Memento Mori: London’s Dreadful Visitation

London’s dreadful visitation: or, A collection of all the bills of mortality for this present year: beginning the 27th. of December 1664. and ending the 19th of December following: as also, the general or whole years bill: according to the report made to the King’s most excellent Majesty, by the Company of Parish-Clerks of London, &c.

London : printed and are to be sold by E. Cotes living in Aldersgate-street, printer to the said company, 1665.

[108] pages, folded leaf; quarto.

During the summer the Library hosted participants in a Continuing Education Summer School studying the later seventeenth century.  The same group had visited a year earlier, when they were covering the period immediately preceding, the English Civil Wars and the Interregnum, in which the Library’s holdings are particularly strong (see our blog post for January 2016).  On this occasion, however, they hoped to see items relating to the two great catastrophes of the early Restoration: the Great Plague of 1665-1666 and the Great Fire of 1666.  We have touched upon the Library’s holdings which relate to the Great Fire (see our blog post for September 2016), but what would illustrate the Plague?

A grim publication provided the answer:  London’s dreadful visitation: or, A collection of all the bills of mortality for this present year, beginning the 27th of December 1664. and ending the 19th. of December following.  This catalogue of deaths illustrates the impact of the plague year on the population of London.  The summary bound in at the back of the volume, A general bill for this present year, ending the 19 of December 1665 according to the report made to the kings most excellent majesty notes that of the 97,306 persons buried in the parishes of London in this period, 68,596 (70%) died of the plague.

A general bill for this present yearThe bills of mortality were weekly publications, listing death statistics for all the 109 parishes of London.  Always the responsibility of the Parish Clerks’ Company, the weekly bills began on 21 December 1592, continuing at first until 18 December 1595; they were resumed in 1603 and in 1611 King James I granted a charter to the Company for their production (see Adams, The parish clerks of London).  They continued until the mid-19th century.

Unusually for a time when printing was heavily controlled (for fear of the seditious ideas to which the printing press could give wing), in 1625 the Company of Parish Clerks were authorized to set up their own printing press (Adams, The parish clerks…, page 55).  They had, however, to provide a bond of £500 to the Stationers’ Company, stating that they would not use the press for any purpose other than the production of the bills.  In 1665, the Printer to the Company of Parish Clerks was ‘E. Cotes living in Aldersgate-street’.  Ellinor (or sometimes Ellen) Cotes was the widow of the printer Richard Cotes, who had taken over his brother Thomas’ printing shop when Thomas died in 1641.  Ellinor then took over the shop when Richard died in 1652 and was active until at least 1670.  Hers was a reasonably large shop for the time; according to the 1666 Hearth Tax Roll, she had 3 presses, 9 pressmen, and 2 apprentices (see the British Book Trade Index).  She has produced a grim, but informative pamphlet with a ghoulish woodcut border of skeletons, skulls, and the tools of the gravedigger, all under a ‘Memento Mori’ banner and a winged hourglass.  These are fitting symbols for a time when the plague could rip through the city, killing at its worst 7,165 in a single week (the 12th-19th September 1665).

Title pageAvailable at the cost of a penny, the bills provided ‘an ever-changing plague map of London, which you could check to find out where the infection was raging and where you might hope for relative safety’ (MacGregor, Shakespeare’s restless world, page 231).  Our volume is a collection of the weekly bills.  Each week is covered by a single quarto sheet, the recto providing information alphabetically by parish.  The page layout includes a column for plague deaths, emphasising that it was fear of this highly contagious and deadly disease that was a prime motive in the production of the bills.

Burials by parish, week ending 31 OctoberThe verso of the sheet quantifies the information by cause of death and sex of the deceased.  The spread of the plague through the city can also be noted in the distinction between ‘Parishes clear of the Plague’ and ‘Parishes Infected’.

Burials by disease, week ending 31 OctoberAs the printer notes in her preface ‘To the Reader’, given the difficulty in 1665 of finding information on the 1625 Plague outbreak, ‘the Reprinting [of] these sad sheets’ has been undertaken ‘That Posterity may not any more be at such a loss’, and indeed at first sight the bills seem to provide a wealth of mortality data.  However, one must remember that the bills record burials rather than deaths.  Since they also cover only Church of England graveyards, those of other faiths are excluded.  Nonetheless, John Graunt (1620-1674) was able to use the bills as the basis for his Natural and political observations… upon the Bills of Mortality (London, 1662), for which he was elected a member of the Royal Society.  And from the perspective of 352 years later, even if only partial the volume provides a chilling statistical account of a year when about one in six of the capital’s inhabitants died.

Mark Bainbridge (Librarian)


Adams, R., The parish clerks of London (London and Chichester: Phillimore, 1971)

British Book Trade Index, available online at

MacGegor, N., Shakespeare’s restless world (London: Allen Lane, 2012)



Gardening for Ladies

The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals. By Mrs. Loudon.

London: William Smith, 113 Fleet Street, MDCCCXL

xvi, 272 pages, folio

One of the joys of working in a historic library is when one happens upon an unexpected and surprising book on the shelves. The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals is just such a discovery. Resting comfortably in the back corner of our book stack, The Ladies’ Flower-Garden has a shelfmark, but is not in any of our catalogues, print or online. The state of its binding suggests that it has been well used, but as a popular gardening manual aimed at women, it does not seem like something which a nineteenth-century college librarian would have acquired for the library. The only evidence of provenance is an inscription marking the book as a gift from a brother to his sister in 1845.

