John Bagford Manuscripts

As we wander afield it can be interesting, at least to me to examine some of the minutia that can bog down research – especially in obscure fields, like the history of shoemaking.

John Bagford (1650/1-1716) was an antiquarian, author, book-dealer, bibliographer, and manuscript collector.  He may also have had his start as a shoemaker by the Great Turnstile (An alley between High Holburn and Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London).  If so he appears to have tired of that and changed professions around 1686.

One of the things he is best known for was gathering together a large number of collections of books and manuscripts.  Among those he helped to build were the collections of Robert Harley, Hans Sloan and Sir Robert Cotton; which is to say – much of the core of the British Museum library.  Unfortunately he was also the target of a lot of negative commentary, mostly due to his overall lack of education and the collections he built for himself of title-pages of books — according to legend, he was known to visit the homes of the great and the good, and if he found books whose pages he lacked, he’d remove those pages and take them with him.  Whether this is true, or slander laid against him can be debated endlessly.

He was well known to have been a good man without pretense (according to Thomas Rawlinson) and highly learned if not formally educated.

In the Harleian Manuscripts he left a short handwritten piece about shoemaking.  Curiously there is some debate as to what manuscript this is in.

In Nichols, John.  Literary anecdotes of the eighteenth century; comprizing biographical memoirs of William Bowyer, printer, F.S.A., and many of his learned friends; an incidental view of the progress and advancement of literature in this kingdom during the last century; and biographical anecdotes of a considerable number of eminent writers and ingenious artists; with a very copious index. Vol. 2 1812. Pp. 462-463 it is said that Bagford acknowledged “that he practised, or had practised, “the gentle craft,” as he calls it, in a little curious and entertaining tract on the fashions of shoes, &c. and the art of making them, which may be seen in the British Museum, Harl. MSS. 5911.”


According to the Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, v. 7, p. 158.  Harl. 5911 is “Letters by Wanley. Petition to University for leave to examine bindings and remove fragments.   Collections regarding libraries, MSS, etc. A History of Shoemaking, f. 92. Magnet.  Account of Barlow 110.

Also listed, pg. 159. “Harl. 5981. Collections for a history of shoemaking.”

Looks promising.

The Catalogue of the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum, v. 3, p. 309, lists

“5911.  A thin volume containing very various matters;

  1. A Letter from Mr. H. Wanley, dated Aug. 11, 1697, to some Rev* person, respecting his own Collections towards a history of the Origin and Progress of Writing.
  2. Remarks, by the same, on travels, and directions for examining foreign Libraries, with the approbation of several learned Men.
  3. Lift of Books to be enquired for in the public Library at Cambridge. By the same.
  4. Remarks on Saxon coins, by the same.
  5. A declamation, “Privata publicæ Vi æ est anteferenda” in English. In a different hand.
  6. Catalogue of Dr. Bernard’s Books and Manuscripts.
  7. Proposal by H. Wanley for collecting old external leaves of MSS. &c. followed by other matters by him.
  8. Abstract of the will of King Henry VIII.
  9. Various lists and titles of Books.
  10. Account of a perfect collection of Books and MSS. begun in 1640 by order of Charles I. This is in MS. and in print, followed by various unconnected papers, chiefly relating to books.”


“5979-5981 In reference to Printing, in MS, 3 Vol. very undigested.”


About marccarlson20

Historical Researcher, Librarian
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