James Montgomery and the Sheffield Lit&Phil in Sheffield Archives

Spotlight on Sheffield Archives # 1

Throughout the summer and autumn of 2015 I undertook a huge scoping project at Sheffield Archives, looking to identify materials of interest to the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Sheffield. Now, as I look to help convert these findings into future research opportunities, I find myself in the unique and hugely privileged position of having so many incredible stories to tell!

In this new strand of posts on my blog I hope to give you a fleeting insight into the many remarkable wonders held at Sheffield Archives. If you feel inspired, I implore you, make an appointment at 52 Shoreham Street and see these treasures for yourself. 

Sheffield Archives

52 Shoreham Street, Sheffield Archives.

James Montgomery and the Papers of the Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society

For my first post I thought I’d share with you a collection that brings us very close to a burning interest of my own: the life and work of James Montgomery. Formed in 1822 the Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society (Lit&Phil for short) was a gentleman’s club dedicated to personal improvement and intellectual endeavour, where all topics were up for discussion except religion and politics.

Sheffield Archives holds a spectacular and immense collection, likely so extensive due to the Society’s antiquarian impulses and penchant for ever keeping one eye on posterity. This is a penchant personified by one of its central members: poet, writer, journalist, abolitionist and bona fide local legend James Montgomery (namesake of Montgomery Theatre, Montgomery Road and the full size Montgomery statue standing outside Sheffield Cathedral).

Montgomery Monument

James Montgomery Monument, currently located beside Sheffield Cathedral.

The collection holds notes, letters and lectures by founding members, who include not only Montgomery but also the extraordinary poet, scientist, geologist, philosopher and self-styled polymath Henry Clifford Sorby; a man who would eventually bankrupt himself buying a glass bottomed boat so he could catalogue the marine life dwelling amidst the rivers and water ways of rural Yorkshire.

Another founding member was John Holland, local poet and librarian for the society. There are also account books, minute books and over 70 years of diaries. Indeed, the diaries of founding member Thomas Ward deserve an archive all of their own, as Ward kept not only the pocket books that we have out today (for keeping track of appointments and important occasions), but he also wrote daily in a journal, keeping a discursive record of his life’s events.

Furthermore, the books themselves are fascinating insights into the expected priorities of the 19th-century gentleman living in Sheffield. If you turn to the contents page of Ward’s branded Daily Journal or Gentleman’s Merchants and Tradesman’s Complete Annual Account Book of 1800 (to give it its full title) you get an insight into what it was that working gentlemen were expected to know: a list of bankers, a table of exchange rates, times of sunrise and sunset, instructions for writing a will, the names of MPs in the house of commons and the house of lords and the distances of towns from the Thames. How times change.

Please feel free to get in touch to discuss any academic research opportunities that might arise from working further with these collections. 

Click here to read more about my work on James Montgomery.