Neither Jacob nor Almy Gilford are known to be associated with Worcester College, so we can assume that the book likely changed hands at least once before finding its way into our collections. It is possible that it was one of the books left to the library by Henry Allison Pottinger, Librarian of Worcester from 1884-1911 and an eclectic collector, or it may have come from a later donation. Its shelfmark places it in a section that is best described as ‘miscellaneous’; a section for books that don’t seem to fit anywhere else.

For those of us without green fingers, an encyclopaedia of ornamental annuals does not inspire much excitement, but the history of the Ladies’ Flower-Garden and its author is also surprising. Jane Webb Loudon was born in 1807, the daughter of a businessman. She was orphaned at the age of 17 and took up writing to support herself. She wrote both fiction and educational works, but her most notable work before her marriage was The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, published in 1827 and described as a ‘pioneering work of science fiction’ by Ann Shteir (Sarah Dewis, The Loudons and the Gardening Press, p. 196; Ann Shteir, ‘Loudon, Jane’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). At the centre of the plot is the ‘reanimation of an Egyptian mummy by galvanism’ and the story is filled with futuristic inventions, some of which seem to anticipate modern technology: ‘a system of air-conditioning’, air mattresses, espresso machines, steam shovels, and milking machines (John Gloag, Mr. Loudon’s England, p. 59). The book caught the attention of John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843), a well-known landscape gardener and horticultural writer, who reviewed it for the Gardener’s Magazine (of which he was editor) and sought to make the acquaintance of the author, whom he assumed to be male (Shteir, ODNB). Presumably he was not disappointed in the discovery that Jane was in fact female, as after meeting in February 1830, he married her within the year.

Before marrying John, Jane had no knowledge of botany or horticulture, but she threw herself wholeheartedly into the subject. She attended lectures on botany and accompanied John on tours of the country, acting as his secretary. She assisted with his publications and began writing for the Gardener’s Magazine (Shteir, ODNB). John Loudon was an energetic and prolific writer, but also an ambitious one and the production of his Arboretum (1838), an extensively illustrated, eight-volume technical work on the trees and shrubs of Britain, left the Loudons with substantial debts (Gloag, Mr. Loudon’s England, p. 64; Dewis, The Loudons, pp. 117-118). So Jane began to write her own gardening books to support the family, aimed instead at non-specialists, and more specifically, women. In 1840 she published Instructions in Gardening for Ladies, which sold 1,350 copies on the day of publication (Shteir, ODNB). This was followed by the Ladies’ Flower-Garden series (which includes volumes on ornamental annuals, bulbous plants, perennials, and greenhouse plants), The Ladies’ Companion to the Flower-Garden (1841), Botany for Ladies (1842), and The Lady’s Country Companion, or, How to Enjoy a Country Life Rationally (1845), among others. The Ladies’ Companion to the Flower-Garden sold 20,000 copies over nine editions and The Ladies’ Flower-Garden series has been reprinted frequently (Dewis, The Loudons, p. 203; Shteir, ODNB).

The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals is an encyclopaedia designed to introduce women to the variety of flowers which can be cultivated in their gardens. Each entry lists the botanical and English names of the flower, followed by descriptions, history, folklore, and instructions for cultivation. Although the book is aimed at non-specialists, Webb Loudon does not skimp on the technical aspects of botany and horticulture, instead offering a glossary of botanical terminology to help the uninitiated. It is well illustrated with colour lithographic plates, depicting groups of flowers arranged by John Lindley’s ‘Natural System’ (Webb Loudon was a devotee of Lindley, having attended his public lectures soon after her marriage). There is also a substantial bibliography at the end, to provide suggestions for further reading.

Jane Webb Loudon has been credited with making gardening into a respectable activity for middle-class women. Traditionally, gardening had been the preserve of the aristocracy and great landowners but by the early nineteenth-century, gardening was becoming a middle-class activity as well (Sue Bennett, Five Centuries of Women & Gardens, p. 82; for more see in particular Heath Schenker’s article ‘Women, gardens, and the English Middle Class in the Early Nineteenth Century’). Webb Loudon’s writings sought to open up the world of gardening to other women who, generally lacking the formal and scientific education given to men of their class, might find the more academic treatises on gardening inaccessible. In the introduction to Gardening for Ladies she writes:

‘I write this because I think books intended for professional gardeners are seldom suited for the needs of amateurs… Having been a full-grown pupil myself, I know the wants of others; and having never been satisfied without grasping the reason for everything that had to be done, I am able to interpret these reasons to others.’ (quoted in Bennett, Five Centuries of Women & Gardens, p. 91)

She also portrayed gardening, particularly flower-gardening, as an activity eminently suitable for ‘gently bred’ ladies. In the introduction to The Ladies’ Flower-Garden she writes of growing ornamental plants:

‘…the easiness of their culture renders it peculiarly suitable for a feminine pursuit. The pruning and training of trees, and the culture of culinary vegetables, require too much strength and manual labour ; but a lady, with the assistance of a common labourer to level and prepare the ground, may turn a green waste into a flower-garden with her own hands. Sowing the seeds of annuals, watering them, transplanting them when necessary, training the plants by tying them to little sticks as props, or by leading them over trellis-work, and cutting off the dead flowers, or gathering the seeds for the next year’s crop, are all suitable for feminine occupations ; and they have the additional advantage of inducing gentle exercise in the open air.’ (p. i)

It is clear that Webb Loudon, while progressive in her views on women’s education by nineteenth-century standards, was not a radical when it came to gender roles. She believed in the value of science education for women, but also espoused the Victorian ideal of ‘separate spheres’, where a woman’s place was in the ‘private sphere’ of the home, and clearly envisioned her readers as middle class women who would have male servants to do the heavy lifting of gardening (Dewis, The Loudons, p. 228; Schenker, ‘Women, gardens…’, pp. 352-354). However Heath Schenker has argued that she sought to expand the boundaries of the private sphere to include the garden as a place where women could exercise influence (Schenker, ‘Women, gardens…’, p. 359).

