Historical Manuscripts Commission

Summary report on the correspondence and papers


Ralph Thoresby (1658-1725),
antiquary and topographer

in the custody of the


 (reference: GB/0207/MSS1-36)

H Bagworth-Mann, November 1998
Historical Manuscripts Commission

Table of Contents



Summary report

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Members of the public are welcome to use the archives of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society but an appointment should be made prior to an intended visit.


Ralph Thoresby (1658-1725), antiquary and topographer, was born in Leeds on 16 August 1658. His father was a Leeds wool and cotton merchant and Thoresby was 'brought up to trade', but he soon turned his attention to antiquarian research. In 1677 he was sent to London to 'acquire mercantile knowledge', however most of his time was spent copying inscriptions, attending nonconformist services and visiting places of interest. He returned to Leeds in February 1678 before being sent to Rotterdam to learn Dutch and French and to continue his commercial training. In Holland he spent much of his time in antiquarian research, visiting buildings and copying inscriptions and epitaphs. He returned to Leeds at the end of 1678. Throughout the following years Thoresby continued to pursue his antiquarian studies, making a reputation for himself as a collector and antiquary. His celebrated 'museum of rarities' is well known. In the early 1690s Thoresby began to collect material for his topographical work Ducatus Leodiensis, which was published in 1715. Encouraged by his friends and the interest shown in this work he intended to complete it with an historical account of Leeds and the neighbourhood. This intention was never fulfilled. Between 1716 and 1720 Thoresby spent most of his time working on Vicaria Leodiensis or the 'History of the Church of Leeds', which was published in 1724. Thoresby was the first Yorkshire antiquary to publish a work of importance. Although the Ducatus was not scholarly or completely accurate it was a useful compilation. Thoresby used his own gathered material as well as consulting material of distinguished friends including James Torre, Nathaniel Johnston, William Richardson and John Hopkinson.

The Thoresby MSS described in this report were acquired by Sir Thomas Brooke, Bt, of Armitage Lodge, Huddersfield (1830-1908), and bequeathed by him to the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. They include a substantial quantity of Thoresby's original correspondence (MSS 6-14) and most of his diaries (MSS 21-25). Following the death of Thoresby's son, books, coins and MSS were dispersed at a sale in 1764. A number of Thoresby's MSS were acquired by Horace Walpole, but dispersed later at the Strawberry Hill sale of 1830, when one of the principal purchasers appears to have been William Upcott. The diaries (MSS 21-25) and some Letters of eminent men to Thoresby (MSS 11-13) were edited by Joseph Hunter in 1830 and 1832 respectively, while they were still in Upcott's possession. Following Upcott's death his MSS collections were dispersed at a sale in 1846. It is understood that Brooke acquired MSS 6-10, 15-16 and 20 from the library of James Crossley of Manchester: of these MS20 had definitely been in the Upcott collection. Material sold in 1764 also included MSS 3-4, owned at one time by AC Ducarel. Material not acquired by Brooke and now surviving in other repositories includes four volumes of autograph letters purchased by the British Museum in 1764 (Add MSS 4274-7) and a stray diary volume for 1712-14 now in York Minster Library. A further selection of Thoresby's correspondence from the collection in the Yorkshire Archaeological Society was published by WT Lancaster in 1912 (Thoresby Society, vol 21).

This summary list provides information relating to MSS 1-14 (mainly correspondence) additional to that given in the Society's printed catalogue. By inspecting these papers Thoresby's major correspondents in this collection have been identified. MSS 15-36 were not inspected. For further details searchers should consult the Catalogue of Manuscripts and Deeds in the Library of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, 1931, pp.1-3.

This list was compiled following a visit to the Society by Dr Richard Olney and Dr Hazel Bagworth-Mann in connection with a survey of the papers of British antiquaries, archaeologists and historians being undertaken by the Commission. The Commission is most grateful to the Yorkshire Archaeology Society, and to Mr RL Frost (Senior Librarian and Archivist) and Mr A Betteridge (Archivist) for their assistance.

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Summary report

MS 1
Volume containing copies and drafts of letters from Thoresby to individuals, including Dr Kennett, Peter Le Neve and others 1695-1724. Inserted are a list of books and a copy of the 'Answer to Priestcraft' written by Richard Thornton.

MS 2
Volume of original letters addressed to Thoresby c1692-c1723. Correspondents including Thomas Hearne, Thomas Gale, Edmond Hickeringill and John Sharp. This volume also includes a letter from Thoresby to John Evelyn 1698/99, numerous portraits and a few miscellaneous items.

