Tag Archives: Early & Rare

What the John Johnson Collection tells us about gender in early modern Britain

Written by Kasturi Pindar, Bodleian Libraries intern, Summer 2023

The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, held at the Bodleian Libraries Special Collections, contains a multitude of images of early modern people who transgressed gender norms. Amongst these images, no two are the same. One image depicts two figures standing in a laundry room. It is captioned ‘Abigail Mary Allen, Pretended Wife of James Allen’ and ‘James Allen, The Female Husband’. Others depict people who, assigned female at birth, donned men’s clothing in order to serve in the military, particularly at sea. One such image is of ‘Mary Anne Talbot, otherwise John Taylor, Foot Boy, Drummer, Sailor, etc. etc. etc.’ Another, shows ‘Miss Theodora de Verdion. The walking Bookseller, and Teacher of Languages, dressed as a Man.’ We also come across Anne Jane Thornton, who donned a cabin boy’s dress in order to sail to New York in pursuit of a romantic interest, continuing life at sea as a man for around two years, though her story is contested. Some of the individuals found in the collection are well researched by historians of gender such as Jen Manion, who has written about ‘female husbands’ and sailors who ‘transed’ gender in order to take part in life at sea. About others, less is known. Nonetheless, these images offer a way in to examine the lives of such figures, the myriad gender expressions of people living at the time, and how gender was perceived in 18th and 19th century Britain.

Abigail Mary Allen, pretended wife of James Allen (1829), Oxford, Bodleian Library, John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, Humans 4 (19)

We can start to understand how gender was perceived in the past when we look at the images in the context of the collection and how it is categorised. In the catalogue of the John Johnson Collection, these images can be found under the headings Entertainment>Humans>4. The categories Humans 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 contain hundreds of images of people that would today be considered to have a disability, whether physical, mental or developmental, a disfigurement, an unusual cognitive ability, or who were transgender. Each person within these headings seems to have been considered a ‘curiosity’ and their images were generally published for the amusement of the general public. Taking a closer look at the images themselves, we can see in the print below the image that the heading ‘Humans’ was once called ‘Human Freaks’. This is the language that was used as the collection was first assembled by John de Monins Johnson and reflects the language of Victorian ‘freak shows’. Since arriving at the Bodleian in 1968, these headings have been reviewed and amended to remove harmful language (see A Note on Language at the end of this blog post). Nonetheless, examining the original language used helps us to understand the context of the images, which were perhaps seen as a printed exhibition for the public to browse, ogle, and laugh at. In fact, many of these images were collected from Kirby’s Wonderful Museum, a nineteenth-century publication which claimed to display ‘remarkable characters, including all of the curiosities of nature and art … drawn from every authentic source.’ Its intention as a source of entertainment through the exoticisation of anything and everything, including human bodies, is described in no uncertain terms. Categorising people as ‘curiosities’ may not have seemed out of place at the time, and it tells us how strange the notion of experimenting with gender expression was to these peoples’ cisgender contemporaries.

In some cases, the fetishization of transgender bodies goes hand-in-hand with the way that they were treated in their lifetimes. For one such person, Mademoiselle de Beaumont, also known as the Chevalier(e) d’Éon, this was certainly the case. D’ Éon was a French diplomat, spy and soldier born in 1728 and assigned male at birth. She lived for many years as a man, before beginning to live as a woman in 1777, eventually moving to England and being legally recognised as a woman. A clipping found next to her portraits in the John Johnson Collection demonstrates a fascination with her ‘questionable gender’. Though the clipping reads as an obituary marking D’Éon’s recent death, most of the text discusses the question of her gender, ending with the conclusion that, following an examination by a physician after her death, her body was that of a ‘perfect male!’ (emphasis in original). Other clippings from the collection also show a similar obsession with her gender that is reflected in how she is portrayed in Kirby’s Wonderful Museum.

La Chevaliere D’Eon (1791), Oxford, Bodleian Library, John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, Humans 4 (22b)

Continue reading

Advancing and expanding access to our archives

Helping to navigate the Bodleian Libraries’ vast archives.