The success of her publications demonstrates that there was clearly an appetite among her peers for accessible garden writing. We will likely never know for certain how our copy of the Ladies’ Flower-Garden found its way to Worcester College, but it is easy to imagine its previous owners spending long winter evenings examining the beautifully coloured plates of flowers and planning for spring.

Renée Prud’Homme (Assistant Librarian)



Bennett, Sue, Five Centuries of Women and Gardens (London: National Portrait Gallery, 2000)

Dewis, Sarah, The Loudons and the Gardening Press: A Victorian Cultural Industry (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014)

Gloag, John, Mr. Loudon’s England (Newcastle: Oriel Press, 1970)

Schenker, Heath, ‘Women, gardens, and the English Middle Class in the Early Nineteenth Century’ in Bourgeois and Aristocratic Cultural Encounters in Garden Art, 1550-1850, ed. Michael Conan (Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2002)

Shteir, Ann B., ‘Loudon, Jane (1807-1858)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press 2004), [, accessed 8 Sept 2017]

Simo, Melanie Louise, Loudon and the Landscape: From Country Seat to Metropolis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988)


A Book of Ice and Fire

Ouresiphoites Helveticus, sive Itinera per Helvetiae alpinas regiones… / plurimis tabulis aeneis illustrata a Johanne Jacobo Scheuchzero.

Lugduni Batavorum : Typis ac sumptibus Petri Vander Aa., MDCCXXIII [1723].

[22], 635, [53] pages, [121] leaves of plates; quarto.

In August the College becomes rather quiet as everyone leaves for vacations, so in the Library as we sit down to write this month’s blog post our thoughts too turn to travel.  We plan to make ‘August Atlases’ an annual event (see last August’s post), and although not strictly an atlas, this month’s volume includes several maps and plans among its rich illustrations.  The Ouresiphoites Helveticus is an account of nine journeys through the Swiss Alps made by the Swiss scholar Johann Scheuchzer between 1702 and 1711.

Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1672-1733)

The volume includes and expands on his first three journeys (1702, 1703, and 1704), originally published in London in 1708 at the expense of the Royal Society, with plates (included in this edition) subscribed for by Fellows of that Society.  Indeed, Scheuchzer could boast that the frontispiece was published under the imprimatur of the then president of the Society, Sir Isaac Newton.  Other Fellows who paid for plates include the physician and collector Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), the natural historian and antiquary John Woodward (1665/1668-1728), Henry Aldrich (1648-1710), Dean of Christ Church (see the blog post for March 2017) and the botanist and Hortus Praefectus of Oxford’s Botanic Garden, Jacob Bobart the younger (1641-1719).

Frontispiece sponsored by Sir Isaac Newton.

Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1672-1733) was a Swiss scholar, physician and librarian, with a great interest in the natural sciences.  Writing in Latin, and thereby addressing an international audience (see Barton, Mountain Aesthetics, page 153), Scheuchzer intended his work to inform on all manner of things Swiss.  It is a highly visual volume, extensively illustrated with 121 prints (all of which have been digitized online on the VIATIMAGES database), including maps, town-plans, alpine scenery of peaks and waterfalls, illustrations of scientific and mechanical devices, botanical drawings, and images of fossils, crystals, and glaciers.  Such illustrations were ‘intended to show the true nature of things at the most basic level of science and knowledge’ (Leu, ‘Swiss mountains and English scholars’, page 336).

As Librarian of Zurich’s city library, Scheuchzer was also curator of that library’s Kunstkammer, its natural history and art collection, and his own book has a certain affinity with 18th-century cabinets of curiosities.  Indeed, it is with an item seen in a museum, the Dragonstone of Lucerne (the Draconita Lucernensis, pages 367 ff.), that Scheuchzer begins perhaps the most unusual section of his work: his enquiry into Swiss dragons, undertaken as part of his fifth journey in 1706.  Beginning with literary sources and including oral accounts, Scheuchzer investigated the myths of dragons supposed to dwell within the dark mountains and caves of the Swiss Alps.  Included are narratives of those individuals who claimed to have seen dragons:

‘Near the end of summer 1717 Joseph Scherer from Näfels came across… an animal with the head of a cat and protruding eyes; it was a foot long, with a thick body, and two breast-like things hanging from its stomach, and also with a foot-long tail; it [the whole creature] was covered in scales and of many hues.  He stabbed it with a sharp stick, and claimed that it was soft and full of a virulent blood, which dropped on his leg, at which his leg swelled up…   ’

(translated from the Latin, page 391)

Scheuchzer even attempted a taxonomy of these dragons, distinguishing between those with or without wings, those with feline or reptilian features, and those with or without crests.  Although unwilling to discount the possible existence of dragons, Scheuchzer’s scientific approach did mean that he provided rational explanations for some of these sightings and accounts: examining bones said to be of a dragon, he identified them as ‘the bones of a bear’ (see page 390).  He also noted that rivers were called ‘dragons’ by Alpine locals:

‘In the last place I should not fail to mention that, among our Alpine peoples ‘dragon’ is a homonym for a fierce torrent; for, whenever a river rushes through the Alpine passes with a great force and snatches rocks, trees and other things of huge size with itself, these people are accustomed to say: “It is a dragon that has passed through”.  The swiftness of dragons perhaps gave the occasion to this phrase, and to it can be ascribed the false histories of many of the dragons which circulate among the population….”

