservant Sarah Sherin made £4 a year in 1717, while in the farming world, a female labourer called Goody Currell was paid 4 pence a day at an Oxfordshire farm in 1759, fifty years later.

Elizabeth appears three times in this account book, which only covers the outlay on  Blenheim from October to December 1708. In October (fol. 9v) she had a more lucrative commission, earning a handsome £8 12s 9d doing very similar work, including another 12 dozen holdfasts (this time, puzzlingly, at a mere 6d per dozen, a quarter of the amount charged in December – perhaps they were a simpler design?). She also made small cramps at 3½d per pound: over two hundredweight of small cramps which, needless to say, is a lot of small cramps, earning her £3 19s 0d.

Nothing has made me so grateful for decimalisation as checking the maths of an early modern accountant. Elizabeth made precisely 2 hundredweight, 1 quarter, and 19 pounds of small cramps in October. That’s an astonishing 271 pounds of metal work. 3½d per pound earns her 948½ pence. And with 240 pence in a pound (20 shillings in a pound, 12 pence in a shilling) that’s… well, have fun working that one out. By my reckoning it comes to £3 19s and 0.4d, so they seem to have shorted her a farthing or so. I had the benefit of a digital calculator, however. Kudos to Mr Henry Joynes, the architect who signed off on these accounts.

In November, Elizabeth made over £14 making more small cramps (a lot more – 767 pounds total) and 12 ‘gudgeons’, which the Oxford English Dictionary tells me means:

A pivot, usually of metal, fixed on or let into the end of a beam, spindle, axle, etc., and on which a wheel turns, a bell swings, or the like

But how much would a male blacksmith have been making? Well, luckily, the account book also has entries for a John Silver, Blacksmith, who earned himself the grand sum of £46 9s 9d in October, and then £12 9s 9d in December. Interestingly, however, he was paid exactly the same pound rate of 4d to make wedges and clouts (but was paid 4d a pound to make holdfasts for the joiners, rather than being paid by the dozen). Plus he, like Elizabeth, was paid 3½d per pound to make small cramps. Was this a smiths’ guild-mandated price? Or perhaps the result of a tendering process: did Elizabeth and John simply offer the lowest bids? Would they have charged more than this usually, or about the same?

Poster for the 1898 National Exhibition of Women's Labour, Netherlands (Gemeentemuseum, The Hague). Uploaded to wikicommons by Jan Toorop.

Poster for the 1898 National Exhibition of Women’s Labour, Netherlands (Gemeentemuseum, The Hague). Uploaded to wikicommons by Jan Toorop.

And as for who Elizabeth Bennett was? An interesting puzzle! It isn’t so unusual to come across craftswomen in this period and earlier – there’s a picture of a woman forging a nail in the 14th-century Holkham Bible – and the work of women silversmiths like Hester Bateman is extremely collectible to this day. Like Hester, it’s likely that Elizabeth was a widow carrying on her husband’s trade, but there are no Bennetts listed on this (very unofficial) directory of Oxfordshire blacksmiths, and no Bennetts working near Oxfordshire either. Perhaps she was a member of a local craft guild – possibly an Oxford guild? – but surviving records are poor (although a good chunk of the what’s left is, conveniently enough, here at the Bodleian). Perhaps she took an apprentice after 1710, in which case, there should be a registration record. And there’s always parish records, of course, to, try and track down her baptism and death dates, and any marriages. I for one, would love to know more!

This blog post is written as part of our project to increase the accessibility of the Bodleian's Percy Manning holdings in the run up to the centenary of Manning's death in 2017. We are grateful to the Marc Fitch Fund for its generous support of this project.

Digital.Bodleian + Wikipedia

For anyone looking to define Taijitu, Putso or Sangha, or to learn about Elizabeth Fry, the Junior wives of Krishna, or the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, one of the top internet search hits will be Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Articles about these, and hundreds of other topics, are now being improved using the Bodleian Libraries’ historic collections.

Images from Digital.Bodleian collection are being uploaded to Commons, the database of freely reusable digital files. From here they can be embedded in articles not just in English Wikipedia, but in other languages and in other educational projects. So far, more than six hundred articles, across many different languages, are illustrated with images from the Bodleian Libraries, reaching a total of nearly 1.5 million readers per month.

Military Insignia of the Late Roman Army (Insignia of the magister militum praesentalis. Folio 96 v of the manuscript Notitia dignitatum. Bodleian Library, MS. Canon. Misc. 378.) Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Military Insignia of the Late Roman Army (Insignia of the magister militum praesentalis. Folio 96 v of the manuscript Notitia dignitatum. Bodleian Library, MS. Canon. Misc. 378.) Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Bodleian images come from many different countries and eras. The themes range from the serene watercolours of 19th century Burma (present-day Myanmar), via geometrical diagrams in an 11th century Arabic book, to the nightmarish demonic visions of the 14th century Book of Wonders.

