Finding Number (Click this to view full catalogue structure)KWH
TitleHumphreys Bequest
Extent50 boxes: 10 linear metres
Date12th century-20th century
Thumbnail (Click this image to open a larger image)



DescriptionA wide-ranging collection of manuscripts reflecting the particular interests of Dr Kenneth Humphreys, Birmimgham University Librarian. He specified his interests to a bookdealer supplier: ' ... I am interested in handwriting, and especially in the writing of near-literate people, children, school copy books: indeed anything which would be of interest from the handwriting, particularly calligraphic, point of view'. He also expressed an interest in seeing any old deeds especially pre-1650, irrespective of their county of origin.

The medieval manuscripts include a number of codices and more than 200 fragments. They are predominantly of English or Western European origin and mostly date from 13th - 15th centuries. The subject matter is wide, although religious and philosophical works predominate. The 15th century items include a Bridgetine book of hours, 1467; a set of religious homilies; the Logica Parva of Paulus de Venetiis; and a papal bull of Sixtus IV on the constitutions of the Dominican order, 1474.

The modern manuscripts mainly date from 17th-19th centuries and are largely in English. Collected by Dr Humphreys primarily to illustrate the development of handwriting over the ages, they are written in hands ranging from the most sophisticated to the near illiterate, with special emphasis on juvenile and semi literate hands. The principal document types are letters; accounts; bills; receipts and bonds; calligraphic, arithmetical and geometrical exercise books; foreign travel journals; commonplace books; poetry books; recipes; and sermons. The collection includes one of three known copies of the marriage treaty of Mary Tudor, 1553; a record of coroners' inquests at Colchester, 1605; a copy of Mother Shipton's prophecies, c. 1700; a Warwickshire farm account book of 1734-1743; a letter of Frederick Augustus, Duke of York, second son of George III, written in 1770 when aged six, and giving a delightful vignette of the royal nursery; a collection of theorems and problems in solid geometry, late 18th century; in-letters, 1803-1821, of G.B. Niccolini, librarian of the Biblioteca dell' Accademia delle Belle Arti di Firenze; a plumber's bill of 1883; an account of a cruise round the English coast by yacht, 1848; a religious verse written with the toes by an armless 10 year old child, 1857; correspondence of three excise officers, 1843-1856; a description of Bombay, 1877-1882; the visitors' book of the Victoria Hotel, Buttermere, 1877-1880, including the signature of Disraeli; a diary of the visit to Malta by Edward VII in 1903; and the letters to his parents of a soldier of the Great War, Alan Morom, killed in action in 1917.
ArrangementThe collection was arranged by Humphreys and by later librarian Ben Benedikz into different sequences as follows: manuscripts and archives in bound format (KWH/A); manuscripts stored in brown paper (arranged by century, KWH/B); French literary documents (KWH/FL); documents relating to the French Revolution (KWH/FR). Other documents including miscellaneous letters and documents in fascicules, deeds and loose letters, flattened deeds, medieval manuscripts/fragments (KWH/R, formerly KWH/Fr), etc were put into other arbitrary sections and numbered. These sections may reflect provenance of the material, perhaps each section representing material obtained from a different bookseller or other source.

Because the references KWH/A and KWH/B were each used twice for different sequences of documents, to avoid further confusion one series labelled KWH/A has been given the new reference KWH/G, and and one series labelled KWH/B has been given the new reference KWH/J, as these two reference numbers were not used in the original numbering. The former (duplicating) reference number for these re-numbered items will be given in the catalogue entry.

The sections KWH/A-O are those so numbered by Humpreys and Benedikz; sections KWH/P-X (except for R) have been created out of the uncatalogued material, following the box labelling and fascicule labels. As this is a collection made up of entirely disparate items purchased or otherwise obtained from a variety of sources due to their potential in the teaching and study of palaeography, no attempt has been made to re-classify the material or to add items from section P-Q, S-X into the original sections A-O: as mentioned, the different letter sections could indicate original provenance.
Finding AidsA full electronic catalogue of this collection is available on the online archive catalogue. Click on the Finding Number to display the summary contents list, then on the sections, titles and plus signs (+) to view details of series and items.
Access StatusOpen
Physical DescriptionStored in 46 standard archive boxes; 1 large box; 3 outsize boxes
Administrative HistoryKenneth William Humphreys, 1916-1995, B.Litt, MA, PhD, FLA; Librarian, European University Institute, Florence, 1975-1981; educated at Southfield School, Oxford and St Catherine's College, Oxford. Library assistant, All Souls College, Oxford, 1933-1936; assistant at Bodleian Library, Oxford, 1936-1950; Deputy Librarian, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, 1950-1952; Librarian, University of Birmingham, 1952-1975; Professor of library studies, Haifa University, 1982; honorary lecturer in palaeography, University of Leeds, 1950-1952; University of Birmingham, 1952-1975; Panizzi lecturer, Panizzi Trust, 1987; honorary secretary, Standing Conference of National and University Libraries, 1954-1969, Vice-Chairman, 1969-1971, Chairman, 1971-1973; member of the Library Advancement Council for England, 1966-1971; member of Council, Library Association, Chairman, 1973; Chairman of the Executive Committee, West Midlands Regional Library Bureau, 1963-1975; Chairman of the Joint Standing Conference and Committee on Library Cooperation, 1965-1975; National Committee on Regional Library Cooperation, 1970-1975; member of the Comite International de Palaeographie, and Colloque International de Palaeographie, 1955-1994; President: National and University Libraries Section, International Federation of Library Associations, 1968-1970, President of the University Libraries Sub-Section, 1967-1973; Ligue des Bibliotheques Europeennes des Recherche, 1974-1980; Round Table on Library History, 1978-1982; member of Committee, British Academy Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues, 1983-1995 (secretary 1983-1994); Editor, Studies in the History of Libraries and Librarianship; Joint editor, Series of Reproductions of Medieval and Renaissance Texts; Honorary DLitt Dublin (Trinity College), 1967; Honorary FLA, 1980; Socio d'onore, Italian Library Association, 1982.

