John Bridges (1666—1724) was a country gentleman and London lawyer. He divided his time between his estate at Barton Seagrave in Northamptonshire and his chambers in London. He held a succession of lucrative government posts including Solicitor of Customs, Commissioner of Excise, Cashier of Excise, and Bencher of Lincoln’s Inn. Elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1708, he was wealthy and well-connected. Like many of his time, he was an antiquarian and was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. While many leisured gentlemen took a leisurely interest in the ancient and curious, John Bridges got the bug more badly than most. He spent several years and several thousand pounds gathering material for a projected History of Northamptonshire, but publication did not go smoothly.
Most of the information below comes from the preface of the book and from the ever-charming Nichols, who characteristically relates the tale in a five-page footnote in Literary Anecdotes.
John Bridges began collecting material in 1719 with a personal visit to every parish in the county. He also hired researchers and artists to record legal, historical, and parochial details. By the time of his death he had amassed some 30 folio volumes (plus many other loose pieces and smaller volumes) of material. However, nothing had been written. In his will, Bridges directed that his historical books and records be kept separate from the rest of his library as a family heirloom (the rest of his collection was sold). His brother William then attempted to get the work printed. A publisher was found, a writer, Dr. Samuel Jebb, was retained, and the project moved forward. It was decided to publish the work as a series of fascicles and subscriptions were sought (at 4 guineas). The first numbers duly appeared after a few years, but then the publisher went bankrupt and the project stopped. Many of the engraved plates were scattered.
Then in 1755 a number of the gentleman of the county formed a committee under the leadership of Sit Thomas Cave to see the project through. They bought up the materials, paid off Jebb, and recruited Peter Whalley to compile the volume. Gradually, the elderly gentlemen of the committee died off and the project sputtered to a halt near the finish line, with much of the work languishing with the Oxford University Press for seven years. Eventually, a new committee took over and the book finally appeared in 1791 (over 65 years after Bridges died) in two volumes totaling near 1400 pages.
Most of Bridges’ materials ended up at the Bodleian.
Bridges, John. The History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire, 2 vols, 1791.
Nichols, John. Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, vol ii, 1812.