A taste is given in an image gallery on Commons. Clicking on any of the images – here or in Wikipedia – and then on ‘More details’ will bring up a larger version, along with links and shelfmarks so that interested readers can track down the physical object.

Anyone is allowed to edit the entries for the images, for example to translate descriptions into other languages. However, these edits are monitored to make sure they respect the educational goals of the site.

This is just the start of an ongoing project: more files and more themes will be added over the next nine months. The Bodleian Libraries’ Wikimedian In Residence, Martin Poulter, welcomes enquiries – you can get in touch via the form below.


Oxford by the Sea?

A recent visitor to the Library with an interest in Lord Nelson and maritime history gave me an excuse to bring out some naval treasures. The Bodleian may not seem the most obvious place to look for Britain’s sea heritage, but there are a number of key collections nonetheless. The foundation as always is the extraordinary manuscript collection of Richard Rawlinson, which contains amongst much else more than thirty volumes of the papers of Samuel Pepys. Though famous for his diary, his role in life was naval administration. He rose to be Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both Charles II and James II.

Evelyn sketch

John Evelyn’s sketch of the Dutch Raid on the Medway of June 1667, in MS. Rawlinson A. 195A

The above sketch of the infamous Dutch Raid on the Medway of June 1667, drawn by another famous 17th-century diarist John Evelyn, was sent to Pepys in January 1668. It is enclosed with a letter in which Evelyn apologises for taking so long over sending the sketch, his excuse being that he had been afflicted with a ‘griping of the gutts.’ He says that the sketch was a representation of the raid as he saw it from the ‘hill above Gillingham.’ He had taken the layout of the river from ‘an old paper lying by me, and not from any printed mapp.’

A key to the sketch explains the positions of the English ships and notes the burning of four ships in the Medway near Chatham Dockyard. The Royal Charles (10) was the flagship of the fleet, and the Dutch towed it away as a prize. It had been the Naseby, but was renamed when it brought the king back to England at the Restoration in 1660. Pepys himself was on board that day. Her stern remains in the Netherlands to this day, kept in the Rijksmuseum.

Evelyn's key

Key to Evelyn’s sketch of the Raid on the Medway, June 1667

More about the Library’s 17th-century collections, or at least those acquired before 1922, can be found in an old but still useful guidebook, A student’s guide to the manuscripts relating to English history in the seventeenth century in the Bodleian Library (1922) by Godfrey Davis, now available online at the Internet Archive.

The Bodleian continued to acquire naval and maritime papers, mainly through its modern political collections where the navy and shipping have often featured in policy, but also through accessions of family papers where there are sometimes naval connections even when the main subject is a literary or political figure. A search for the words ‘navy’ or ‘naval’ using the online search page for manuscripts returns hits on 92 collections. Among these are the papers of Pepys’s patron the Earl of Sandwich in the Carte collection (see the Carte Calendar); secret service papers of Sir Evan Nepean who was Secretary to the Admiralty from 1795 to 1804, catalogued among single items of historical papers; papers of the naval surgeon John Harness (?1755-1818) who became embroiled in a bitter dispute about lemons; papers of the Mary Somerville, which include correspondence of her father Admiral William George Fairfax (1739-1813); and papers of William Waldegrave Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selborne, First Lord of the Admiralty 1900-1905.

Of course, Bodley was a son of an Exeter merchant, and his marriage to Ann Ball, widow of a Totnes merchant, is supposed to have given him access to her money derived from the pilchard trade. So the Library could be said to be built on England’s seafaring endeavours.

-Mike Webb

The earliest reference to a boiler?

A ledger in the Townesend family archive contains a reference to a Robert Johnson being paid for six days work ‘laying sume stepts & hang the Boiler in the Kicthing’ at Christ Church.

MS. Don. c. 210, fol. 92 - The installation of a boiler in the kitchens at Christ Church, Oxford, February 1718

MS. Don. c. 210, fol. 92 – The installation of a boiler in the kitchens at Christ Church, Oxford, February 1718

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a boiler as ‘a vessel in which water or any liquid is boiled’ and cites Daniel Defoe’s 1725 publication A New voyage round the world, by a course never sailed before as the first use of the word. The reference in the Townesend archive dates from February 1718 [new style]. Could this be the earliest reference to a boiler?

The masons who rebuilt Oxford

In 2012 the Bodleian Library acquired a major new source for the study of the architectural history of Oxford. The Townesend archive documents the work of three generations of Oxford’s leading family of master-masons: John Townesend I (c.1648-1728), his son William Townesend (1676-1739), and his grandson John Townesend II (1709-1746). The archive was in private hands until its acquisition by the Bodleian and has only been seen twice by architectural historians, who did not make extensive use of it, since the 1920s. It is the only known archive of a major family of Georgian builders to have survived intact.

