Francis John Stainforth

All Hallows Staining, Mark Lane, London
All Hallows Staining Tower, Mark Lane, London. S. Guinn, 2018

Francis Stainforth (1797-1866) was a British Anglican clergyman who served as a curate in London-area parishes.  He was also a consummate collector of stamps, shells, and books.  An early and influential philatelist, he helped to establish the Royal Philatelic Society.  

Stainforth's interest in stamps, shells, and books reflects a broader antiquarian interest in history and natural history.  His devotion to the preservation of women’s literary remains – so apparent in both the creation of his library and in his catalogue of women’s writing – reveals the inclinations of an archivist.[1] 

Though interest in collecting and preserving the past was not unusual for a nineteenth-century churchman, his keen interest in women's writing was.  Stainforth collected what was then perhaps the largest private library of books by women writers.[2]

Stainforth's Early Life

Francis Stainforth descended, on his father's side, from Richard B. Stainforth (d. 1824), who worked in the wine trade and, on his mother's side, from Maria Baring Stainforth (d. 1835), the second of five daughters of London merchant banker and director of the East India Company Sir Francis Baring (1740-1810) and Harriet Herring (1750–1804).[3]

These family ties offer some context for Stainforth's finances, which, if his extensive collections are any measure, seem not to have been limited by his post as perpetual curate in the Church of England, a position unlikely to have been well paid.

Baring and Stainforth family connections also immersed the curate within the cross currents of shifting religious and social thought, characteristic of early nineteenth-century English Christianity.  On the Baring side, members of the "Baring Party" formed part of the "Western Schism," an evangelical movement that was viewed with some suspicion by the traditional Anglican church.[4] On the Stainforth side, his siblings were part of the “Clapham Sect,” which took as its mission social reform including the abolition of the slave trade.[5]  

The Francis Stainforth Family

Francis John Stainforth’s young family grew during his service in India.  Lieutenant, then later Captain of the 1st Light Cavalry in the Bengal Army, Francis Stainforth married Elizabeth Fraser, daughter of Doctor Fraser of London, 23 January 1823, in Benares, India.[6]  Their union produced four children.  The eldest son, Francis George Stainforth (George) was born 17 November 1824 (baptized 20 December 1824) in Benares, India.  Three daughters followed.  Emily Stainforth was born the following year, 2 December 1825, in Bangulpone, India, and Julia Stainforth was born in Benares, India, in 1827.  Nearly three years after the family’s return to London from India in September of 1827, Louisa Stainforth was born 23 May 1830 and baptized 23 June at Holy Trinity, Clapham, by Reverend William Dealtry, brother-in-law of Francis Stainforth.[7]  In November of 1838, seven years after the death of his first wife, Elizabeth (then 27), Stainforth married Elizabeth Ruthven, daughter of E.C. Ruthven, M.P. for the city of Dublin, at Nobber Church, Ireland.[8]  Their union produced two sons, both, like their older brother, named Francis.  Francis Edward Stainforth (Frank) was born 23 December 1839 and baptized, 24 May 1840.[9]  Francis Ruthven Stainforth was born 5 March 1845 and baptized 2 August 1845 at Marbledon Place, Camden, St. Pancras, Middlesex.[10]  The youngest of Stainforth’s offspring, Francis Ruthven, died at a young age in 1857.

Stainforth's Education and Career

Although Francis John Stainforth’s education matched his family’s status, he appears to have been more intellectually and spiritually driven than motivated by success in politics or business. He was admitted as a pensioner to St. John’s College in Cambridge University in 1816. He left Cambridge in 1817 for India, where he spent the next decade in the Bengal Cavalry. He was promoted to the rank of Comet in 1818 and Lieutenant in 1819.[11] Francis Stainforth resigned from the Army in 1827, with the rank of Captain.[12] 

Upon Stainforth’s return from India, he was admitted at Queens’ College, Cambridge, 23 May 1828.  He earned his B.A. in 1830, the same year he was ordained as a deacon in Lincoln.[13] While working on his B.A., he served as curate at Longstow, a village west of Cambridge, where he remained until December of 1830.  He completed his M.A. from St. John’s in 1833 and was ordained 16 February 1834. In 1841, Reverend Stainforth became the curate of Camden Chapel in Surrey, where he remained until 1846, at which time he transferred to St Pancras in London. In 1852 he left St. Pancras to become Perpetual Curate of All Hallows Staining, located in southeastern London on the Thames, a position he held until his death in 1866. During his curacy at All Hallows Staining, Stainforth also occasionally preached at the Temple Church, London.[14]

The following pages explore his last post - All Hallows Staining, where his remarkable library came to fruition - and its surroundings, seated just within eastern edge of the old city walls of London, not far from the Tower of London.

For more on Stainforth's family ties, see the Francis Stainforth Biography, which appears as part of the Stainforth Library of Women Writers.