Conversing Criminally

About Me

Conversing Criminally is Daniel Reed. PhD candidate, historical researcher & Yorkshireman. He is also Assistant Archivist at Oxford Brookes University and a member of the International Laurence Sterne Foundation.
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Updates added to ‘Jaques Sterne (c 1695 – 1759)’.

The following additions and updates have been added to ‘Jaques Sterne (c 1695 – 1759)’.

New evidence from the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York sheds rare light on the earliest years of Jaques Sterne’s life, and the properties held by the Sterne family in Yorkshire. This evidence is found among Archbishop Sharp’s manuscript accounts of the Diocese of York, initially compiled in the 1690s, but updated by his successors until the 1730s-1740s (and later in some instances). Volume two gives an account of the lands of the archbishopric, with details of the lessees of individual properties and estates.[1] Buried in these administrative records are details of leases that were first established between Archbishop Sterne and his son Simon, and were subsequently renewed by their descendants. Shortly after Simon Sterne’s death in 1703, his sons Jaques, Roger (Laurence Sterne’s father), and Simon, were named as lives to a renewal of a lease of Mickle Ings in Otley, West Riding – a further renewal followed in 1712. More interestingly, are the details of a lease of November 1716, which names as lives Jaques Sterne, then of ‘the University of Cambridge’, alongside his cousin, William Sterne, rector of Averham. This legal connection between the Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire sides of the Sterne family provides a further link between the two branches – supplementing information provided by Richard Forrester.[2] Further investigations into the interactions between members of the Sterne family in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire in the early eighteenth century may provide new insights into the direction and patronage of Jaques and Laurence Sterne’s clerical careers.

New additions

2 November 1703 – – – Named alongside his brothers, Roger and Simon Sterne, as lives in the renewal by his brother, Richard Sterne, of a lease of Mickle Ings in Otley, from the Archbishop of York. The lease had originally been made between Archbishop Sterne and his son, Simon Sterne, in 1671, for a fine of £20. The new fine was £90.

31 May 1712 – – -Named in a renewal of a lease of Mickle Ings in Otley, as 2 November 1703, less the life of his brother, Simon.

27 November 1716 – – -Then of ‘the University of Cambridge’, named alongside William Sterne, rector of Averham, and William Pickett, as lives in the renewal by his sister-in-law, Mary Sterne, of a lease of Whitcliffe near Ripon, from the Archbishop of York. The lease had originally been made between Archbishop Sterne and his son, Richard Sterne, in 1668. The new fine was £118.

[1] BIA. Bp. Dio. Bk. vol. 2, Archbishop Sharp’s MSS, c. 1700.

[2] Forrester, Richard, ‘Uncle Jaques Sterne’, in, The Shandean (1992), p. 199.


Digital resources reveal evidence of Laurence Sterne’s early clerical career

In May 2016, the major genealogy resource Find My Past announced that they had completed a three-year project to publish 10.5 million parish records in conjunction with the Yorkshire Digital Consortium.[1] For those studying the life and works of the clergyman and author Laurence Sterne, this update makes available many records from the parishes where Sterne undertook his clerical duties. These include images of the parish registers analysed in the key biographical works on Sterne, and utilised most recently by Karen Harvey to more closely interrogate Sterne’s manuscript practices in relation to his fiction – the curious blottings, marginalia, notes, and doodled sketch of Sterne’s own profile can be quickly located when browsing the Sutton-on-the-Forest register for 1665-1806.[2]