(translated from the Latin, page 396)

Thankfully such explanations did not prevent him from illustrating the region’s so-called dragons in eleven plates.  Prints to which one can continually return with great pleasure.

Mark Bainbridge (Librarian)


Barton, W., Mountain aesthetics in early modern Latin literature (London, 2017)

Leu, U.B., ‘Swiss mountains and English scholars: Johann Jakob Scheuchzer’s relations to the Royal Society’, Huntingdon Library Quarterly, vol. 78, no. 2 (Summer 2015), pages 329-348

‘Beauty is Truth’: Katharine Adams and the Daniel Press at Worcester College

Poems by Lawrence Binyon (Oxford: Daniel Press, 1895)


Odes, Sonnets and Lyrics of John Keats (Oxford: Daniel Press, 1895)

The two books chosen as this month’s treasures immediately catch the eye with their delicate bindings, one (the Keats) in ‘cardinal’ red, the other (poems by Laurence Binyon) in a more muted maroon, but both with similar floral designs executed in gold tooling on high-quality morocco (i.e. goat-skin) leather. The style suggests the work of Katharine Adams (1862-1952), one of the ‘most famous women binders of the period [1880-1920]’ (Tidcombe, Women bookbinders, page 6), and this attribution is confirmed by the presence of Adams’ signature mark on the bottom turn-in of the lower cover, the letters KA separated by a Catherine wheel together with the date of the binding, 1899:

Bindings by Katharine Adams are highly acclaimed: in her lifetime she exhibited not just in England, but also in Belgium, France and Germany, and even the USA and South Africa (ODNB), and since her death her work has become highly collectable – she is thought to have produced only 300 or so bindings (Tidcombe, Women bookbinders, page 137). Adams, who as a child played with William Morris’s daughters at her home in Little Faringdon, Oxfordshire, began binding in the 1890s. She had only a short training period of four months in 1897, before winning first prize in bookbinding at the Oxford Arts & Crafts exhibition of 1898. These two bindings at Worcester, dating to 1899, must therefore be among her earliest works. She used tools of her own making (now held at the British Library) to decorate her bindings with simple natural designs of flowers, stylized trees and animals, and is considered ‘one of the few binders of any period who was effective in using gold for pictorial designs on leather’ (Lewis, Fine bookbinding, page 35). In a letter of 7 November 1916, Katharine Adams explained her technique: “The effect of light on the gold can be varied by the angle at which the tool is used.”

Although we have begun by judging these books by their covers, in this instance the covers are admirably suited to their contents. For just as Katharine Adams followed the principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement in her production of high quality work using the soundest techniques, so too was the printer of these books, Charles Henry Olive Daniel, ‘sympathetic to the aesthetic and cultural movements of his day’ (Peterson and Peterson, The Daniel Press…, page 13). C.H.O Daniel (1836-1919), Fellow of Worcester College from 1863 and Provost from 1903, used a printing press set up in a cottage at the end of his garden within the curtilage of Worcester College to produce charming books of delicate simplicity. In 1890 eight Daniel Press books were exhibited at the third exhibition of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society.

Within the bindings we find two publications of 1895: 26 poems by Laurence Binyon (1869-1943, poet and art historian; the book is listed as no. 35 in Madan’s bibliography of the Daniel Press), and 25 poems of Keats selected by the poet Robert Bridges (no. 36 in Madan). The print runs were limited to 200 and 250 copies respectively, both printed in small type on hand-made French paper.

With their delicate type and small flower ornaments, there is a distinctly similar sensibility between the texts and their Katharine Adams bindings.

The two titles bound by Adams represent well the type of work produced by the Daniel Press in the 1890s, described by Peterson and Peterson in their recent book:

‘best-selling titles were usually by Bridges [i.e. Robert Bridges, who would become Poet Laureate in 1913], but they were interspersed with books of more modest pretensions by other friends and contemporaries such as Margaret Woods, F.W. Bourdillon, T.H. Warren, and Walter Pater – and then of course, there were always the reprints of older writers (e.g. Keats, Milton, Anthony Wood).’ (Peterson and Peterson, page 20)

Such names (Bridges, the future Poet Laureate; Margaret Woods, poet and novelist; F.W. Bourdillon, poet; T.H. Warren, classical scholar and President of Magdalen) reflect late 19th-century Oxford poetry and scholarship, an ‘Oxford modernism’ (reflected in Yeats’ Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936)) in contrast to the modernism of Eliot and Pound. (Harding among others contrasts Yeats’ Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936) with that same year’s Faber Book of Modern Verse, edited by Michael Roberts: the former ‘devoted more space to Dorothy Wellesley and Laurence Binyon than to Eliot and Pound’ (Harding, ‘Modernist poetry and the canon’, page 235).)

Such society could come together at the Daniels’ home in Worcester College, Worcester House. Now no longer standing, Worcester House occupied a spot in the southeast corner of the Nuffield Lawn, where Worcester Street and Hythe Bridge Street meet. It was in this building that the two Katharine Adams bindings were first exhibited in 1901 – the catalogue survives in Worcester College Library: ‘Bookbindings by Katharine Adams at Worcester House, Oxford, on March 8th and 9th 1901’.

Among 53 Daniel Press Publications, one can find listed as numbers 34 and 35 the very bindings of Binyon and Keats with which this piece started. Both were lent by Mrs Daniel, eventually becoming part of the Library’s collections in the early 1960s, when the College’s Record for 1961-4 reports the ‘most important gift of books and manuscripts… from Mrs Kirkman, the granddaughter of Provost Daniel’.