The Townesends were responsible for much of Oxford’s architectural transformation between the late seventeenth century and the mid-eighteenth century. Work for the University and Oxford colleges formed the mainstay of the family’s business. Work at nineteen Oxford colleges, ranging from major contracts such as the construction of Queen’s College Library to minor jobs such as repairs to chimneys, is documented in the archive. Other major University and college commissions recorded in the archive include the construction of Peckwater Quad at Christ Church, the Codrington Library at All Souls College; and the Radcliffe Library (Camera). The family’s work also extended beyond Oxford. The ledgers of John Townesend I record him supplying stone to St Paul’s Cathedral, 1687-1694, and Hampton Court Palace, 1689-1691, and his work at Blenheim Palace in 1706. His son William was commissioned by Allen Bathurst, 1st Earl Bathurst, to remodel Cirencester House, Gloucestershire, 1725-1726.

Abstract for the digging and walling of the foundations of the Radcliffe Library, 1737

Abstract for the digging and walling of the foundations of the Radcliffe Library, 1737

Although the archive contains no architectural drawings, it offers a wealth of information concerning the costs and transportation of building materials, wage rates for labourers and stakes in quarries.

The catalogue of the Townesend family archive is now available online.

William Stukeley and the ’45

November seems to be the month for major episodes in the religious troubles of the early modern British Isles. The Accession of Elizabeth I in 1558, the attempt to blow up the King and his Parliament in 1605, the landing of William of Orange at Torbay in 1688 and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s invasion of England in 1745, all happened in November.

Records of these events are to be found among the collections held in the Western Manuscripts section of the Bodleian Libraries, particularly among the great State Paper collections to be found in the Clarendon, Rawlinson and Carte collections. However, ripples spread out much further than this. If you were wondering what impact Bonnie Prince Charlie’s march to Derby had in 1745, you might not turn first to the papers of an antiquary such as William Stukeley. His papers after all are mainly a record of his study of the ancient and medieval remains of Britain, and he would not seem to be the person to turn to for contemporary comment. I have developed a habit of looking at key historical dates in any manuscript just in case there is an interesting comment to be found. So, finding myself one day with Stukeley’s diary for  1743-1746 (MS. Eng. misc. e. 196) in my hand I thought I would see if he had anything to say about Jacobites, even though the Summary Catalogue entry is brief: ‘Notebook containing Stukeley’s diary, 21 May 1743-10 Sept. 1746.’


Looking at the entry for 30 August 1745 I found that Stukeley was visited on that day by his patrons the Duke and Duchess of Montagu, returning from Scarborough. He noted that the ‘Duke says the pretenders son is in the highlands of Scotland, in a highland habit’, before recounting his discussion with the Duke on the elegance of the structure of the honeycomb.

On 30 September Stukeley set out for Lincoln to meet the Duke of Ancaster, and on the next day, in Lincoln Castle ‘a very great assembly of Lords, Baronets, clergy & gentlemen’ met and subscribed to an address to the King and to an association, before making a ‘voluntary subscription of several thousand pounds, for raising troops, to oppose the pretenders son’. He also observed that they had ‘now pulled down the huge stones of the peers of the Roman gate on the south side of the old city’, the arch having been ‘destroy’d by Houghton the jaylor a good many years ago.’

On 9 October Stukeley was at home in Stamford and involved in ‘mending the road in Scogate [Scotgate] toward brig Casterton in a magnificent manner.’ On the 12th he noted ‘the Swiss, dutch & English troops daily passing by to the north’ and had heard news of  ‘68 waggons laden with ammunition’ which had passed Nottingham. On the 13th ‘a coach & 6 with 8 dragoons laden with money passed my door.’ On the 23rd Stukeley ‘went about the parish to take subscriptions for raising a troop for the kings service agt the rebels.’

All this conveys something of the sense of increasing alarm, but the reality of the situation really seems to have struck Stukeley on 1 December, a few days after the Jacobites had crossed the border into England:

‘Lady Malton fled from her seat by Sheffield, came to Stamford, & alarm’d us, with the rebels being near Newark. Spalding, Wisbech, Peterborough, Oundle & all the country round in the utmost fright: hiding & carrying off their goods.

This alarm was renew’d on 5th the rebels being at Derby & setting  a guard on Swarston bridg, for Leicester. Many familys mov’d off their goods, & remov’d towards the fen country, & an universal dejection.

Mr Gale & his family came hither from Scruton, to avoid the Rebels.’

This would have been Samuel Gale (1682–1754) the antiquary, and Stukeley’s friend, whose family seat was Scruton Hall in Yorkshire.