More exciting still is the possibility for making new discoveries about Sterne’s early clerical career, of which precious few documents survive. Following a brief spell in the parish of St. Ives in Huntingdonshire, Sterne’s first appointment in the North came as assistant curate of Catton in the East Riding of Yorkshire, to which he was formally licensed on 18 February 1738.[3] Precisely when Sterne arrived at Catton is unclear, but it has been hypothesised that he served the parish from the autumn/winter of 1737, on the basis of a dispensation issued to the rector, Richard Sowray, to hold the living in plurality with the vicarage of Askham Richards on 3 June 1737.[4] It has been presumed that Sterne had gained this appointment through his familiarity with Sowray at Jesus College, Cambridge, but this rural parish seven miles from York may have held greater significance than simply its proximate distance from the Sterne family estate at Elvington.[5] The parish registers reveal that a Simon Sterne was baptised at Catton on 11 May 1687 – most likely a brother of Laurence Sterne’s father who died in infancy.[6]

Given that Sterne likely served Catton for just six months, it is unsurprising that his biographers have found little trace of his activities in the parish – in 1929 Curtis stated that Sterne ‘left no memorials of his office’, whilst Cash noted that he ‘left no record in the parish registers’.[7] There is, however, a class of records published by Find My Past that do not appear to have to have been previously consulted in this search for Sterne’s early clerical career. Parish register transcripts (or bishops’ transcripts) are contemporary copies of baptisms, marriages and deaths that were ordered to be transmitted to the diocesan registry on an annual basis.[8] Ordered to be completed every Easter, the transcripts were usually compiled by the officiating minister of the parish at that time – whether that was the incumbent, curate or a neighbouring clergyman – and occasionally featured small variations from the original parish register entries. This can be useful in helping to determine who was undertaking parish duties at that time. In Sterne’s case, the register transcripts for 1737-1738 give further weight to the assumption that he was responsible for managing the parish during his brief time at Catton.

Revealed here for the first time, the parish register transcripts were compiled and signed by Sterne, with entries dating from April 1737, until 20 March 1738 – just two weeks prior to his assumption of duties at Sutton-on-the-Forest in April 1738.[9] In addition to providing a rare insight into Sterne’s activities at this formative stage in his clerical career, these records reinforce the swiftness of his early ascent in the Church. With the support of his uncle, Sterne progressed from a humble curacy of £30 per year to a respectable living and prebendal stall of York Minister in less than four years.

[1] The Yorkshire Digital Consortium comprises the following institutions; East Riding Archives and Local Studies Service, the Borthwick Institute for Archives (University of York), the North Yorkshire County Record Office, Teesside Archives, Sheffield Archives and Local Studies, and Doncaster Archives and Local Studies.

[2] Karen Harvey, ‘The Manuscript History of Tristram Shandy’, in, The Review of English Studies, New Series, Vol. 65, No. 209 (2013).

[3] Arthur H. Cash, Laurence Sterne, The Early & Middle Years (London: Methuen, 1975), p. 65.

[4] Borthwick Institute of Historical Research. INST, AB/12, 1733-1744.

[5] Cash, Laurence Sterne, The Early & Middle Years, p. 65.

[6] Borthwick Institute of Historical Research. PR CATN 1 – online at Find My Past.

[7] L. P. Curtis, The Politicks of Laurence Sterne (London: Oxford University Press, 1929), p. 34; Cash, Laurence Sterne, The Early & Middle Years, p. 65.

[8] C. C. Webb, A Guide to Genealogical Sources in the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, third edition (York: University of York, 1996), pp. 24-25.

[9] Cash, Laurence Sterne, The Early & Middle Years, p. 65.

The hidden historical record – archives in private hands.

As digital databases become increasingly important to research, so does the recognition by academics of the limitations and bounds of these resources to historical inquiry. This is the apparent motivation behind incentives such as The END (Early Novels Database) Project, which aims to unite ‘twenty-first-century database and search technologies with the sensibility of eighteenth-century indexing practices’ to create a superior bibliographical record for early novels than is currently available through Google Books (etc.). However these sources are accessed, researchers undertaking projects which involve the assessment or quantification of surviving sources will invariably be limited to referring to those items which survive in institutions with recognised historical collections (whether digitally or physically accessible). In the great majority of cases this will mean public libraries, record offices, research libraries or other organisations which maintain established archives – and even within this context there is great scope for making new discoveries and amending the historical record, as can be observed in the excellent work of Arthur der Weduwen, who recently rediscovered Utrecht’s first newspaper