Mark Bainbridge (Librarian)


Griffiths, J., ‘Adams, Katharine (1862-1952)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, available online at

Harding, ‘Modernist poetry and the canon’, in A. Davis and L.M. Jenkins (eds), The Cambridge companion to modernist poetry (Cambridge, 2007), pages 225-243

Lewis, R., Fine bookbinding in the twentieth century (Newton Abbot, 1984)

Madan, F., The Daniel Press: memorials of C.H.O. Daniel (Folkestone, 1974)

Peterson, W.S. and S.H. Peterson, The Daniel Press and the Garland of Rachel (New Castle, DE, 2016)

Tidcombe, M., Women bookbinders 1880-1920 (New Castle, DE, and London, 1996)

“In Gratefull remembrance…”

Benefactors’ Book 1714-1745 (WOR/BEN 1/1)

On 16 June 1717 a “widow gentlewoman” named Margaret Alchorne died in her house in St Giles’, Oxford. On this day exactly three hundred years later it seems likely that she would have been entirely forgotten had she not bequeathed half of her estate to the newly founded Worcester College. Even with that benefaction very little relating to her life is preserved in the College Archives: we do not know the motivation behind her bequest, or how she knew the first provost, Richard Blechinden, who acted as her executor. Not only does the College not own a portrait of her but also her name is recorded without the ‘h’ with which she always signed it, and unfortunately this mistake has been faithfully copied in subsequent College histories. However, members of the College have nevertheless gratefully remembered her gift since her death because it is recorded in the first benefactors’ book.

Entry in the Benefactors’ Book relating to the benefaction of Margaret Alchorne

Signature of Margaret Alchorne on her Marriage Settlement, 20 October 1696

The relevant entry in the Benefactors’ Book not only ensures the perpetuation of Margaret Alchorne’s name but also provides important information about the benefaction and the needs of the newly established College. It describes the legal challenge to her will from her stepson-in-law that ultimately denied the College one-half of her real estate and left Worcester with the very specific sum of “seven hundred ninety eight pounds & three pence” from her personal estate. Even this reduced benefaction was a lifeline to the impoverished new College. Its founding benefaction of £10,000 from Sir Thomas Cookes (died 8 June 1701) was sufficient to maintain a number of Fellows and Scholars but did not allow a surplus for necessary building work to provide them with accommodation. As recorded in the Benefactors’ Book, Worcester College was able to use Mrs Alchorne’s bequest towards construction of “A Chappel Hall & Library” which were “accordingly begun” on the nineteenth anniversary of Sir Thomas Cookes’ death, 8 June 1720.

Detail from the Oxford Almanack of 1741, showing benefactors to Worcester College

Margaret Alchorne’s money was not enough to complete this grand block, but it provided the necessary impetus for the commencement of the work and was vital in ensuring that the Library was in a fit state to receive George Clarke’s large benefaction of books and papers in 1736. Her importance to the College is shown with her inclusion in this engraving for the Oxford Almanack of 1741, which shows her among Worcester’s other major eighteenth-century benefactors: Sir Thomas Cookes (standing centre with the Bishop of Worcester; Charity kneels at his feet), George Clarke (holding a plan of the Library), and Sarah Eaton (on the right with Margaret Alchorne). The benefactions of George Clarke and Sarah Eaton are also recorded in the Benefactors’ Book, whose purpose is set out on its first page:

In Gratefull remembrance of such as do good to Worcester College theire names & theire benefactions are here Registered.

Front cover and first page of the Benefactors’ Book

The book itself is not grand but modestly bound in reverse calf, and the entries are in the everyday hands of those of the first two provosts rather than a more formal calligraphy. It also appears to be incomplete: the entries by Provost Blechinden, who died in 1736, stop in 1720, and those by Provost Gower (1736 to 1777) only cover the period 1736 to 1753 and appear to all have been added at the same time towards the end of his life (when his handwriting was rather shaky). Interestingly, the 1900 history of the College by C H O Daniel and W R Barker claims that Gower’s entries were copied verbatim from John Gutch’s edition of Anthony Wood’s The history and antiquities of the colleges and halls in the University of Oxford published in 1786, but it must be the other way around. John Gutch cites as his source for the information “MSS hujus Coll.” and William Gower died in 1777, predating the publication by nine years. As mentioned in my blog post for April 2017, Provost Sheffield, who succeeded Gower in 1777, did not maintain any of the College records during his provostship and this is also true for the Benefactors’ Book.

Silver basin

Silver and silver-gilt basin given by Sir Henry Hoo Keate in 1720

Hoo Keate-cropped

Entry in the Benefactors’ Book

Despite its minor imperfections the Benefactors’ Book provides a pleasing link with the very first moments of Worcester College, as it struggled to establish itself in a University that had already existed for over 500 years, and amongst far richer colleges. There is also delight in finding references to items that are still used in the College today. The Alchorne bequest allowed the construction of the Library, Hall and Chapel, all in constant use throughout the year but particularly busy during Trinity Term. The books given by “Our First & most kind Benefactor” the Reverend Samuel Cooke in 1714 are still preserved and used in that same Library building, and many of the items of silver listed in the volume are still used or displayed at formal dinners. A particular thrill for me is to see the entry for the silver and silver-gilt bowl given by Sir Henry Hoo Keate in 1720, which was used at the baptism of my elder daughter in the College Chapel nearly 300 years later. Through this Benefactors’ Book we are able to perpetuate the memory of our earliest benefactors and honour them for their gifts to the College.

Emma Goodrum (Archivist)



Henry Daniel and W. R. Barker, Worcester College (London, 1900)

John Gutch (ed.) Anthony à Wood, The history and antiquities of the colleges and halls in the University of Oxford (Oxford, 1786)

Helen Mary Petter, The Oxford Almanacks (Oxford, 1974)

I have been researching the life of Margaret Alchorne through other sources and will publish a short piece with further information about her later in the year

Murder most foul?