Then on 7 December:

‘Colonel Jo. Creed of Oundle marchd his Squadron of horse (the D. of Montagu’s) to Stamford. He lay at my house. He had been orderd to march to Derby but the rebels were in possession of the Town just as he came there.’

The alarm passed, however, and on 11 December ‘Mr Griffis’ visited Stukeley to discuss holding ‘a course of experimental philosophy at Stamford’, and on the 23rd Stukeley was able to record that he ‘projected a revival of the Brazen nose Society of Stamford.’

On 4 January 1746 Stukeley sealed the lease of his Grantham house to Mr Fish, and then noted the arrival of the commander of Government forces, the soon-to-be notorious Duke of Cumberland, the ‘Butcher’:

‘½ an hour after 11 in the morning, pleasant and sun-shining frost: the Duke of Cumberland came hither [back from Carlisle] … He rode in Mr Midlemores coach from Grantham, thro’ the badness of the Scogate road … & took coach at the Bull. Mr Gale lent him his coach & 4. They put 2 more horses to it. His R. Highness was drest in blew. He has not been in bed, since he set out from Carlisle. Our town complimented his R.H. with a vast throng & loud huzza’s & bells ringing etc.

I got a very fine & large fossil cornu ammonis from the stone quarrys by Queens cross.’

The first doleful effects of the rebellion also touched Stamford when on 1 February 1746 ‘the rebel prisoners of the garrison of Carlisle passd thro’ Stamford in 4 open wagons, guarded by 400 soldiers, & the same day the Dukes mules with his baggage came hither, going to Scotland.’ The Battle of Culloden was fought on 16 April 1746; some of the Jacobite officers captured after the fall of Carlisle in December 1745 were sent to London to be hung, drawn and quartered for High Treason.

I should, of course, have expected to find such echoes of the ’45 in Stukeley’s diary. Stamford lay on the Great North Road from London to Edinburgh (now the A1).

-Mike Webb

Rediscovering Rycote

On the 1st June 1807 an extraordinary auction began at Rycote Park, near Thame in Oxfordshire. Over the course of the next three days, Rycote’s grand Tudor mansion was sold off brick by brick and demolished to help pay family debts. All that survives today is a fragment of the south-west tower. It was an inglorious end for a house which had once been the dominant force in Oxfordshire politics and entertained kings and queens. Henry VIII visited with his new bride Katherine Howard in 1540. The young Elizabeth I was entertained at Rycote en route to her incarceration at Woodstock in 1554, and she returned on four occasions during her reign. Charles I and his court were accommodated in 1625 when the first parliament of his reign was reconvened in Oxford due to an outbreak of the plague in London. Rycote’s regional and national importance, however, has long been neglected. Not only was the mansion demolished in 1807, but perhaps more importantly, the main bulk of its archive was thrown on to a bonfire.


A Bodleian Libraries project has helped to reveal and shed new light on Rycote’s past. The Rediscovering Rycote website brings the voices and stories of Rycote back to life through manuscripts, letters, maps, accounts and drawings brought together in digital form from more than fifty different Bodleian collections. The website also explores the lives of Rycote’s owning families, generations of whom played active roles in political, military and cultural circles. A range of digitised resources explore their involvement in areas such as Henry VIII’s suppression of the monasteries; Elizabethan warfare; the politics of the Restored Stuart monarchy; and the London music scene in the eighteenth century.

Visit the Rediscovering Rycote website to find out more.

Regius Professors of Physick

MS. Eng. d. 4073

Henry VIII founded the post of the Regius Professor of Physick (Medicine) at Oxford towards the end of his reign. A new item purchased by the library in 2010, the ‘Memoranda regarding the Regius Professors of Physick & the Readers in Anatomy in the University of Oxford’, lists and describes each post-holder from the first one in 1535 to 1792, when the memoranda was updated.

This small manuscript notebook makes fascinating reading. Its original author is unknown but internal evidence suggests that it was written in the 1770s and then annotated by the antiquarian and Registrar of Oxford University, John Gutch, in 1794.

The Regius Professor of Physick and the Reader in Anatomy were often the same person, and sometimes posts were passed down from father to son. The 7th Regius Professor, Thomas Clayton, is described as, ‘the Son of the first Reader, & the Office devolv’d upon him as Regius Professor: but being averse to the sight of a dead Body / Wood says of a timorous & effeminate Humour / he employ’d William Petty as his Deputy in whose Favor he resign’d the Readership in January 1650’.

Since the foundation of the post there have been 30 Regius Professors of Medicine at Oxford, the current one being John Irving Bell, the immunologist and geneticist. Saving Oxford Medicine has been tracing the archives of all the 20th Century Regius Professors and the results have been published on our website.