MSS 3-4
Two volumes of original letters and papers collected by Thoresby. Correspondence c1665-1714 is arranged alphabetically and is an artificial collection formed by Thoresby, the letters are not to him. These volumes were purchased at the 1764 sale by Dr Ducarel. Index included.

MS 5
Seven original letters addressed to Thoresby from E Barlow, Roger Gale, Dr Gibson and others. This volume also contains three portraits.

MS 6-10
Five volumes of original letters addressed to Thoresby 1675-1723. These volumes are numbered I-V, vol V containing an index.
Letters from Nathaniel Bland (24) 1714-16, the Revd Joseph Boyse (21) 1680-1710, Dr Jabez Cay (15) 1694-1700, Arthur Collins (5) 1715, William Cookson (11) 1709-23, Robert Dale (11) 1707-14, Joseph Dawson (8) 1699-1705, Barwick Fairfax (16) 1702-16, John Gowland (16) 1695-1715, Richard Idle (8) 1684-1704, Thomas Jackson (8) 1694-1715, Nathaniel Johnston (12) 1680-93, William Milnes (14) 1698-1716, William Mortimer (15) 1696-1707, Archdeacon (later Bishop) William Nicolson (14) 1699-1716, Jonathan Priestly (20) 1694-1716, Richard Thornton (12) Charles Towneley (9) 1698-1708 and others.

MS 11-13
Three volumes of original letters addressed to Thoresby 1679-1723. These volumes are numbered VI-VIII, vol VIII containing an index. (These are the letters which were printed by the Revd Joseph Hunter in 1832)
Letters from the Revd Joseph Boyse (18) 1680-1710, Dr (later Bishop) Edmund Gibson (12) 1694-1709, the Revd Oliver Heywood (12) 1694-1703, Nathaniel Johnston (17) 1684-94, Archdeacon Nicolson (later Bishop of Carlisle) (27) 1691-99, Bishop Nicolson of Carlisle (19) 1703-16, the Revd George Pearson (8) 1707-09, Archbishop John Sharp (6) 1698-1710, the Revd Richard Stretton (25) 1679-1710, Charles Towneley (5) 1698-1709 and others.

MS 14
A volume of original letters addressed to Thoresby 1679-1723 from similar correspondents, including Bishop Nicolson. This volume numbered IX, also contains a short memoir of Thoresby and an index.

MS 15
A volume of letters from the Revd George Plaxton (Rector of Barwick-in-Elmet) to Thoresby 1707-16 and nd. Volume numbered X.

MS 16
A volume of letters from the Revd Richard Stretton to Thoresby 1682-1709. Volume numbered XI.

MS 17
A volume of miscellaneous items in Thoresby's handwriting. Includes a catalogue of the curiosities in his museum, topographical notes relating to Yorkshire, biographical notes, and extracts from the MSS of Castilion Morris and Nathaniel Johnston. Volume numbered XII.

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MS 18
An index of letters received by Thoresby. Towards the end of this volume there have been added short notes of the contents of the respective letters. Volume numbered XIII.

MS 19
Miscellaneous papers in various handwritings. Volume numbered XIV.

MS 20
A volume of letters to Thoresby from various persons 1700-02, collected by William Upcott. Volume numbered XV.

MSS 21-25
Thoresby's original diaries 1677-83, 1691-95, 1701-04, 1708-12 and 1719-24.

MS 26
Thoresby's autobiography to the year 1714. (Alluded to by Hunter, in his preface to Thoresby's Diary, as 'the Review'.)

MS 27
A volume containing Thoresby's 'album' of autographs of various persons and a list of donors to his museum.

MS 28
A small volume containing Thoresby's copy of Thomas Kirk's account of his visit to Scotland 1677, a copy of the lists for the window-tax 1704 for many places in the West Riding, the Commissioners' Report on certain livings in the Archdeaconry of York 1707, epitaphs copied by Thoresby in his London journeys 1712 and 1714 and a list of subscribers to the Ducatus.

MSS 29-31
Three volumes of collected MSS comprising 'The Duelling Doctor Defeated' by the Revd Thomas Sharp, Johannes Godartius 'The Natural Histories of Insects' (English translation) and a small book containing the diary of E Wright 1709-13.

MS 32
A volume containing letters to Thoresby from Matthew Henry, the Revd Richard Stretton, Charles Towneley, Philip, Lord Wharton and a couple of others. This volume also contains portraits of Matthew Henry and Lord Wharton.

MSS 33-36
A further four volumes of collected MSS including 'The Art of Limning' by Thomas Kirk, early MS copy of 'Leicester's Commonwealth' and Archbishop Sharp's account of the Silver and Gold Coins of England, Scotland and Ireland (with Thoresby's copy and various memoranda).

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