The Ardlamont Mystery Solved. By Alfred J. Monson. To which is appended Scott’s Diary.

London: Marlo & Co. [1894]

This rather curious pamphlet recently came to our attention through an enquiry from a researcher. In December 1893, Alfred Monson was tried for both the murder and attempted murder of Cecil Hambrough. He was released after the jury returned the peculiarly Scottish verdict of ‘Not Proven’. This pamphlet, written by Monson the year after, tells his side of the story.

Cecil Hambrough, The Illustrated London News, December 9, 1893

The most basic facts of the case are these: in August 1893, Cecil Hambrough, aged 20 and expecting to come into a reasonably large fortune on his majority, along with his tutor, Alfred Monson, arranged to rent the Ardlamont estate in Argyll for the shooting season. A man called ‘Scott’, who was purported to be a boating engineer, joined them in Ardlamont. On the night of the 9th of August, Monson and Hambrough went out splash-net fishing and the boat sank, leaving Hambrough (who could not swim) stranded on a rock. Monson swam to shore to fetch another boat and rowed them both back. On the 10th of August, while out shooting with Monson and Scott, Cecil Hambrough was shot dead.


Ardlamont House, The Illustrated London News, December 9, 1893

Monson and Scott alleged that Cecil had accidently shot himself while climbing over a wall. Monson stated he was some distance away in another part of the wood when he heard the shot, and Scott was not carrying a gun. Cecil’s body was removed to the house where it was examined by a local doctor, Dr Macmillan, who found the story believable and certified the death as accidental. The case appeared closed.

A couple of weeks later however, it came to the attention of the Procurator Fiscal that just days before his death, Cecil had insured his life for £20,000 and assigned the policies to Mrs Monson, and the Monsons were now trying to collect. The Procurator Fiscal decided to investigate further and found that not only were there some evidential inconsistencies, but that Monson was at the centre of a complex web of dodgy financial dealings involving the Hambrough family. And the mysterious ‘Scott’, who had shown no evidence of actually being a boating engineer, had disappeared. The Procurator Fiscal and the Crown decided that neither the shooting nor the boating incident the night before were accidents, and charged Monson and Scott with murder and attempted murder.


The scene of the shooting, The Illustrated London News, December 9, 1893

A full account of the case is well beyond the scope of a blogpost – for an excellent, if not exactly succinct, account, see William Roughead, ‘The Ardlamont Mystery; or the Misadventures of Mr Monson’ in Rogues Walk Here or Classic Crimes. True enthusiasts can read a full report of the trial, including witness statements, in Trial of A. J. Monson, edited by John W. More (Edinburgh 1921). Taking place over ten days, with dozens of witnesses called (one of whom was Dr Joseph Bell, the prototype for Sherlock Holmes, who testified for the prosecution), Monson’s trial was a large and complex affair (Roughead, Rogues Walk Here, pp. 32, 40). The primary points of dispute were over means and motive. Experts for the prosecution and defence clashed over ballistic and medical evidence as to the distance and angle necessary to explain the gunshot wound and whether the body had truly fallen where Monson claimed. There were also disputes over who had been carrying which gun; according to More, Monson changed his story as to which guns he and Cecil were carrying. Also, rather strangely, Monson and Scott had taken both guns back to the house and emptied the cartridges before even alerting the household of the accident (More, Trial of A.J. Monson, p. 6 and Roughead, Rogues Walk Here, p. 40).

Monson in court, The Illustrated London News, December 23,1893

Proving the motive for the crime was even more complicated. Although Cecil had insured his life for the benefit of the Monsons by assigning the policies to Mrs Monson, the assignment was invalid because he was underage, and the Monsons were not able to collect the money. The prosecution argued that Monson was not aware that Cecil’s age would make the assignment invalid and killed Cecil for the insurance money, as evidenced by the attempts to cash in after he died. The defence insisted that he was aware of this and that the insurance assignments were intended as an acknowledgement of Cecil’s indebtedness to the Monsons, whom he intended to repay on reaching his majority. Cecil, they argued, was more valuable to Monson alive than dead (More, Trial of A.J. Monson, p. 7). The defence wrote off the attempts to cash in the policies as just ‘bluffing’ – a cheeky try for the cash (Roughead, Rogues Walk Here, pp. 44-45). It turned out that Monson had had a long and uncomfortable financial relationship with the Hambroughs – Cecil’s father Major Hambrough was also in substantial debt, and had been introduced to Monson through a mutual acquaintance while trying to find creative ways to regain control of his finances. Over the course of the trial it also became clear that this was not Monson’s first involvement in shady financial dealings and that he had actually been declared bankrupt in 1892 (More, Trial of A.J. Monson, p. 2; for more, see Roughead, Rogues Walk Here). It also became evident that he had forged a signature to obtain the lease of Ardlamont and that the insurance policies in question had been obtained fraudulently (Roughead, Rogues Walk Here, p. 11; Lewis and Bombaugh, Stratagems and conspiracies to defraud life insurance companies, pp. 611-613).


Prosecutor and witness, The Illustrated London News, December 23, 1893


Witnesses at the trial, The Illustrated London News, December 23, 1893

Monson’s trial was a media sensation. Before it had even begun, The Illustrated London News was already stating that it ‘will certainly be one of the celebrated criminal trials of the century’ (December 9, 1893). The large-scale and unsuccessful manhunt for ‘Scott’, who was now believed to be Edward Sweeney, also known as Ted Davis the bookmaker, had also captured the public’s imagination and lent an air of mystery to the case. Over 100 pressmen attended the trial and The Scotsman devoted an average of 20 columns to it every day (Roughead, Rogues Walk Here, p.4).