During Humphreys' time at the University, Birmingham gained a reputation for being a pioneer in the application of computers to library routines and in the late 1960s the Birmingham Libraries Mechanisation Project was founded. Sadly, Birmingham's early leadership was later overtaken by other universities. 1952, the year that Humphreys started at Birmingham, was seen as a watershed for the library, between years of preparation and years of developing into a nationally-distinguished service with a new building (opened in 1959) and important new acquisitions. Humphreys left Birmingham at the end of September 1975 to take up duties as Librarian of the European University Institute in Florence. This move he later attributed to his reaction to the general down-turn in the library's prospects which was facing difficult times financially, resulting in reductions in book-purchase, staffing and opening hours.

Publications: The Book Provisions of the Medieval Friars , 1964; The Medieval Library of the Carmelites at Florence , 1964; The Library of the Franciscans of the Convent of St Antony, Padua at the Beginning of the Fifteenth Century , 1966; The Library of the Franciscans of Siena in the Fifteenth Century , 1977; A National Library in Theory and Practice , 1988; The Friars (Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues , 1990; articles in library periodicals.

Reference: Who's Who 1995 ( London, 1995 ); 'Centennial History of the Library of the University of Birmingham 1880-1995' by James Thompson (University of Birmingham, 2000)
Custodial HistoryPrevious to becoming in KWH's possession, many items at least were in the temporary ownership of Edward Hall of Gravesend, bookseller, who acquired batches of manuscripts and printed material for selling on to interested parties. The provenance of items prior to Hall's ownership is not known, though that of a few items may be deduced.
AcquisitionThe collection was bequeathed to the University Library by Dr Kenneth Humphreys who died in 1994. Correspondence in US35 spanning 1963-1975 indicates that Humphreys purchased manuscripts from Edward Hall of Gravesend, Kent, bookseller, both for the University and for his own personal collection. KWH advised Hall what type of material he was interested in: for the University collection that included material relating to the Midlands, to education, travellers, industry, legal affairs, literature, medicine, military and naval material, musicians, statesmen and politicians, religion, science and the theatre. Material acquired may well appear now as collections in the Cadbury Research Library, such as the Withering letter (WL) and in LAdd (e.g. LAdd/5082, Bewdley Assembly Rooms account). He himself was predominately interested in handwriting and calligraphy, but his personal collection also includes quantities of items of a similar nature to that acquired for the Library.
Hall's practice was to send packets of manuscripts to KWH quarterly; he would make his selection and the University would purchase some and he himself would purchase others, with rejects being returned. In 1973 more were returned, which KWH explained as being due to a new sub-librarian in charge of the rare books and manuscript department being unaware of the 'arrangement' and exercising a more selective approach. The arrangement appears to have come to an end in 1975 when KWH moved to take up a post in Florence, Italy, and Hall was downsizing his stock in order to wind down his business, then being 77 years old. KWH was appreciative of Hall's efforts to provide him with manuscripts, noting how his collection had 'grown substantially as a result of the splendid items you have been sending me over the years'.
Archival NoteListed onto Calm by A. George, building on handlists of some sections made by Ben Benedikz, University Librarian; with assistance from John Lanchbury and Asma Iftikhar, 2017-January 2018.
Related MaterialUniversity of Birmingham Special Collections Department also holds 29 cartons of papers relating to Humphreys in his capacity as Librarian at the University of Birmingham and in previous posts (GB 0150 US35): it includes a file of correspondence between Humphreys and Edward Hall, a bookseller of Gravesend, Kent, referring to purchases of manuscripts for the University and for Humphrey's own private collection.
Publication Note'Research Libraries Bulletin' number 3, summer 1995: includes obituary of Dr Humphreys, an overview of the collection bequeathed to the library, and the text of an unpublished lecture by Humphreys on three Russian poets, Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Emilevich Mandel'shtam, and Anna Akhmatova


    Some of our most significant collections