May is the Historical Association’s ‘Local and Community History Month’ which we will be marking with a series of blog posts. This week we take a look at two people whose interest in local studies has proved of immense value to generations of Hampshire’s local historians – Thomas Shore and Sir William Cope.
Appointed in 1873 as the Secretary and Executive Officer of the Hartley Institution (the forerunner of the University), Thomas Shore effectively became its principal in 1875. He lectured on scientific and technical subjects in addition to his administrative duties and spent so much of his free time exploring the local area, that he described himself as the ‘Hampshire Tramp’. It was this passion for local studies that led to the formation of the Hampshire Field Club – which remains the most important local studies organisation in Hampshire to this day.
On 20th March 1885, Shore convened a meeting in his office at the Hartley Institution with Rev. Thomas Woodhouse, Vicar of Ropley, Rev. William Eyre, Rector of Swarraton, William Whitaker of the Geological Survey and Ernest Westlake, a geologist from Fordingbridge. They agreed that a Society to be called the Hampshire Field Club should be formed, its purpose being to study the natural history and antiquities of the county, or, as Shore later described it to fellow member, G.W. Colenutt, ‘a few of us went into my room to talk this over and we came out of the room as The Hampshire Field Club’.
As its name suggests, visits to sites of interest were to be a key activity of the group. Arranging and leading these were amongst Shore’s responsibilities – he had become Organising Secretary in 1885 – and the visits allowed him to share his enthusiasm for all aspects of local studies. In Colenutt’s view ‘to his personality was largely due the early and continued increase in the Club’s membership and to the position it attained as a County organisation of importance and influence’.
The H.F.C.’s early importance and influence was seen in the lobbying role it undertook particularly in relation to the preservation of local antiquities. With its headquarters in Southampton it was well-placed to object to the various proposals of the Corporation which in its view involved the ‘wilful obliteration of antiquities’. The H.F.C. voted to donate £10 towards cleaning and making accessible an undercroft in Simnel Street ‘if it were to be preserved’, objected to plans to build near West Quay, which would destroy part of the town walls and in 1899 the Club’s officers brought their influence to bear in the campaign against the Corporation’s proposal to demolish or move the Bargate, which was proving an obstacle to the new electric tram scheme.
As part of Shore’s wide-ranging role at the Hartley Institution he developed both its Museum and its Library. On the Library side, his standing in local history circles secured for the Institution the bequest, by Sir William Cope of Bramshill, of his Hampshire Collection. Shore’s role is confirmed in a letter from George Minns, editor of the Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club, printed in the Southampton Herald of 23 April 1892. This stated that ‘we are greatly, if not entirely, indebted to the influence and promptitude of Mr Shore’ for the bequest containing many ‘priceless treasures of great local interest’. Cope had apparently conferred with Shore about the disposal of his collection and obtained his advice in the form of words to be used in the bequest.
Like Shore, Sir William Cope was an incomer to Hampshire, being a distant relative of Sir John Cope, whom he succeeded as baronet in 1851. He had previously been a lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade and after being ordained as a priest, was appointed as minor canon and librarian at Westminster Abbey. Cope’s Hampshire Collection combined his passion for books with his interest in his adoptive county and by 1879 it amounted to over 700 publications, a figure which had doubled by the time of his death. Described in an obituary as ‘earnest, genial, pious and high-minded’, Cope was also said to have been a good friend of Charles Kingsley, the Rector of Eversley, the parish in which Bramshill stood. Later writers have cast some doubt on this, given Cope’s refusal to carry out any improvements at Kingsley’s damp and unhealthy rectory.
When the Hartley Institution officially accepted the collection, it stood at some 1,427 books (112 fewer than those listed in the catalogue), fifty bound volumes of pamphlets, seven massive albums of engravings, and a further collection of individual prints. Then, as now, Library staff were keen to display the material and amongst the first visitors were members of the Hampshire Field Club. The April 1893 programme for their annual ‘conversazione’ at the Hartley Institution included the opportunity to view ‘books and prints from a recently arrived special collection’.
Thanks to Cope’s breadth of vision as a collector, the Cope Collection, as it is now known, is a remarkable resource for the study of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. The county histories and lavishly illustrated topographical works sit alongside well-used local directories. There are learned papers on geology, archaeology and natural history, pamphlets and local acts relate the development of canals and railways and there are many examples of locally printed items of which few copies survive. The University has continued to add to the collection and and it now amounts to over 13,000 books with additional collections of postcards and photographs.
The latter years of the nineteenth century and early years of the twentieth brought many developments in local studies still of benefit today. In 1886, a year after the foundation of the Hampshire Field Club, the Hampshire Record Society was set up to preserve and publish ancient records and documents relating to the county, the Southampton Record Society following in 1905. Local booksellers and publishers also played a significant part – H.M. Gilbert in Southampton was in regular correspondence with Cope, published some of Shore’s papers and also compiled the county bibliography Bibliotheca Hantoniensis (1872). Through their differing interests in local studies both Shore and Cope made valuable contributions to these important foundations for local studies in Hampshire.