Trial scene, The Illustrated London News, December 23, 1893

After deliberating for just 73 minutes, the jury returned a verdict of ‘Not proven’, an alternative to ‘Guilty’ and ‘Not guilty’ which exists in Scotland. In practice, the verdict is an acquittal, but it is an acquittal with doubt. In Blackwood’s Magazine in 1906, Lord Moncrieff wrote of this option:

‘When, therefore, the verdict “Not Guilty” being available, a jury contents itself with finding the modified verdict “Not Proven,” the verdict reflects, and is intended to reflect, unfavourably upon the character of the person acquitted.’(‘The Verdict “Not Proven”’, Blackwood’s Magazine, June 1906)

Perhaps to dispel these unfavourable reflections, or to try to make a little something out of his misadventure, Monson published his side of the story in this pamphlet in 1894. Our copy likely made its way to our collection through the eclectic collecting tendencies of Henry Allison Pottinger (Librarian of Worcester College 1884-1911), who left the library a large and varied collection of nineteenth-century pamphlets. Over the course of 72 pages, Monson explains his version of both the boating accident and the shooting, as well as going into detail about his financial dealings with the Hambrough family. He is particularly critical of the Scottish justice system and the Procurator Fiscal involved in the case. He repeatedly asserts that ‘if the accident to the late Cecil Hambrough had taken place in England, I should never have been accused of murdering him’; a claim based on the practice of holding a public inquest in England (The Ardlamont Mystery Solved, p. 4). He also accuses the Crown Prosecution of concealing evidence which would have helped him, and the Procurator Fiscal of fabricating a murder charge in order to cover his own mistake in failing to take Scott’s evidence on the accidental death before he disappeared, a mistake which Monson insists would have cost the Procurator Fiscal his position.

As The Scotsman commented in its brief description of the work, Monson’s account is ‘remarkable chiefly for things that are left out’ (The Scotsman, January 25, 1894). Monson never truly explains the presence or identity of Scott. Neither does he mention in his rambling description of his financial dealings that he was in fact bankrupt, in substantial debt, and dependent on the handouts of friends for financing. The credibility of the work is undermined further by the inclusion of the bizarre appendix of ‘Scott’s Diary’, an account of Scott’s time while on the run from the police, which bears all the signs of being complete fabrication. The indignation of having these ramblings ascribed to him may have been what finally drove Scott out of hiding. In April 1894, The Pall Mall Gazette published Scott’s, alias Ted Davis’, alias Edward Sweeney’s account of the tragedy. His story largely tallies with Monson’s, though he verifies his identity as Davis/Sweeney and claims that it was Monson who suggested that he adopt an alias while at Ardlamont, so that Monson’s wife wouldn’t know that he had invited a bookie to stay. Regarding Monson’s pamphlet, he states:

‘Now, I have not once during my story tried in any way to blame Mr. Monson for what has happened, believing and knowing him to be quite blameless, so far as an intention to cause me trouble is concerned; but I cannot understand, after all I have suffered through adopting, at his instigation, the name he suggested, why he should have done me the injustice of allowing this absurd and fictitious diary to be published in my name. And here let me at once say the diary is not mine. I never saw it, wrote it, or had any hand in it. It was not written by my consent or knowledge, and does not contain one word of truth.’ (The Pall Mall Gazette, April 11, 1894)

In May 1894, Sweeney presented himself to the courts asking for the sentence of outlawry against him to be lifted, which it was, leaving him a free man (Roughead p. 52). Monson’s pamphlet was not particularly well received by the press, being termed as a ‘catch-penny pamphlet’ by one paper and ‘rubbish’ by another (Roughead, Rogues Walk Here, pp. 50-51).

So, did Alfred Monson kill Cecil Hambrough? Opinion has certainly remained divided since the beginning. Later commentators have tended to believe that Monson was probably guilty (see for example, but writing immediately after the verdict, both The Spectator and The Scotsman found the verdict of ‘Not Proven’ to be fair. The Saturday Review, on the other hand, felt it to be somewhat unjust that the option existed, though they did comment that:

‘In the Monson case it can easily be understood that where the prisoner’s life and conduct had been so disreputable, and where, if he was innocent, so many odd and suspicious things had happened, the jury were by no means particularly anxious to pay him the compliment… of a verdict of “Not Guilty”.’ (The Saturday Review, December 30, 1893, p. 729)

Guilty or not, Monson did not appear to have learned his lesson when it came to dodgy financial dealings. In 1898, Monson was again in court as a defendant and this time convicted, with a sentence of five years penal servitude, of insurance fraud.

Renée Prud’Homme

(Assistant Librarian)


Lewis, John B and Bombaugh, Charles C., Stratagems and conspiracies to defraud life insurance companies : an authentic record of remarkable cases (2nd ed. Baltimore, 1896), viewed in The Making of Modern Law, Gale (online database)

Moncrieff (Lord), ‘The Verdict “Not Proven”’, Blackwood’s Magazine, No. MLXXXVIII, Vol. CLXXIX (June 1906), pp. 763-777

More, John W. (ed.), Trial of A. J. Monson (2nd ed. Edinburgh, [1921?]), viewed in The Making of Modern Law, Gale (online database)

Roughead, William, Rogues Walk Here, (London, 1934)


The Illustrated London News (December 9, 1893 and December 23, 1893)

The Pall Mall Gazette (April, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 1894), viewed in British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900 (online database)

The Saturday review of politics, literature, science and art (Dec 30, 1893), viewed in British Periodicals, ProQuest (online database)

The Scotsman (December 23, 1893 and June 25, 1894), viewed in ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Scotsman (online database)

The Spectator (December 30, 1893), viewed in Periodicals Archive Online, ProQuest (online database)


‘omnia scripta statum collegii concernentia’

Key to the College Chest, c1714

Muniment Room list, 1909

In contrast to the many interesting volumes from the College Library which have featured in recent months, we return to treasures from the Archives with an object containing only two words of text: “College Chest”. This object can help to unlock the history of the Archives themselves, and to provide an explanation for the separation between the Archive collections and the special collections in the Library. To bring the story of the Archives to the present day, I have also included a second treasure that sheds further light on the history of the collections.