Arthur der Weduwen – Utrecht’s First Newspaper Re-Discovered

A more daunting prospect is to consider the number of items which are entirely unknown to the historical record through private ownership, perhaps only coming to broader attention when offered for sale. To give one example, the recent appearance for sale on eBay of a scarce copy of The Nottingham Mercury for 27 August 1724 acts both as a reminder of the unknown archival record that exists outside of recognised institutional holdings, and a challenge to attempts to definitively quantify known surviving copies of individual publications. This seems a particularly crucial consideration in relation to publications of which very few copies are known to survive. In the case of Nottingham Mercury, the largest collection of issues is located at Nottingham Central Library, which amounts to c. 30 copies, which does not include the issue of 27 August 1724.

The Nottingham Mercury, 27 August 1724 (1)

The Nottingham Mercury; Or, A General View of the Affairs of Europe, But more particularly of Great-Britain: Being a Weekly Account of News (Nottingaham: 27 August 1724). Offered for sale on eBay, June 2016.

In the case of early British newspapers, a previous post on this blog outlined that despite its age, R. M. Wiles’ register of regional newspapers in his Freshest Advices (1965) has yet to be surpassed as a guide (or at least, a starting point) for identifying institutional holdings of early, regional newspapers titles in England, and has not been displaced by British Library initiatives such as the Newsplan project of the 1980s, or the English Short Title Catalogue. Wiles recorded some well-known collections in private hands, but unless these issues have since transferred into publicly accessible collections (Kenneth Monkman’s collections of newspapers, now under the auspices of the Laurence Sterne Trust at Coxwold in North Yorkshire might be one example), their current status can be difficult to trace. These examples act as cautionary reminders to historical researchers that our best efforts to quantify sources always come with a qualification, that our conclusions tacitly exclude the hidden archival record of private ownership.

The Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History (OCMCH) launches new online resources

Blog Front Page 2016

The Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History (OCMCH) has launched a new blog and Facebook page to showcase information and news about their activities. The OCMCH promotes historic links between Oxford Brookes University and the Methodist Church through archives, artworks, publications and research.

Their new blog can be found here,

The new Facebook page can be found here,

Eighteenth-century news sources hidden in plain sight

Exposition of the Common Prayer
Eighteenth-century news sources are most readily accessible through large digital databases such as the Burney collection and the British Newspaper Archive, which require institutional or personal subscription to access. There is, however, a small collection of newspaper issues for the late 1730s freely available through Google Books, although it is not identified as such. This anomaly has occurred due to digital indexing practices and the unusual and ephemeral nature of the original source material.

      Google Books identifies the ‘book’ in question as an obscure theological work, ‘Exposition on the Common prayer’ (1737), which is credited to Samuel Butler and Laurence Clarke. When looking through this ‘book’, it becomes highly apparent that the first page of text resembles in almost every particular an eighteenth-century newspaper, with columns and an imprint. What is unusual, however, is the title; Exposition on the Common Prayer by Laurence Clarke, no. III (Wednesday 3 August 1737). Identification of the original source of this volume provides further clues as to what is presented by Google. The ‘book’ is a digitised copy of an original volume at the Bodleian Library (Johnson d.1717), whose catalogue provides the same details of author(s) and title as Google Books. An additional and crucial detail that the Bodleian catalogue provides, however, are the notes that the volume comprises ‘The outer sheets only, containing S. Butler’s Hudibras and items of news’. So, what are we dealing with?

      Internal evidence within the volume reveals that two works by Laurence Clarke, Exposition of the Common Prayer, and the History of the Holy Bible had been produced concurrently in the summer of 1737, and were to be offered to potential customers in serialised form which could be collected by readers and bound into a book. An advertisement for the History of the Holy Bible gave details of the enterprise, which was to make up two volumes in around one hundred numbers.

