Stainforth's Library of Women's Writing

Ground plan of the church and churchyard of All Hallows Staining
Plan, All Hallows Staining, Mark Lane. n.d. [1853?].  London Metropolitan Archives, City of London

The Library Space

Francis Stainforth collected shells, stamps, and women’s writing, all while attending to his clerial duties.  Stainforth's literary interest lay in the works of British and American women writers, his library featuring "poets, dramatists, non-fiction writers, composers, lyricists, editors, translators, journalists, printers, and artists."[1]  By the time of his death in 1866, he had amassed 7,122 works, his collection reflecting his desire to acquire each edition of every title.[2]

Stainforth's library at All Hallows Staining probably rested within the walls of the rectory, the curate's residence attached to the parish church.  This was situated adjacent to small rectory garden and to the nave of the church, as seen in the City Sewers, Corporation of London, c. 1853, plan of the church and churchyard on the west side of Mark Lane.

Stainforth’s predecessor Lancelot Sharpe died 26 October 1852 and, although Stainforth had been critical of Sharpe’s non-residence, it seems that the former perpetual curate had indeed passed his final six years in the rectory of All Hallows, following his retirement from St. Savior’s Grammar School.  There Sharpe, classicist and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries London, was reported to have enjoyed his “scholar’s odium cum dignitate in a well-stored library.”[3]  

That Stainforth might have benefitted from Sharpe’s vacated library, utilizing it to house his own library of women’s writing as reflected in his catalogue of cherished acquisitions and hoped for finds, seems fitting. Stainforth continued the long tradition of antiquarianism practiced among the Anglican clergy, albeit with a modern, even proto-feminist, twist, apparent in his notable recovery and preservation of fifteenth- through nineteenth-century women’s poetry.

Catalogue of the library of female authors of the Rev. J. Fr. Stainforth<br />
Catalogue of Library of Female Authors. Francis J. Stainforth. Women Poets of the Romantic Period Collection, Special Collections, CU Boulder Libraries
Catalogue of the library of female authors of the Rev. J. Fr. Stainforth
Catalogue of Library of Female Authors. Francis J. Stainforth. Women Poets of the Romantic Period Collection, Special Collections, CU Boulder Libraries

The Manuscript Catalogue

His manuscript catalogue of 2816 women writers includes 373 leaves, of which 254 leaves comprise the catalogue.[4]  The remaining 92 leaves comprise Stainforth's wants lists.  The books are listed alphabetically on the rectos with additions on facing pages. The manuscript, then, operates as a 'flippable,' 'tête-bêche,' (see left) with two catalogs within one binding: the library holdings and the "wish list" of books the collector wanted to acquire, demonstrated here by Stainforth Project team member, Michael Harris.[5] 

Stainforth's Catalogue also includes alphanumeric codes that appear along side entries.  Leuner, Harris, Hollis and others on the Stainforth team have speculated that these may represent shelfmarks within the physical space of the library itself.[6]

Aphra Behn's Pindarick on the Coronation, held by Special Collections, CU Boulder Libraries, for example, displays 'F[6].'[7]

Leuner notes that Stainforth's manuscript catalog records what the Stainforth team believes to be the "largest private library of Anglophone women's writing that was owned in the nineteenth century."  Because of his wish list, "the catalog records exceed the size of the physical library he owned, which was massive and estimate to contain over 8,000 volumes."[8]  Upon his death in 1867, Stainforth's library was auctioned and eventually dispersed around the globe.  The Stainforth Mapping Project attempts to trace the curate's many books and letters, once held in his library at All Hallows Staining.[9]