Tag Archives: Kirby

Richard Canning

The Revd Richard Canning (1708—1775) was a Suffolk clergyman, and author of several books. He was the (anonymous) author of An account of the gifts and legacies that have been given and bequeathed to charitable uses in the town of Ipswich; with some account of the present state and management and some proposals for the future regulation of them, published in Ipswich in 1747. This was not a completely disinterested account, as a careful parsing of the title shows. Back in 1743, a commission had been set up to investigate the various charitable donations that had been given to be used in Ipswich, and to check that the conditions of these donations were being properly fulfilled. Clearly, such an investigation would be unnecessary unless there was a sense, in certain quarters, that there was a certain amount of misdirection going on. The investigation was partly an attack on the current political powers in Ipswich. Canning collected 113 subscribers, mostly from local people, among them Kirby. Canning himself took six copies of the book, as did his friend Rev. Henry Hubbard.

Canning was actually born in Plymouth, but moved to Suffolk at a young age when his father retired to Ipswich after a career as a naval commander. He went to Westminster School, and on to St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, graduating in 1729, and gaining a master’s degree from Peterhouse in 1735. He married Cordelia Westhorp in 1739 and they had two children, a son Richard, and a daughter Cordelia. Canning’s wife died in 1751, but he never remarried. His first clerical appointment was as curate at St Lawrence, Ipswich, in 1734, and he gradually gathered other livings, maintaining a plurality of up to four at times.

According to his DNB article, “Canning was a pillar of Anglican life in Suffolk, and a leading member of the clerical, literary, and musical circles to which the young Thomas Gainsborough belonged until he left for Bath in 1759”. Gainsborough painted a portrait of Canning about 1757.

(This picture is from The Art Fund, and is reversed).

Canning gave the picture to Henry Hubbard, and in return, Hubbard had his own portrait done by Gainsborough and gave it to Canning. Hubbard’s portrait is very similar, but he is facing the other way (i.e., to the right, whereas Canning is looking to the left).

Canning also appears to have been the editor who prepared the much revised and enlarged 1764 second edition of John Kirby’s Suffolk Traveller, although a number of other people also had a hand in the work.

Canning’s DNB article is here.

Sir Joseph Ayloffe (1709/10—1781)

Sir Joseph Ayloffe, 6th (and last) Baronet, of Braxted Magna, Essex, was Kirby’s first patron, and something of a mystery to me. I can’t quite tell whether to celebrate his achievements or see him as a rather sad case of someone who did not have the success he desired. Nor can I see exactly how he and Kirby got together, nor precisely understand his passion for the antiquities of Suffolk.

Ayloffe was born in 1709 as the only son of Joseph Ayloffe, a barrister (lawyer), of Gray’s Inn, London, and Mary Ayliffe. As a child he went to Westminster School and Lincoln’s Inn. He went up to Oxford in 1726, the same year his father died, but left in 1728 without taking a degree. Following his father, he became a barrister in 1730, and that year his unmarried cousin, Sir John Ayloffe, died, and he succeeded to the baronetcy. He married Margaret Railton, a widow, in 1734 and they had one son, Joseph, who died of smallpox in 1756 at Cambridge.

Ayloffe was one of those eighteenth-century passionate antiquarians. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1731, and of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1732; he was also a member of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society. He was appointed clerk to the commissioners for building Westminster Bridge in 1736, and held the post for the 15 years it took for the bridge to be constructed.

Felicity Owen is quite harsh on Ayloffe. She says that he and Kirby met, presumably in the early 1740s, through Kirby’s father’s connections with the Suffolk gentry, although the details are not clear. She characterizes him as someone who “fancied himself as the Montfaucon of England and, like the French savant, was determined to encourage the appreciation of antiquities by publishing their topographical and historical description.” He asked Kirby to make some engravings of Suffolk buildings and monuments to illustrate the intended work, but, “A solicitor, without credentials as a writer, Ayloffe failed to obtain financial backing for his project” and it never appeared. Ayloffe seems to have continued working on the project and had another proposal to publish a history of Suffolk in the 1760s, but once again could not get support. In between he had failed at a number of other projects. He started a review journal, the Universal Librarian, but only one issue appeared. He had a proposal to publish parliamentary debates from before the Restoration, but that did not happen. He had a plan to issue a translation of Diderot’s Encyclopédie, but the first number was mocked so badly that it was the last.

He did have later successes. In 1770, he read a paper to the Society of Antiquaries on the painting of the Field of the Cloth of Gold at Windsor, and that appeared as a book, An historical description of an ancient picture in Windsor Castle in 1773. In 1772, he supervised the opening of the tomb of Edward I in Westminster Abbey and 10 days later he reported on the discoveries to a packed meeting of the Society. His 1774 edition of the Calendars of the ancient charters, and of the Welch and Scotish rolls, now remaining in the Tower of London, completed a task begun by Philip Morant.

The engravings Kirby made for Ayloffe’s abortive history of Suffolk in the 1740s became the basis for his own Historical Account, the book that launched Kirby’s career, and for which Ayloffe headed the subscriber list.

Sir Joseph Ayloffe has a substantive and judicious DNB entry.