One Sheet in Quarto, neatly stitched up in large Covers, on which Covers will be printed the freshest News Foreign and Domestick, as in the Daily Papers, will be published every Wednesday.[1]

If the allure of being provided with the latest news gratis along with this publication was not enough, the sheets were to be embellished with occasional cuts, and Clarke also promised to provide his readers with the additional incentive of a new serialisation of Samuel Butler’s Hudibras, accompanied by its own engravings by Hogarth. This package was advertised for ‘the Perusal of all Families, being very proper for instructing Children in the Rudiments of the Christian Religion’, and priced at two pence per sheet, so that the ‘poorer sort’ might have access to the works.[2] Whilst the news sheets do not bear a printers name, shortly thereafter the London printer Robert Walker attached Clarke’s works to a number of his newspapers marketed to areas outside of London, with titles such as The Warwickshire and Staffordshire Journal: with the History of the Holy Bible, which gave equal prominence to both the newspaper and the serialised publication which came as a supplement.[3] The inclusions of serialised religious texts were intended by newspaper printers to promote circulation and subscription to their titles, and are an example of many such offers made to customers of the mid-eighteenth century. Maps and song-sheets were also offered at premium prices or given away freely. The printers also anticipated other benefits, insofar that by wrapping other publications with news content, they hoped to be exempted from additional newspaper taxes – Walker managed this for ten months before the Commissioners of the Stamp Office insisted that he used stamped paper for his half-sheet news wrappers.[4] These ambitious commercial techniques were not without contemporary criticism. In Derby, Clarke’s History of the Bible was blasted as being ‘pirated’, and the claims that Walker’s papers produced in London could provide more up-to-date news than a country journal were branded ‘ridiculous’.[5]

           This example provides a fascinating insight into the range of approaches taken by authors, printers and (more particularly) publishers of newspapers to reach their target audience in the mid-eighteenth century. The 1737-1738 ‘Exposition of the Common Prayer’ volume is anomalous to our usual understanding of newspaper collections of the period, generally defined by locality or individual title. Its presence and inaccurate indexing on Google Books only adds to this curiosity, but conversely, also gives readers the opportunity to investigate this particular aspect of news serialisation of the eighteenth-century – even if it is hidden in plain sight.

[1] Clarke, Laurence, Exposition of the Common Prayer, no. III (London, Wednesday 3 August 1737).

[2] Ibid.

[3] The Warwickshire and Staffordshire Journal: with the History of the Holy Bible, no. LXXXII (London: 8 March 1739). Other titles which carried the History of the Bible included Walker’s Lancashire Journal, and potentially the Hull Courant (founded 1739), although this was printed locally in Hull. See, Wiles, R. M., Freshest Advices, Early Provincial Newspapers in England (Ohio State University Press, 1965), pp. 109-110; Page, W. G. B., ‘Notes on Hull Authors, Booksellers, Printers, and Stationers, etc.’, in, Karslake, Frank (ed.), Book Auction Records, vol. 6, part 1, Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 1908 (London: Karslake & Co., 1909), pp. i-vii. No issue of this date survives, but it is likely that Page had access to copies of the Hull Courant which were known to exist at the turn of the twentieth century, but are now lost.

[4] Wiles, R. M., Freshest Advices, Early Provincial Newspapers in England (Ohio State University Press, 1965), p. 112.

[5] Derby Mercury, vol. VII, no. 15 (Derby: Thursday 29 June 1738).

Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society – ‘Transactions’ online

Cumberland Westmorland Website

More great news from the realm of online resources – as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeology Society, that organisation has  made available online all Transactions of the Society from 1870 – 2016, with full content of articles (etc.) available  up to 2005. This is a remarkable achievement for one of the most venerable historical societies in the North of England.

The search engine for the Transactions can be found here;

Jaques Sterne (c. 1695 – 1759) – Additions and Updates

The following additions and updates have been added to ‘Jaques Sterne (c 1695 – 1759)’.

