Loughborough Parish Library (1): what it is and where it is now

19 May 2023

James Bickham (1719-1785) was a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and clergyman, scholar and fifteenth archdeacon of Leicester. He was presented the rectory of Loughborough by his college in 1761 and became archdeacon of Leicester in 1772. Bickham retained both offices until his death in 1785, whilst residing in the Rectory, a medieval hall-house located beside All Saints Church, Loughborough. The Old Rectory is now a museum managed by the Loughborough Archaeological & Historical Society.

After graduating in 1740/1, Bickham was a Fellow of Emmanuel College from 1743-1761 and pursued higher degrees during his Fellowship. When he arrived at Loughborough he brought with him his collection of several hundred books, gathered since childhood, according to his interests. By the time he died it numbered 641 titles.

We know this because in 1786 Bickham’s successor had a list made of the books as found in the Rectory, presumably to keep them separate from his own collection. Of the 641 titles listed, 420 titles have survived to date. It is a rare occurrence for libraries to retain their integrity over centuries. Bickham recognised the value of his collection and providently handed in his will responsibility for the collection to his successors at All Saints:

“I give all my printed Books to the Rectory of Loughborough for the use of my Successors for ever except two Volumes of Miltons prose works by Birch which I desire the Bishop of Worcester to accept.”

The books were originally kept in the medieval Rectory, then in the parvise of the church for some years, secluded but under threat from a leaky roof. In 1967 the collection was deposited in Loughborough Technical College. It moved to Loughborough University in 1987, then to Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham in 2012. The books have been here ever since.

In 2022 they were catalogued at full level of the rules of descriptive cataloguing of rare books and can be browsed online in the University Library’s catalogue NUsearch. By typing LPL into the search bar, short for Loughborough Parish Library, and filtering the results to Manuscripts and Special Collections (see filter in the pane on the right), the records of circa 500 books will appear in the hit list.

Approximately 100 books which were not collected by Bickham are included in the collection forming the LPL. Some of these presumably belonged to the church, for example, a copy of The Paraphrase of Erasmus on the books of the New Testament, published in 1548, bound in the original 16th century boards in the diaper design. It lacks Bickham’s bookplate and was not listed in the 1786 catalogue, however, the Inventory of such goods as doe now belong unto the Church this yeare 1619, made by the churchwardens Edward Cranwell and Francis Stable, lists under 3: Erasmus his paraphrases upon the Evangelists. This is likely to be the surviving copy in the LPL.

Books were also added by Bickham’s successors such as the rectors William Holme and Henry Fearon or by parishioners. We know this because Holme annotated the 1786 catalogue and added in titles of books he had contributed to the collection; Fearon inscribed 12 books with the note “Given to the Library of Loughborough Rectory 1874”. As for private donors, in 1916 a parishioner gifted a copy of The Leicestershire harmony (1759) to the rector Thomas Pitts with a note stating that the book is “worthy of a place in the Rectorial Library”.

It is also a rare occurrence for libraries to stay unforgotten for centuries. Their usual fate is that exemplified by two libraries owned by rectors of All Saints, both incidentally childless and published authors in their lifetime, George Bright and Samuel Blackall. According to David Pearson’s research on Book Owners Online

“Bright’s lengthy will, mainly concerned with distributing property and money around his relations and servants, has no mention of books. His library was sold by retail sale in London, beginning 13 July 1697. No catalogue survives, but the sale was advertised in The Post Boy as ‘a curious collection of Greek and Latin fathers, historians, philologers, poets, &c with a large collection of Hebrew and other oriental books’. […] None of Bright’s books have been identified.”

Samuel Blackall, on the other hand, mentions his books in his will, leaving them to his two favourite nephews. Both Bright’s and Blackall’s libraries vanished in the mists of time.

The Loughborough Parish Library can be viewed by all members of the public in the Reading Room at the University of Nottingham’s Manuscripts and Special Collections. Find out here about our opening times! 

Next blog: What was Loughborough like in 1761 when the Rector settled into the Old Rectory with his books?

© Article written by Manuscripts and Special Collections, University of Nottingham

Resources used:

Margaret Baker, The life and times of the Rectors of Loughborough (2012)

Lynne Dyer, Revd James Bickham’s Library, Sunday, 26 February 2023


Bookplate of James Bickham in the oldest book of the Loughborough Parish Library, published in 1525: Constitutiones provinciales ecclesiae Anglicanae. The binding includes pastedowns of vellum manuscript written in minute, fine characters in secretary hand over two columns, with illuminated letters in red and blue. Loughborough Parish Library, Oversize KBR1006.2 .C6, barcode 1008385806. © Manuscripts and Special Collections, University of Nottingham
Bookplate of Henry Fearon in Mémoires pour servir a l’histoire du jacobinisme (1797-98). Loughborough Parish Library, DC178.B27, barcode 1008334250. © Manuscripts and Special Collections, University of Nottingham
Title page of Constitutiones provinciales ecclesiae Anglicanae (1525). Loughborough Parish Library, Oversize KBR1006.2.C6, barcode 1008385806. © Manuscripts and Special Collections, University of Nottingham
Page from the oldest book in the Loughborough Parish Library. It is printed in black and red ink and has decorated initials printed with woodcuts. Loughborough Parish Library, Oversize KBR1006.2.C6, barcode 1008385806. © Manuscripts and Special Collections, University of Nottingham

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