The Ellys Family

Ellys an English Wool Merchant

The Ellys family.

From the wealth of the wool trade, merchants of the Calais Staple - sped their way into the aristocracy. Later, statemen, bibliophile, book collector and patron of scholars. Sir Charles Hanbury Williams ( wrote much satirical verse, and Horace Walpole professed to believe him the greatest poet of his generation), his poem on the Struggle to Succeed Ellys.


Sir William Ellys (1609 - 1680), Fire Judge.

Sir William Ellys, Fire Judge (1609 - 1680)

The story of Sir William, so well remembered by this memorial was born about 1609 and later baptised in Grantham Parish Church. After an education at Christ's College, Cambridge, he was admitted as a student at Gray's Inn and later called to the Bar in 1634. In 1639 he became Recorder of Boston and represented the borough in the Long Parliament.

On 6th December 1648, he was expelled from Parliament by Prides Purge, but after the King's execution in 1649, he was re-admitted. He became Member of Parliament for Grantham in September 1656 and was appointed Recorder of the Borough. In 1657 he was created a Baronet and in 1658/9 he again held the Grantham seat and under Richard Cromwell, Sir William became Solicitor General. Sensitive to public feeling, he adopted a discreet attitude to prepare for the restoration of Charles II, but these personal manipulations came too late to save his disgrace which culminated in the loss of legal offices and withdrawal of the baronetcy. 

From: “The Revelations of an Imp”. 20 Centuries of Characters who made Nocton Old Hall their home, By Douglas Craven-Hodgson.

 Sir Charles Hanbury Williams on the Struggle to Succeed Ellys

Sir Charles Hanbury Williams Diplomat Poet Member of Parliament from 1734 until his death

For many a year, tho' now he's dead and gone,
Sir Richard liv'd the fairest mark in town;
A long disease foretold his certain fate;
No near relations, and a vast estate'
What numbers courted, who with eager eyes
Beheld and wish'd to gain the golden prize;
But far beyond the rest to gain his love,
Horace and Hampden diligently strove;
But Horace flatt'ry was too thick and coarse,
And Hampden's conversations ten times worse;
Thither did Horace ev'ry day repair,
While politics were but his second care;
To him, before the King, his court he made,
And left the council, tho' they sat on trade.
For him the dear Dutch mail for hours has laid,
Unop'd, and Fleury's letters been unread;
All care t'amuse, all pains to please him took,
And Pug and Whist and Europe he forsook.
In strict attendance Hambden did the same,
Arm'd with the strong pretensions of his name;
By ties of blood he claim'd the foremost place,
As the last branch of patriot Hambden's race.
His daily visits he punctually paid
From morn till noon, from noon till night he stay 'd;
Still the same race of dull discourse was run,
Till by himself the blockhead undone:
Poor in his nature and untaught by art,
He strove, but vainly strove, to act his part.

 Sir Richard Ellys 1682-1742 Bibliophile, book collector and patron of scholars


Close up of the head Piece


Ellys Dedication

Blickling possesses what is still one of the most remarkable country-house libraries in England and the finest in the care of the National Trust. None of the Hobarts' books remains at Blickling, but in 1745 the 1st Earl of Buckinghamshire inherited the library of his distant kinsman, Sir Richard Ellys, 3rd Bt (c.1674-1742), of Nocton in Lincolnshire. Ellvs spent large sums at the great book sales of the 1720s and 1730s in England and on the Continent, with the advice of his librarian John Mitchell, who compiled a manuscript catalogue. He was particularly interested in philology, buying many works on Greek and Latin, as well as on oriental languages.

The collection is also rich in versions and translations of, and commentaries on, the Bible, in histories and topographies of the ancient and modern worlds, and in works on the politics, laws and customs of England. Ellys had a keen eye for the rare and curious and for fine bindings. In 1932 the 11th Marquess was obliged to sell 160 lots of books in New York to pay death duties, but most of these came from Newbattle Abbey, and Ellys's library survives virtually intact at Blickling.



From the collection of Sir Richard Ells  1682-1742 Blickling-Hall

Gabriel Martin's 'Catalogus librorum bibliothecae illustrissimi viri Caroli Henrici Comitis de Hoym, olim Regis Poloniae Augusti II. Apud Regem Christianissimum Legati Extraordinari (Paris: Gabriel & Claude Martin. I728), from the collection of Sir Richard Ells (1682-1742), Blickling Hall

Cataloguing Blickling's books and the Trust stand at the ABA Book Fair

The library at Blickling is qualitatively quite different

from most other National Trust libraries.1 In the first place, a large proportion of the book were not collected at Blickling at all, or indeed collected by anyone who ever owned Blickling or lived there. They were bequeathed to his Hobart cousins at Blickling by Sir Richard Ellys (1682-1742), a rich metropolitan collector, who though he owned a great house at Nocton, near Lincoln, was born in London, spent much of his time there, and appears to have kept many or all of his books in his townhouse in Bolton Street, Piccadilly.

Ellys was a Dissenter, a learned man, an expert on Bibles and Greek philology, a member of the international republic of letters, educated in the Netherlands, and apparently intensely interested in the connections between the development of the art of printing and the advent of Protestantism.

His library is astonishing: packed with the curious and the beautiful, it contains books on all subjects thought worthy of serious study in the first half of the I8th century, many printed in the I5th and I6th century, assembled partly for typographical reasons, and with an eye for their place in the history of printing. It has very little in common with the libraries of workaday modern books assembled by his contemporaries in provincial country houses, families like the Massingberds of Gunby Hall or the Earls of Warrington at Dunham Massey. This was an intensely serious and learned library, with much in common with great collections like that of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), whose books formed the foundation collection of the British Museum Library.