Outline of Career – Civil Justice

c. 1739 – post 1744, Justice of the Peace for the Liberty of Southwell & Scrooby, Notts.
c. 1744 – June 1759, Justice of the Peace for the Liberty of Cawood, Wistow, & Otley
c. 1744 – ? , Justice of the Peace for the Liberty of Ripon

Evidence from the BIHR, Bp C&P XIX Dean & Chapter papers reveals that by the 1740s, Sterne had been named as a Justice in commissions of the peace for at least six separate jurisdictions. The three above-named examples were liberties of the Archbishop of York, who customarily nominated new Justices for inclusion to the commissions. In the 1730s, Archbishop Lancelot Blackburne endeavoured to nominate individuals of sound Whig principles, and exclude those who (in the words of his chaplain, Thomas Hayter) ‘Distinguished themselves in Support of an Interest wch. his Grace hath ever thought his Duty to oppose in every Shape’.[1] Blackburne acknowledged, however, that he only nominated these individuals by custom, and not by right, meaning that his nominations had to be sanctioned by the Lord Chancellor.

[1] BIHR. Bp C&P XX, copy letter from Thomas Hayter, 11 June 1737.

Borthwick Institute launches digital catalogue

Borthwick Institute Online Catalogue

2016 is shaping up to be a busy year for the Borthwick Institute at the University of York.

        Just weeks after announcing the launch of the York’s Archbishops Registers Revealed database, the archives have begun to test-run their new catalogue. This is the first online venture for the catalogues of the Borthwick, which had until this time only been digitally available in piecemeal form on sites such as Archives Hub and the National Archive’s Discovery. Previously, the only way to get to grips with the Borthwick’s extensive collections was to consult printed guides to the archives, the first instalment of which was published in 1975.


Time to be put out to pasture? Maybe not immediately.

        The digital catalogue is still being populated, and only a limited amount of information is retrievable at present. This is particularly apparent when searching for individual items, or personal names. It can only be hoped that this long overdue digital catalogue will continue to be developed, and that it might pave the way for exciting new discoveries from one of the finest archival collections for religious and social history in the North of England.

The new Borthwick Institute catalogue can be accessed, here:

The Institute is looking for feedback from users, and a survey can be accessed here:

Prof Grayson Ditchfield – Archdeacon Francis Blackburne and the Evolution of Latitudinarianism in Later Eighteenth-century Britain

Francis Blackburne.jpg

On 2 March 2016, Prof Grayson Ditchfield of the University of Kent presented Archdeacon Francis Blackburne and the Evolution of Latitudinarianism in Later Eighteenth-century Britain, at the University of Oxford Graduate Seminar in History, 1680-1850.[1] As suggested by the title, this paper focussed on the religious writings of Francis Blackburne (1705-1787), long-time rector of Richmond in the North Riding of Yorkshire, and Archdeacon of Cleveland for over thirty-five years. Blackburne is notable for his opposition to Catholicism, Socinianism, and subscription to religious articles – being most famous for his controversial Latitudinarian work, the Confessional, or, A full and free inquiry into the right, utility, and success of establishing confessions of faith and doctrine in protestant churches (1766). Prof Ditchfield identified the publication of this work as a key staging point for religious debate in the eighteenth century, instigating a controversy within the Church of England of a scale unseen since Benjamin Hoadly’s Bangorian sermon of 1717. The degree of notoriety achieved by the Confessional was all the more remarkable as Blackburne was constantly resident on his Northern parish, and wrote all his major works from this position of relative geographical obscurity in Yorkshire.

        To focus on one aspect of Prof Ditchfield’s paper, Blackburne’s early clerical career was far more conventional than the details of his later life might suggest. His initial preferments came during the archiepiscopacy of his name-sake, Lancelot Blackburne (Archbishop of York from 1724-1743), and were owed to the patronage of Henry Howard, the 4th Earl of Carlisle, and Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle, for his hearty support of the Whig candidates during the county elections of 1734. Blackburne’s association with Matthew Hutton (Archbishop of York from 1747) enabled him reach his highest preferment in the Church, when he succeeded Jaques Sterne as Archdeacon of Cleveland in 1750. This represented continuity to some degree, as Sterne had been similarly active in the ministerial cause at the elections of 1727, 1734 and 1741-2, and was described by a fellow canon of York as a ‘creature’ of Archbishop Blackburne.[2] Sterne was made Archdeacon of Cleveland for his known attachment to the Whig ministry, and capacity to act as a bulwark to the Catholic interest in that region of Yorkshire.

     Prof Ditchfield emphasised that Blackburne maintained his anti-Catholic views throughout his life, despite his evolving views on the established Church in England. In Sterne’s case, his activities against Catholics and suspected Jacobites during the Rebellion of 1745, and his subsequent pursuit of a lawsuit against the Bar Convent in York in the years that followed, have been portrayed as excessive, but it is interesting to observe that Francis Blackburne supported Sterne’s actions against that community, and that he also commended his predecessor in his first charge to the clergy of the Archdeaconry of Cleveland in 1750. Sterne had been martialled against the Catholic threat from the earliest stages of his career, and reacted with the utmost zeal when the Rebellion threatened the City of York directly. This mobilisation by clergymen in response to the uprising can an also be observed in the case of Lewis Stephens, another prebend of York. Stephens had broken ties with his patron, Archbishop Blackburne, in the early 1730s, and he held deep disaffection towards many of the archbishop’s clients (including Sterne) – but his reaction to the Rebellion was no less emphatic, as he distributed anti-Catholic texts to his parishioners and established a ‘magazine’ of such publications at his Hampshire living for the use of his curates.[3]

    Whilst figures such as Blackburne, Stephens and Sterne were united in their guardedness towards Catholicism in the mid-eighteenth century, Prof Ditchfield ably described how Blackburne was simultaneously developing his own heterodox views regarding subscription to religious articles from as early as the 1750s, a fascinating insight into the range of doctrinal, political and theological positions that were adopted by prominent churchmen of the period in the North of England.

Prof Ditchfield is currently preparing an edition of Francis Blackburne’s correspondence for the Church of England Record Society.

[1] Information taken from Prof Ditchfield’s paper, unless specified otherwise.

[2] CRO. G/1968, letter from Lewis Stephens, to, Francis Gregor, 24-26 September 1743.

[3] CRO. G/1968, letter from Lewis Stephens, to, Francis Gregor, 18 November 1745.


New Database Launched – York’s Archbishops Registers Revealed

Archbishops Registers Database

Today saw the launch of York’s Archbishops Registers Revealed, a major new digital resource for Medieval and Early Modern scholars, providing free access to over 20,000 images of the Episcopal Registers of the Archbishops of York, 1225-1650. The registers are held at the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research at the University of York, and it seems that indexing is still underway on this project, which can only bode well for the increased usability of the resource in the future.

            Whilst this blog is chiefly concerned with the functioning of the Diocese of York in the eighteenth century, it is interesting to note that the images of the Archbishop’s Institution Books run up until 1668. At Archbishop Lancelot Blackburne’s primary visitation of 1726-1728, there were still twenty-five men in the diocese who were ordained prior to 1680, and had been in orders for longer than their new archbishop. The most senior of which was George Burghope, vicar of Burton Agnes, who had been ordained in 1665, and a clergyman for sixty-one years at the time of the visitation.[1] Whilst he does not appear in the new database (he was originally ordained in the Diocese of Gloucester) it is fascinating to consider that some seven decades later, there was still a clergyman within the Diocese of York who might be considered a contemporary to the individuals named in these registers.

[1] BIHR. V. 1717-1719. Exh. Bk. f. 67; George Burghope was ordained by William Nicholson, Bishop of Gloucester, on the 23 December 1665, and priested the following year. Burghope died in the same year as the visitation, aged approximately eighty-five years old. See, CCEd.