I am thrilled to be working on a major initiative by the Bodleian Libraries to prepare for the introduction of an online circulation system for the Bodleian’s vast collection of archive and manuscript materials. I grew up in a family avid about history and I went on to study history at university—so it’s an incredible privilege to be able to contribute to this work which will benefit readers, researchers and members of the public from all around the world.

My role at the Weston Library includes barcoding all the material stored there, uploading this information into our online systems, and contributing to the conservation and re-housing of collections. The work underway behind the scenes is a very significant project that will contribute to widening access to the Bodleian Libraries’ Special Collections. It’s energising to think that I am contributing to making all this material more accessible for as wide an audience of readers and scholars as possible. I am conscious that archival material is meaningful, powerful, and sometimes contested, and I am motivated by the idea I am contributing to a project which will allow a greater number of people to provide rigorous, progressive and exciting views of the past and its influence on the present.

One of the main privileges of my job is that I have the opportunity to work with all the collections in the Library. As I scamper around the Library’s many compartments to barcode the collections held there, I encounter material from all the Weston’s collections—medieval manuscripts, music archives, modern manuscripts, rare books, and maps from around the world. In the above photo, you can see me (please forgive the scruffy lockdown hair) preparing to put labels on each of the shelves in the Weston Library. I did this as the staff at the Weston came back to Library after the most recent lockdown, and the aim was to help my colleagues and I navigate the Library’s compartments to find materials—it can get quite labyrinthine! The coronavirus pandemic affected the Bodleian Libraries’ workings significantly, but through it all the Library always strived to “keep Oxford reading”. The project to which I am contributing was inevitably delayed by the pandemic because it involves a lot of work which can only be done onsite, but now a number of colleagues in the department are contributing to the project to catch up lost time and get it done!

Hopefully this has provided you with a glimpse of the daily inner-workings of the Bodleian and how we are working to make things accessible!

Dancing all night with Aphra Behn: a recently acquired diary of Jeffrey Boys of Betteshanger, 1667


The library recently acquired a little Gallen almanac of 1667. This work, itself a rare book (we have traced a handful of Gallen almanacs in the Bodleian, and none for 1667), has become a unique manuscript as it contains a diary of Jeffrey (or Jefferay) Boys of Betteshanger, Kent for the year 1667. The catalogue has just been published online. Although the diary covers only 12 pages (one per month), it is of considerable interest as a record of Restoration London. In the words of the bookseller  Samuel Gedge, who identified the author and the significance of the diary, the diarist “offers a masterclass in Restoration dandyism: gambling, socialising, drinking, dancing and theatregoing”.

Jeffrey Boys (1643-1703) was a young lawyer at Gray’s Inn, one of many sons of John Boys (d. 1678), possessor of the manor of Betteshanger in Kent. John Boys was married three times, and the numerous references to brothers, sisters and cousins in the diary refer to step-relatives and brothers and sisters-in-law as well as full siblings, and all can be traced in pedigrees of the Boys family and John Boys’s will held in the National Archives. Jeffrey’s mother and father make a brief appearance in the diary when ‘Father & Mother Let’ come to London. Jeffrey’s mother was named Letitia.

The most extraordinary aspect of the diary however is Boys’s meetings with the female playwright Aphra Behn, with whom he is clearly acquainted. Aphra goes by the name of ‘Astrea’, and her identity might not have been established but for the fortunate discovery in 1930 of another Jeffrey Boys diary of 1671. Astrea was apparently a name Aphra Behn adopted when she was a spy in Antwerp. Sadly, the whereabouts of the original diary is not presently known, but the discoverer, though not recording where he saw it, wrote it up in Notes and Queries, noting that Boys records that he saw Astrea’s play the Forc’d Marriage, and then that ‘Astraea’s boy brought me her play the Amorous Prince’.