Philip Morant’s Colchester

One of Rev. John Clubbe’s books, the 1758 The history and antiquities of the ancient villa of Wheatfield, in the county of Suffolk, was a satirical response to Rev. Philip Morant’s, The History and Antiquities of the Most Ancient Town and Borough of Colchester, in the County of Essex, In Three Books, published ten years earlier. Morant’s worthy, if somewhat dull, antiquarian tome was published in 1748, the same year as Kirby’s Historical Account (this was also the year that Gainsborough painted a portrait of Kirby’s father, John, and probably the Hadleigh painting as well). Rev. Morant was a subscriber to the Historical Account, and three of the Kirbys were subscribers to Morant’s book. In fact, Kirby may have drawn part of one of the plates illustrating Morant’s collection of Roman coins.

Philip Morant was born in 1700 in Jersey and grew up bilingual in English and French. He went to Abingdon school in Oxfordshire and then on to Oxford, graduating from Pembroke College in 1721. He was ordained in 1722 and became a curate at Great Waltham in Essex where he assisted the Rector, Nicholas Tindal with his translation of Paul de Rapin’s Histoire d’Angleterre. Morant’s own first published work seems to have been The cruelties and persecutions of the Romish church display’d,wherein is shown how contrary the persecuting spirit of the church of Rome is to the temper of the Christian religion of 1728, and in 1729 he obtained an M.A. from Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge.

Morant’s next work was the magnificently-titled, The tapestry hangings of the House of Lords: representing the several engagments between the English and Spanish fleets in the ever memorable year MDLXXXVIII, With the Portraits of the Lord High – Admiral, and the other Noble Commanders, taken from the Life. To which are added, from a book entitled, Expeditionis Hispanorum in Angliam vera descriptio, A.D. 1588, done, as is supposed, for the said Tapestry to be work’d after. ten charts of the sea coasts of England, And a General One of England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Holland, &c. Shewing the Places of Action between the two Fleets; Ornamented with medals struck upon that Occasion, And other suitable Devices. Also an historical account of each day’s action, Collected from the most Authentic Manuscripts and Writers. By John Pine, Engraver. The book was dedicated to the King by John Pine (Morant wrote the text; Pine did the engravings) and boasted a glittering array of subscribers. It went through several editions.

In 1732, Queen Caroline nominated Morant to the English chaplaincy at Amsterdam, although he only stayed there for two years. He held several posts over the next few years before being appointed Rector of St Mary-at-the-Walls in Colchester in 1738. He married Anne Stebbing in his church the same year.

Morant’s major work was his monumental The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex, which occupied him for fifteen years and emerged in installments from 1763 to 1768. His wife died in 1767, and Morant died in 1770 and was buried next to her in Aldham, whose Rector he had been since 1745.

His DNB article has more biographical information.

We’ll close with one of his more pleasing asides from the History and Antiquities of Colchester, where he is ploughing steadily through the history of Roman Colchester.

To secure their conquest, the Romans took a most effectual method; that was, To draw the flower of the British youth out of this island ; which forming into twelve large bodies, or more, they sent to the most distant provinces, and continually recruited them from Britain. This was no less than draining the strength and vigor of this island ; and depriving the inhabitants of all disposition, at least of all power, of shaking off their yoke. A most infallible method to keep a mutinous and revolting Province in due subjection!

There is a portrait of Morant done by Charles Head (1850–1926), and he has a school in Colchester named after him.

The Botesdale Book Club

Book clubs played an important, but very poorly-understood, role in 18th-century readership. At a time when there were few, if any, public libraries, and books were expensive, private clubs formed to spread the cost.  Groups of a dozen or two members would gather monthly for a convivial dinner, often at a local pub, and their annual subscription fee would fund the purchase of a collection of books that circulated at the meeting.  Frequently, the clubs would sell off the collection at the end of each year to defray the costs of purchasing new books. Such organizations were private and ephemeral and have left very little public record.  One of the few surviving sources is the combined account and loan record book of the Botesdale Book Club of Botesdale, Suffolk, for the period from 1778 to 1789.  The circulation and attendance records fluctuate wildly.  At times as few as three members attended the dinner (“set for three o’clock with adjournment at seven”), and in 1788-89 Mr. Havers managed only two of the eleven meetings. In one year five members borrowed twenty books; in another every member was active and between them they borrowed 130 books. The Betts family were active in the club, a Mr. Betts appearing as a member for the whole of the 1778 to 1789 period of the membership record.  In The Betts of Wortham in Suffolk (1912) we find that the club had been formed in 1748 and “held monthly meetings on the Tuesday after the full moon at the Crown Inn” until 1815, when George Betts recorded in his diary for September 6th, “James and I dined at the Botesdale Book Club for the last time ; it had existed since 1748.” A Mrs. Avice Betts was a subscriber to Joshua Kirby’s Historical Account in 1748, and the Botesdale Book Club itself subscribed to the second edition of Kirby’s Method of Perspective in 1755. For a description of Botesdale in the 18th century, we can turn to John Kirby’s Suffolk Traveller (1735), where the place is described as a “long mean built, dirty through-fare Town, extending it self very near a Mile on the Road. … There is a mean Market weekly on Saturdays, and a Fair yearly on Holy Thursday”. On the bright side, he does close his description of the town with the comment, “Here are several Inns of good Entertainment”.