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Jenkyns Collection 90: John Wills' Letter book

Jenkyns Papers VIA.2

John Wills ( 1741-1806,ODNB), Warden of ( and major Benefactor of ) Wadham College was Vice Chancellor of the University 1792-1796. He was born in Somerset , but nothing else is obvious which might link him to the Jenkyns family, which was also based there around 1800. His Letter Book was probably acquired by John Parsons ,Master of Balliol 1798-1819, when he was Vice Chancellor 1807-1810, and strayed into the Jenkyns Papers some time before those papers were examined around 1980 (The Jenkyns Papers . A Guide was published in 1988). By 1955-60, Balliol Library had not only the Jenkyns Papers but also had a number of items associated with Parsons which had been rescued by EV Quinn from the Bursary Cellar, all unlisted. The Letter Book is cited in the ODNB as in Balliol Library without reference to the Jenkyns Papers. Although it is probably misplaced, it should remain where it is because that is not certain, and separating it is likely to create confusions .

The letter book is 16.5 x 20.5cm, parchment-covered with a contemporary tape closure .On the front cover is written “Old Letters/& etc /University”. It begins with a three-page index which is enigmatic because the codes (probably from another filing system) it employs are unexplained. It continues with copies of out-letters and occasional memoranda in a single small neat hand on pages numbered 1-168 ( somewhat confused by duplication of numbers) , with an average of 1-2 letters per page. The first dated entry is 12 November 1792 and the last is 23 December 1796, the whole of Wills’s term as VC.

The letters copied deal with University and related estates rents and affairs, legacies, Professorships, Prizes, preachers for University Sermons, formal events, visiting dignitaries, addresses to the King etc, the Radcliffe Infirmary, the University Press, and miscellaneous University business .
With a few exceptions, the entries are in strict date order. There are no personal or Wadham College letters. All the letters are by Wills.

The most frequent addressees are:-

  • Child & Co, Temple Bar London, University bankers.
  • The 3rd Duke of Portland, Burlington House, Chancellor of the University 1792-1809. ODNB.
  • Sir William Dolben Bt MP, Abingdon St Westminster, MP for the University 1780-1806. ODNB.

A complete index of persons and subjects would be valuable, but its compilation would be a major undertaking, and have around 1500 entries. For the time being, the present general description must suffice, but the following letters of particular interest were noted :-

  • To John Wilmot MP 5 November 1792, reporting that £500 had been raised by subscription in Oxford for the “relief of the suffering Clergy of France”, with expectations of more .
  • To Sir William Dolben 5 Feb 1792, re the Rochdale Canal Bill. There are numerous later letters about this Bill, seeking to support the Governors (“Trustees”,”Feoffees”) of Manchester Grammar School in opposing it because the Canal would effect the Mills upon the River Irk, including the School Mill, by taking water from it and diminishing the power of the stream.
  • To Mr Selwood, attorney, Abingdon 15 April 1793, re Mr Blandy’s legacy to the Radcliffe Infirmary. Selwood was lawyer for the executors, of whom Mr Walker of Kingston Bagpuize was one. There are numerous letters to Selwood and others about this legacy, which was subject to argument,legal advice and arbitration. [The will of John Blandy of Kingston Bagpuize was proved in the PCC 1791].
  • To the Mayor of Woodstock, 21 April 1793 and 8 May 1793 re a “Company of strolling players” staying at Woodstock , taking exception to them and threatening the Mayor that if he did not get rid of them he would “order a party of Constables to bring the whole corps to Oxford & wd commit every one of them to prison as vagrants”.
  • To Richard Leigh Esq of Wilmington near Dartford, lessee of an estate at Bexley Kent 18 April 1793 re timber on the estate.
  • To Sir William Dolben 29 April 1793 re a Bill to compel the Rector of Farnham to accept a composition in lieu of the Tithe of Hops, seeking his opposition because it was likely to establish a precedent and pose a general threat to the rights of clergy.
  • To Mrs Catherine Serle/Searle of Cookham near Maidenhead, lesse of an estate including Boulter’s Lock, 9 December 1793,re a Bill for a Canal from Taplow Mill Head above Boulter’s Lock to Isleworth.There are numerous later letters about this to Mrs Serle/Searle , Mr Josh Serle/Searle, and Sir William Dolben seeking to oppose the Canal because it would reduce the income derived from Boulter’s Lock. The estate was a source of income for the Bodleian Library.
  • To the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge, 11 March 1794, re Bible-printing privileges.There are numerous letters later to the same and Sir William Dolben on this and related subjects, including a Paper Duty Bill.
  • To the Revd Robert Dowbiggin of Stoke Goldington near Newport Pagnell, July 1794 and 3 August 1794, re the behaviour of his sons John (Curate of Wappenham) and George (a member of Caius College Cambridge).
  • To Lewis Cage Junr and William Deedes Esq of Hythe Kent, 24 Nov 1794, re cabinets of coins bequeathed to the University by the late Thomas Knight Esq, and their transport to the Bodleian Library.
  • To William Martin Esq of 61 Warren St, Fitzroy Sq, 9 Nov 1794 , 9 Feb 1795, and 18 March 1795, re three paintings he was presenting to the University Gallery, and engravings of the same.
  • To the Duke of Portland, 15 and 28 June 1795, re the death of the Provost of Worcester and the appointment of his successor, which was apparently (effectively if not legally) in Portland’s hands.
  • To Sir William Dolben, 6 and 28 March 1796 and 2 May, re a General Enclosure Bill.
  • Revd Mr Inglis or Ingles, Head Master of Rugby School, 16 April 1796, approving plans for Exhibitions to be awarded by examination, and undertaking to recommend an Examiner from Oxford of MA standing “educated after the Eaton or Rugby Method”.
  • James Jones of the Royal Circus, St George’s Fields London, 18 April 1796, objecting to directions which had been given for the construction of a building (also termed a“theatre” ) in Oxford “for the purpose of exhibiting horsemanship”.
  • Revd Dr George Gaskin, Secretary to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge [ODNB],17 June 1796, agreeing to the printing of 10000 copies of an 8th Edn. of the Welsh Bible and re the appointment of a “ proper Missionary to the Scilly Islands”.The Revd Mr Evans aged about 31, formerly a Wadham Bible Clerk, then a Curate in Berkshire, was recommended a few days later [David Evans matriculated from Wadham aged 25, 27 January 1789].

Loose with the Letter Book are:-

  • John Sparrow, Warden of All Souls to EV Quinn, TLS, 24 Oct 1974, re letters in the Letter Book re ceremonial verses, and a TS note by Sparrow about them.
  • Wills to Portland [newly in Office as Chancellor] 29 September 1792 thanking him for appointing him Vice Chancellor.
    George Thring of the Stamp Office opening ”Dear Sir”, 17 April 1793.
  • A scrap of 19th century appearance on which is written “ Dr Wills W. of Wad.”

- listed by JH Jones, 20 September 2012


- John Jones

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