Key to the College Chest, c1714, with label in Provost Gower’s hand

This large key is all that remains of the two chests which the original College Statutes of 1714 stipulated were to be maintained by the College authorities. The first chest was to contain “omnia scripta statum collegii concernentia” [all documents concerning the position of the College] and went on to list those of particular importance: the Foundation Charter; the statute book; the Founder’s will; and documents relating to gifts of land and money. ‘Lesser documents’ (“scripta minoris”) were to be safely stored elsewhere in College in a place nominated by the Provost and Bursar. The second chest was provided for money and the more precious items of College silver and plate. The statutes required the two chests to be made of iron or other strong material, and to need three keys to unlock them, thereby preventing one unscrupulous individual from making off with the College treasures. The keys were to be held by the Provost, the Bursar and the Dean and it appears that this surviving key was the one held by the Provost as the writing on the label is that of the second Provost, William Gower (Provost 1736 to 1777); Daniel and Barker’s history of the College records that this system was still in use in 1900. It seems fair to argue that the order of these two chests in the 1714 Statutes is significant and that the authors recognised the greater importance of the evidential value of the documents for the future survival of the College. The survival of these original documents has often proved crucial to the College in various disputes over the intervening 300 years, and they are still used occasionally by the administration today.

1714 College Statutes: (clockwise from top right) a section of the front cover; title page; and the page containing the instructions for two iron chests

This provision in the 1714 Statutes for an embryonic College Archives explains their division from the Library which, while it was also established at the foundation of the College, was to provide a research collection and in particular to house the magnificent collection of books, drawings, prints and manuscripts bequeathed in 1736 by George Clarke. The College Archives grew out of the stipulation for an iron chest for documents relating to the position of the College and therefore is comprised, in the main, of the administrative records of the College from its foundation to the present day. The ‘lesser documents’ no longer required by the Bursar were originally stored physically in the Library, in the small room next to the Lower Library (now known as the Wilkinson Room), but they were not transferred to the intellectual care of the Librarian. Instead they remained the responsibility of the Bursar, and over time they became somewhat neglected. However even inclusion in the iron chest of such essential records as the ‘College Register’ (recording decisions of the body of Fellows) or other eighteenth century books of admission or benefactions did not mean that the documents were scrupulously maintained. Provost William Sheffield (Provost 1777 to 1795) in particular neglected this statutory duty – his entries in the College Register are restricted to one minute from a meeting in the first year of his Provostship, and several annotations directly criticising minutes written by his predecessor William Gower.

It was not until the twentieth century that the bursary became professionalised and steps were taken to improve the condition of the Archives. When F J Lys became Bursar in 1908 he found a collection of parcels of “dusty papers” in the small room in the Library along with the original iron chest and set to work, with the help of a clerk, sorting and indexing the Archives. The list that they created in 1909 is the second treasure of this blog post, and forms the first full archival catalogue compiled for the College.

First page of the 1909 Muniment Room list

The immediate impetus for the creation of the list was a long running dispute with the Canal Company over the drainage ditch that runs along the south side of the sports field and drains into the Canal. The organisation of the historic muniments was key to the success of the subsequent court case and once an important agreement of 1843 had been found the Canal Company capitulated. While the key to the College Chest no longer has a practical use, this second treasure, the Muniment Room list compiled by Lys and his clerk, has often helped me to track down items in the Archives which previous administrators feared were lost.

Cartoon of F. J. Lys by Ralph Usherwood (matriculated 1930)

The Archives remained intellectually separate from the Library throughout the first half of the twentieth century and were physically removed from the small Lower Library room some time before 1944 (it may be that it was at this time the original iron chest was discarded or lost). For a time they were housed in the basement of the Provost’s Lodgings, until moving to their current home when this area was redeveloped into meeting rooms.

The linking of the Archives and the Library in the minds of the administration dates from the appointment of James Campbell as Fellow Librarian in 1966. Professor Campbell was already Keeper of the Archives and the two roles came to be conflated into one title as ‘Fellow Librarian and Keeper of the Archives’. He organised the further listing of parts of the collections and ensured the transfer of newer records from the College administration, continuing the preservation of evidential records as required by the Statutes. He also acquired important collections of personal papers such as the papers of Sir John Masterman (Provost 1946 to 1961).

While it may appear at a first glance that, in comparison to the more orderly collections of the Library, the College Archives survived merely through chance and inaction until the appointment of a professional archivist in 2009, in fact these two treasures point to a long history of active preservation of these important records. We are therefore indebted to the authors of the 1714 College Statutes for their insistence that the College must securely maintain its documents in a strong iron box secured by three keys.

Emma Goodrum (Archivist)


Henry Daniel and W. R. Barker, Worcester College, (London, 1900)

J. Lys, Worcester College 1882-1943, and some account of a stewardship, (Oxford, 1944)