Sunday 26 February 2023

Revd James Bickham's Library

In last week’s blogpost we looked into the life of the Rev. James Bickham, who was Rector of Loughborough from 1761 until his death in 1785. We mentioned his love of books and reading, and how he subscribed to many titles that were published in his lifetime. What we didn't mention, however, was that Rev. James Bickham probably attended Sherborne School in Dorset, a school with a history going back to the 12th century, and one which has a lovely library. Bickham is alleged to have carved his name (or had his name carved) in the school house dining room! Perhaps, the experience of being at Sherborne encouraged Bickham's love of books and reading ... 

So, let’s return to James Bickham’s books … I have mentioned but a few of the volumes that Bickham subscribed to: there were many more, and by the time of his death he had collected well over 500 books. In its newspaper dated 26 April 1786, the ‘Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser’ reported that Bickham had bequeathed his very valuable library, forever, to the use of the said rectory [i.e. Loughborough]. This is confirmed by a statement in his will, which says:

Extract from the will of Revd. James Bickham

According to W.G.D. Fletcher, the library comprised many valuable folio volumes, and was left to the future rectors of Loughborough forever. Mr Adams, a bookseller in Loughborough, took a catalogue, and three copies were made, one for the record, one for the executor, the Rev Mr Hurst of Stanford, and a third for the college [though I’m not clear what college this was – perhaps Emmanuel, Cambridge??]

Book cover

Fast forward to the mid-twentieth century, 1950, to be precise, and the following report appeared in the ‘Leicester Evening Mail’, of 30 September, in the Round the Clock Tower section, by Old John:

“One of the lesser-known features of Loughborough Parish Church – a small room over the porch, already filled with books – will soon be available again for use as a kind of library. Something of the history of this room was recounted to me by Mr J.H. Grundy, verger for 43 years, who followed his father – 45 years’ service – in the appointment, who in turn took over the job from his father.

Mr Grundy says the room was not incorporated in the church when it was built about 600 years ago, and he thinks it must have been added in subsequent work on the porch and hall. At one time it was used as a study, and it is known that at one time the place was a dormitory for the bellringers.

Access was for many years possible only by means of a ladder, but the stairs are to be restored as part of the Burton Memorial Chapel, which commemorates personalities who have been associated with the Grammar School and the girls’ High School.

The stored books belonged to a former rector named Bickham, and are mostly ecclesiastical in character.

Mr Grundy does not think they represent a historic find as their presence in the room – although it was virtually sealed off for many years – was well-known to older members of the church. It is likely that they have been examined numerous times in the past.”

Here are some views of the entrance to the staircase, via the Burton Chapel as they are today:

Two doors in the distance in the Burton Chapel

Closeup of the upstairs door leading directly to the room above the porch

The wooden door from the Burton Chapel to the upstairs door

A view of the ground-floor door

In 1975, the following appeared in ‘The Bulletin of the Loughborough & District Archaeological Society’ Vol.2, No.2, Spring 1975, and in a guidebook to the Old Rectory, in which Brian Williams says:

“James Bickham, the rector from 1761 to 1786, compiled a major collection of books which he bequeathed to the Rectory as an inheritance for all his successors to enjoy. It is now housed in the School of Librarianship, Loughborough Technical College.”

A Geoffrey Wakeman, writing in a 1976 issue of 'The Book Collector' says the following:

"...[The books] were moved [from the Rectory] at some time into the church where they suffered from a leaking roof, then into a 19th-century church hall, and finally in 1967 they were deposited on loan to Loughborough Technical College. Nearly all Bickham's books can be identified from his bookplate; about eight hundred books have survived in all."

I wonder if that 19th-century church hall was Fearon Hall? It's certainly the closest church hall, and the one that is associated with the 'parish church' itself, being dedicated to another Rector, Henry Fearon (Rector between 1848 and 1884). 

A more recent publication, ‘Time’s Thumb Mark’, from 2003, written by people associated with the church, and edited by the then Rector, Stephen Cherry, includes the following information:

“There are three slate memorials on the Burton Chapel wall. The first is to Archdeacon James Bickham (Rector, 1761-1785) who left a large library of books for the use of the Rectors of Loughborough. This is now housed at Loughborough University.”

Twenty years later, in 2023, we find that the Rev. James Bickham’s fine collection of books is now housed in the Manuscripts and Special Collections department of the University of Nottingham library, and is now called the ‘Loughborough Parish Library’. 

Extract from the original handwritten catalogue

The items in the collection were, as we know, originally recorded by William Adams, bookseller, in 1786 after Bickham’s death, and one of the three original copies of that catalogue is now held in the Archives and Special Collections department of Leicester University library. 

Of course, as we are now in the 21st century, the records of the collection, that is, the catalogue, is now also digitised and titles in the collection are discoverable via the Nottingham University’s library search. 

Digitised catalogue results

The actual volumes themselves are housed in a climate-controlled store. They are currently extremely fragile, so are destined to be safely packaged in archival-grade boxes, in order to preserve them for the future.


posted by lynneaboutloughborough

With apologies for typos which are all mine!


Thank you for reading this blog. You are welcome to quote passages from any of my posts, with appropriate credit. The correct citation for this looks as follows:

Dyer, Lynne (2023). Revd James Bickham's Library. Available from: [Accessed 26 February 2023]

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