[May] 29 Sisters, Mrs An. Farew[ell], Astrea & divers men set up dauncing at Spr[ing] gard[en] all night

The 1667 diary shows that Jeffrey Boys’s connection with Aphra Behn was more intimate, and went back further than could be discovered from the the 1671 diary. She makes her first of five appearances in Boys’s 1667 diary on 29 May when Boys, his sister, Astrea and ‘divers men set up dauncing at Spr[ing] gard[en] all night’. The date of this first entry is noteworthy because it is known from other sources that Aphra Behn had returned from her spying mission to Antwerp earlier that month (see her entry in the Dictionary of National Biography). It is clear from this entry that Boys already knew Astrea, and as she is treated in the same way as all his other friends and relatives mentioned in the diary, it is likely that they had known one another a long time.


The diary has numerous interesting references to life in Restoration London. On 14-15 Jan 1667 Boys records attendance at various plays. He saw the ‘Indian Queen’ (‘it not having been acted in a long time’) and its companion the ‘Indian Emperor’ performed over two days, ‘the whole Court almost except th[ei]r Maj[est]ies being there’. This was Thomas Killigrew’s production, the man who was later to stage Behn’s plays and who was also connected with her spying activies. In February 1667 Boys helped to set up an Anatomy Club, missing its first meeting as he was watching Spanish rope dancers. At a later meeting he saw ‘a dog well anatomized’.

November  ….lost my cloake in Lincolns In field  … bought new sword [he lost his old one]. had new Periwig.

Boys also attended the ‘Humorous Lovers’ by the ‘Duchesse of Newcastle’ exactly, he says ‘as shee writ it’. It is supposed that the Duke of Newcastle actually wrote the play, but Pepys also saw it at the same time, and he too believed it to have been written by the Duchess.

Boys seems to be following Pepys around. He and his companions saw a ‘riding of Skimington’ on 10 June 1667 in Greenwich. This was a form of community retribution meted out on people deemed to be acting anti-socially, and Pepys witnessed the very same incident in Greenwich on the same day:

[from Pepys Diary 10 June 1667] ‘…in the afternoon took boat and down to Greenwich, where I find the stairs full of people, there being a great riding there to-day for a man, the constable of the town, whose wife beat him.’

The diary gives an interesting picture of places of entertainment in post-Fire London. Several taverns are mentioned, the favourite being the Bacchus, where once again we find Boys and others dancing all night with Astrea in December 1667. In October Boys was up all night again, this time at ‘La Frouns’ (or possibly La Trouns – if anyone has information about this institution, please let us know). Among his companions on this occasion were ‘Ld Bellamounts daughters Lady Frances and Persiana’. Frances Bard, daughter of the Earl of Bellomont, was Prince Rupert’s mistress and mother of his natural son Dudley.  According to some accounts, the relationship ended in 1667.

At the end of the volume, Boys has copied out the steps for various country dances – perhaps he and Aphra Behn tried a few of them!

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

Flooding in 17th-century Oxfordshire

In this time of rain and flood it is interesting to see how an Oxfordshire clergyman recorded unusual weather in the 1630s. MS. Top. Oxon. c. 378 is a diary of Thomas Wyatt, rector of Ducklington and vicar of Nuneham Courtenay. His manuscript volume began life as a chronicle of the kings of England, but the extraordinary events of the reign of Charles I caught up with him, and in the 1630s the volume becomes a diary recording contemporary happenings.

Wyatt also records exceptional weather and its effects on farming and prices. These are taken from entries in 1635-7. It would be interesting to know if anyone can explain the rain of wheat, or if this phenomenon is recorded elsewhere.

[p. 275]

‘In Decemb[er] 21 [1635] a pretty snow covered the grow[n]d wthout any drift lay wth hard frost about 7 dayes.  A very ope[n] misty rainy January very warme wth 3 or 4 dayes small frost rest all ope[n] & a great flood.

Jan: 30. 1635 [1636 New Style]. betwixt 7 & 8 of the clock it thundred & lightened fearfully & tempestuously wth high wind wch blew downe the top of Witney Steeple did much hurt to the church ther pulled downe the whole spire. …

[p. 280]


A most fearefull high south wind began at begin[n]ing of the night 9vemb[er] 4 1636 & did very much hurt in many places, spoiled & threw downe most rick[es] of hay.  A very great flud 9ve[m]b[er] 5, 6 etc [con]tinued till 9vemb[er] 18.

The plague at Londo[n] began to decrease & 2 week[es] their died about fower hundred & od & in thend of 8tob[er] & begi[n]ing of 9vemb[er] it increased againe to eight hundred & above.

Twas a very unkindly unseanable [presumably unseasonable] warme rainy weath[er] fro[m] about 8tob[er] 20 till 9vemb[er] 18 scarce any dry day but not one day & night both dry.

Novemb[er] 11 the night & morning of 12 day a passing great west wind & abondance of wet caused much high water – spoiled grasse wherof their was great stoare in low grownd[es] & spoiled much hay by beating downe the rick[es] in high grownd[es].

A moneth togeth[er] fro[m] 18 of 8tob[er] to 9vemb[er] 17 fro[m] one chang of the moone to anoth[er] [con]tinuall raine & wind & warme unhealthy weath[er] the like not in remembrance & an extraordinary flood but 9vemb[er] 26 it began to be fayre & frost very hard at end of 9vemb[er] & till Decemb[er] 7 & the[n] a snow half foot deep the 8 to the 9, 10, 11 the[n] raine & it thawed & was a very deep fearefull water. …

[p. 281]

The 14 of Decemb[er] after some snow & frost ut supra.  Whe[n] it thawed there was a most fearefull sodaine deepe water.  It did very much hurt in Witney, drowned & carried away hay & corne, did much hurt to a diars howse upo[n] the water.  People cold not go fro[m] church to their howses about the bridg wthout daung[er].  Went up to the middle in many howses, drove[?] downe great trees etc. …


A rumour was spread in April 1637 that in a place in Gloucestershire it rained wheate & afterward[es] some said that their fell an haile & the hailestones lay upo[n] the grownd of the forme of wheate cornes.  Much speech that it rained wheate in very many places. …’


While on the subject of flooding, a few people have asked what the document is that forms the background to the Historical Archives and Manuscripts blog. It is from a sketch of the battle of Sedgemoor 1685, MS. Ballard 48, fol 74. Sedgemoor is on the Somerset Levels, much in the news at present. The plan was photographed for the Rediscovering Rycote website.019-ms.ballard.48,fol.74

-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.

How to bury a king

I was interested to read in the news recently about the research being undertaken in preparation for the reburial of Richard III and the discovery of a medieval description of how the service should be conducted. It reminded me of a Bodleian manuscript of ordinances concerning the ceremonial to be observed in the household of the earls of Northumberland. Dating from the early sixteenth century, it describes the procedures to be followed should a king happen to die in your house:

The ordour of A Beriall of A king or kinges

Or Princes Ande great estates Ande of what wise it shalbe ordourid

their buriall And how ande in what manar And ordour it is to be

Doon Hereaftir followith in this booke in Articles moir plainly doith

Appeir by the same in this booke following every mannes astate in what

wise his buriall shalbe

The beriall of kingis

First after the Departament of A king oute of this present liffe

too the mercy of god his corse to be balmed and sencid and Serid

And cloocid in A thyn webb of lead And than to be laide in A chiste of

Timber And than conveyd into the chapell in the hous where he departid

and their laid under a herce And the said corse to be coverid with A

herse cloith of blacke cloith of gold or blak velvet And a crosse of white

uppon the said herse cloith And to stand uppon the said herse iiii Candel

stickes of Siluer and gilte with Tapers in theme with a crosse of

Siluer and gilte to stand uppon the Middest of the said herse And there

the chappell to sing Dirige at night And messe of requiem on the

morrow And so to be usid Daily Aslong as the said corse Remaneth in

the said chapell to the tyme be the said corse shalbe remevid from thens

And in the mean tyme all outhir thinges to be preparrid and made

redy whiche shalbe long for conveyaunce of the said corse to the cathedral

Chirche Abbay or chappell wheir the said corse shalbe buried

Providid alway that the said corse be watchid nightly as longe

as it Remaneth in the said chappell or plaice wherr it commeth to it be

buried by suche parsonnes as the gentillmen ushars shall appointe to

charge with it from tyme to tyme to watche it

(MS. Eng. misc. b. 208, fol. 80).


 -Matthew Neely

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.