Society of Antiquaries: Jackson Collection, Ivor Slocombe


The Jackson Collection is a major, but infrequently used, source for Wiltshire historians. Canon Jackson (1805-1891), rector of Leigh Delamere, collected a mass of material for a projected history of Wiltshire. This was never completed although some of his work appears in Aubrey and Jackson’s Wiltshire Collections. On Jackson’s death, all his material in the form of loose papers was deposited with the Society of Antiquaries of London. These were subsequently sorted and mounted on large sheets which were then bound in 14 very substantial volumes. The arrangement is mainly alphabetical by parish.

The collection can only be described as a veritable cornucopia. Much of the material consists of Canon Jackson’s own hand-written notes. There is the usual special interest in the genealogy of major Wiltshire families but, more important, are the printed documents, press cuttings, early pamphlets and tracts. Perhaps most surprising and most valuable are the many original documents – deeds, court rolls, rentals and surveys and autographed letters. Finally there are many topographical prints, drawings and original watercolours including a number by Wheatley.

The Society of Antiquaries catalogue is a useful starting point but it is not comprehensive, giving only examples of what is included in each volume. But even a glance through this gives a good idea of the wealth of material contained in the collection. For example, under Corsham is listed: a 13th century copy of the grant by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, of Corsham manor to the tenants; portions of court rolls of Corsham rectory manor 1577-1684; early 19th century sepia drawings of the almshouses and school.

On another level are the printed tracts. An interesting and perhaps slightly amusing set is by Rev. Alexander Headly, rector of Hardenhuish, exhorting young ladies not to attend balls: ‘Do you go to Balls? If so, have you REALLY been baptized?’ His arguments were countered in another tract ‘A few Words addressed to the readers of the late Tract on Balls’ by a Lady (identified in manuscript as Mrs. Kilvert, presumably the mother of the famous diarist Rev. Kilvert of Langley Burrell).

Two early manorial surveys or rentals took my attention. First a handwritten copy of a translation of a survey of Chilton Foliat 1547 giving a list of ‘free rents, customary tenants, rents at will and rents by indenture’. A later original document is a survey of the manor of Chisenbury Priory 1699. Thirteen holdings are listed almost all copyhold for the lives of the holder and two others. The Maton family seem to have been the most important of the landholders. Timothy Maton held a messuage with 1½ yardlands plus another yardland. Robert Maton also had a messuage with 1½ yardlands. Finally Elizabeth Drinkwater, daughter of Timothy Maton, held a messuage and a garden. Most of the manor was not enclosed for there are references to the common fields including Somer field, Hitching field and North field. The common pasture may have been somewhat limited for the usual right of pasturage was only one cow although Robert Biffin also had the right for 20 sheep.

The depth and range of the material beyond that listed in the catalogue is well illustrated by the section on the parliamentary history of Chippenham. The catalogue simply mentions a copy of the parliamentary poll to elect two members in 1818. In fact there are 13 large pages packed with relevant material. It starts with a complete list of Chippenham’s M.P.s, with handwritten notes on many of them, from 1295 to 1868 when Chippenham lost one of its two members. The disputed election of 1741 is given prominence not only because of the local interest but also for its national significance. A parliamentary debate on the issue in 1742 ended with a government defeat upon which Walpole, the prime minister, resigned. The 1818 poll list has a lot of fascinating detail. The 89 men who voted are listed with their place of residence, occupation and for whom they voted. Against many names is written ‘slave’ indicating that in some way they were beholden to one of the candidates. Next is the printed sheet ‘Facts and arguments shewing that the Borough of Chippenham ought not to be include in Schedule B of the Reform Bill 1832’. It particularly argues that Chippenham was more important than and developing faster than Calne, which was not in Schedule B. There is a similar argument in 1867 to try to prevent Chippenham losing one of its two members. Amongst what we might call ephemera are two printed tickets dated 5 January 1835: ‘To any one of the Publicans within the boundary extent of the Borough of Chippenham. Give the BEARER one Quart of Beer on account of the Members’. Finally there are two long articles (from Vanity Fair and the Agricultural Journal) on the long serving Chippenham M.P. Sir Gabriel Goldney.

There is no end to the surprises. Having recently completed a booklet on the Wiltshire Reformatory for Boys, I was delighted to find (but unfortunately too late) some important additional information. A copy of a committee report (missing from the documentation in the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office) of 1856 throws new light on the origins of the Reformatory and the series of events leading to its establishment. There is also a report by Arthur Fane, the founder of the Reformatory, which describes the state of the institution in 1863 at a crucial stage when a large financial deficit threatened its future.

The abbreviated catalogue promises further delights to come:

  • A favourable decision of the Commissioners for evicting scandalous ministers in the case of Mr. Stubbs, minister of Wroughton 1658.
  • Two letters from Rev. William Hicks, rector of Broughton Gifford, on local politics.
  • Sale particulars for Iford House and lands 1777.
  • An anti-Bonaparte song, The Marbro’ Landlords’ Intention, by Mr. Fox (sung at convivial societies in the West of England).
  • Particulars of the manor and two letters concerning a sale offer of Norton [Bavant] manor to Lord Weymouth 1706-7 ‘found at Longleat’.

It is remarkable that there is a complete lack of material on Trowbridge. Ken Rogers suggests that Canon Jackson may have lent or given his notes to Canon Jones of Bradford-on-Avon who in the 1860s was writing a series of articles on the history of Trowbridge.

I hope that this is sufficient to illustrate the importance of the Jackson Collection as a source for the history of Wiltshire and to whet the appetites of those who are undertaking local studies. The library of the Society of Antiquaries is mainly for the use of its fellows but I understand that access can be obtained by bona fide students. The abbreviated catalogue can be seen on the Society’s website: