18th-century manuscript found in Vanier Library 

By Barbara Black

This summer, the reference and special collections staff at the Vanier Library became aware that they had a little treasure in their collection: a handwritten manuscript from the late 18th century.

This 18th-century document, recently discovered in the Vanier library, has proven useful to a number of researchers, despite the fact that no one knows how it came to the collection. Magnifying glass

This 18th-century document, recently discovered in the Vanier library, has proven useful to a number of researchers, despite the fact that no one knows how it came to the collection.

Retired Concordia History professor Bob Tittler was excited because it relates to his field of study. “Though no one seems to know how or when we acquired it, it has created quite a stir,” he told the Journal.

It is being referred to as Chipchase's Account, and is catalogued in the library’s special collections as QC989/G7585+/Van. It is a calfskin-bound, handwritten manuscript volume of 89 folios, of which the full title is An Account of the Weather & etc. at Stockton from 1779 kept by John Chipchase, Including an Account of Remarkable Seasons & etc. kept by Rob't. Stock from 1675 to 1716.

Tittler explained: “This document is one of a category of ‘annals,’ which were kept from time to time by English men and sometimes women to record the weather, seasons, and agricultural observations, along with other events occurring where their authors lived.

“The information is listed by year in chronological order. These were fairly commonly compiled and kept from the late 17th century onwards through the 19th. We see something of the same sort of thing surviving in the ‘country diary’ columns of some of the British quality newspapers today.”

Historians value such documents as research tools because they provide a snapshot of the agriculture, climate, and local society of the day.

“They prove very useful teaching tools for advanced students,” Tittler said. “I have used something very much like this as the principal text for my first MA student, who produced a very impressive and publishable thesis out of it.”

The discovery on the Loyola Campus was made when an Australian historian and descendant of Chipchase found a listing of the manuscript on the library’s online and searchable catalogue. He wrote to ask about it, and his letter came to the Vanier’s Wendy Knechtel, who informed Tittler. “I examined and read through it with great interest,” he said in an email.

He found that the Chipchase account has several points of particular interest that set it apart from other documents of the period.

“Over the summer, and at my suggestion, two PhD students who were in town for the annual plenary meeting of my McGill-based research group came to read and take notes from it. They were Marjon Ames of the University of Mississippi, who works on Quakers of northern England in their formative period, and Michele DiMeo of the University of Warwick, U.K., who works on food and cookery in Early Modern England. Both found it very useful and plan to cite it in their theses.”

Tittler is concerned about the preservation of the document because the binding is fragile. “The paper is in very good condition and is strong rag paper. The ink is vivid and the hand very legible throughout. And the soft calfskin cover is worth preserving if this can be done. But the sewn binding is all but gone, and needs urgent repair.”

Library Director William Curran said, “We don’t know how the manuscript got into our collection, but it’s here now, and we’re very pleased to have it. Our plan is to restore it and ensure its preservation, and we will also be digitizing it. It will thus become available to researchers worldwide.”

Assistant Director, Collection Services Jocelyn Godolphin said that restoration may not involve replacing the bindings. She agreed that digitization is also important, as there is no question of copyright, and she invites anyone who knows how the manuscript got into the library, or who wants to contribute to its digitization and preservation, to come forward.


Concordia University