Wednesday 18 March 2015

The Helmingham Hall Manuscripts

Helmingham Hall, Suffolk
I have recently had reason to examine some manuscripts from the Tollemache family collection at Helmingham Hall and, as I mentioned in the previous post, have just finished reading Janet Ing Freeman's The Postmaster of Ipswich: William Stevenson Fitch, Antiquary and Thief (London, 1997), an account of the way in which many manuscripts were stolen from the collection in the 19th century.

This has prompted me to post about how those that survived Fitch's depredations can be recognised.

Usually there is a distinctive shelf-mark on a paper label in the top left corner of the front pastedown, beginning "L. J.", crossed-through in pencil or ink and substituted by a different shelfmark, also beginning "L. J.":
Berkeley, Robbins MS 99 [Source]
Huntington Library, HM 26053 [Source]
Huntington Library, HM 36337 [Source]
Huntington Library, HM 58202 [Source]
 Philadelphia, Univ. of Pennsylvania, MS LJS 42 [Source]
London, Senate House, MS 657
Once you have seen a few, as above, they are easily recognisable.

Another characteristic of some Helmingham MSS is a strip of thick brown leather stuck to the spine to strengthen it:
Huntington Library, HM 36337 [Source]
Huntington Library, HM 58202 [Source]
Huntington Library, HM 28174 [Source]
In at least one case such a leather strip (mentioned in descriptions of the 1930s and 1960s) has been removed, leaving only some staining at the spine:

Often there is a brief catalogue description loosely-inserted on a slip of paper, ruled in red, and with the same characteristic "L. J." shelfmark:

A.S.G. Edwards published a list of the medieval manuscripts from the collection, with their present whereabouts when known to him, in The Book Collector, 49 no.3 (Autumn, 2000), pp.349–64, with further bibliography. At the time of publication, the whereabouts of about 20 MSS was unknown, presumed to be in private collections, but a few have since found institutional homes. I would be grateful to learn from readers of this blog the present locations of any still in private hands.


  1. Hello Peter,
    Whilst listing the witnesses of Compendium theologicae veritatis, I found the mention in Kaeppeli (1975, p. 264) of Lord Tollemache MS 49, from Helmingham Hall. Unfortunately, I do not have access to Edwards article, but it would be great if you could help me with the present whereabouts of this MS.
    Thanks !

    1. According to the Schoenberg Database (, it was later Takamiya MS 14; the Takamiya collection was recently acquired by the Beinecke, but MS 14 is not listed among the Takamiya MSS here: so I suggest you contact the Beinecke.
      Best wishes,

    2. Yes, it is now the "Takamiya MS 14", at the Beinecke Library.



I may ignore and delete anonymous comments