But Ellys is also an intensely frustrating collector. A series of historical accidents means that his library is in effect an orphan. Ellys's houses in Lincolnshire and London are the shadows of their former selves. His papers seem mostly to have been burned in a house fire, and most of the rest of his possessions have been scattered and lost. Only his books and his catalogues are at Blickling, and the Trust does not even own a portrait of the great collector.2 Even the room created to house the library at Blickling in the 1740s has very largely been swept away - the Jacobean Long Gallery was refurnished by John Hungerford Pollen in what the 19th century thought a more appropriate style for the room than the Palladian fittings which preceded them.

One element of Ellvs's collections, however, does survive, so far largely unstudied, and of enormous importance: book sale catalogues. Over the last twenty years the Trust has been adding Blickling books to the online catalogue. In recent years the project has been championed by Blickling's General Manager Helen Bailey and substantially funded from the profits of Blickling's excellent secondhand bookshop. Much of the recent work has been done by John Gandy, who was involved with the Heritage Lottery Fund-financed project at Chetham's Library in Manchester in the 1990s, and who has already catalogued at half a dozen major libraries for the Trust. In addition to the treasures which John has been working through, Ellys's library includes hundreds of early printed catalogues.

Some of these, like Andrew Manusell's First Part of the Catalogue of English Printed Books - the first English reference work on books (1596) - were already old when Ellys bought them, but many others are sale catalogues issued in Ellys's lifetime. Ellys bought extensively at the burgeoning London book auction in the 1730s and I740s, and employed agents abroad. Many of his catalogues are marked up with his purchases, often noted in the hand of his librarian and amanuensis, John Mitchell. Given the lack of other records, these sale catalogues are vital in unlocking the history of Ellys's library. They reveal, for example, that his I475 Venetian edition of Juvenal was lot 2088 at the sale of Count Hoym (1694-1736), the Saxon Ambassador to France, in Paris in 1736; and they also show which books Ellys bought at the sale of the great book collector Thomas Rawlinson in 1734, or the Dutch connoisseur Gosuinus Uilenbroek in Amsterdam in 1729.

Through research, we already know that many of the great trophies on the shelves- the marvellous illuminated Aldines (books printed by the Aldine Press in Venice from the 1490s to the 1590s), the four bindings for Jean Grolier (1489/90-1565), the early Bibles, and the surviving Ellys  manuscripts, for example - can in many cases be matched back against the sale catalogues. To do that matching more efficiently, these catalogues themselves first need to be catalogued.

Mark Purcell, Libraries Curator


National Trust Libraries at the

ABA Fair, May 2012

The National Trust was invited to be the charity partner at the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association's annual Book Fair at Olympia, 24 to 26 May 2012. Each year the ABA offers a stand at its fair to a charity partner, as well as providing a donation towards the work of the charity after the fair. The Trust will be putting the ABA's donation towards the cataloguing of the great collection of historic booksellers' catalogues and bibliographic reference works at Blickling. This is an appropriate choice, of course, and one which is vital in developing our understanding of the important Ellys collection. It will also please those interested in the history of book collecting or of book sales and sellers. Trust copies of catalogues and bibliographies tend to be annotated, and often in their original bindings, sometimes bound up with other items of interest to the original collector.3

Though the Fair was having a quieter year in 2012 (its dates had been moved into May to accommodate the Diamond Jubilee weekend), there was a reasonably steady footfall throughout the three days. The ABA Fair had been moved to the larger National Hall, so the layout was a little experimental this year. The Trust stand was in an ancillary area at one end of the fair, which contained several other stands of charities and trades linked to book selling, such as the St Bride Foundation (who own a significant collection of typography and historical printed material), fine binders, calligraphers, and small presses. The ABA provided the Trust's stand, but we had a free rein on the layout, as long as the health and safety inspector was happy. We went armed with plenty of posters.

In order to show the full range of what the Trust does with its libraries, some of which is not often on view to the public, we had a range of conservators and curators on the stand over the three days of the fair.4 Andrew Bush and Caroline Bendix brought along a range of basic book repair equipment, some books in distress, and information about why not to wear white gloves when handling books.5 Osterley Park lent us a few items from the Norris bequest (a collection of
antiquarian books bequeathed in 1991 by the collector Norman Norris), including Norris's annotated book sale catalogues, a list of his own library, and one of Norris's sale purchases, a copy from Osterley of its own 1771 printed catalogue, which included annotations for the 1782 inventory showing post-1771 additions to the fabulous Adam library room.6

We were also allowed a discreet recruiter, who turned up in the form of Rohan Byrt, hot foot from Wimpole with a suitcase of leaflets and other paraphernalia. On Thursday morning it was all hands to the pump to get the stand ready for inspection before the fair opened at 3pm.
Once open to the public we had three days of a pretty steady stream of people wandering past, with the usual lulls around meal times. Most stopped to see what was going on, which gave us the opportunity to share information. The conservators had some interesting conversations about the mythology of the use of white gloves, and why a book was wrapped in bandages. We all got a chance
to discuss the wide range of book-related activities the Trust undertakes; visitors to properties may not see these, perhaps because there is not enough space in the house, or opening hours are limited. We were able to explain that hundreds of people across the National Trust are involved in activities linked to books and libraries, from dusting to transcribing, cataloguing, or full-scale conservation.

Perhaps it is not surprising that most people we met were members though a reasonable number went away with leaflets to think about joining once they had finished their book buying. What was surprising was how many members were unaware that we had libraries, and that if the contents of them were added together, we have one of the largest library holdings in the country. Perhaps the subtle spread of libraries across our properties had only left them subliminally aware of the richness of our collections.

Luckily Rohan was on hand with maps, so we could point out Trust places to visit that included a library. There are quite a few on the way up to the north Norfolk coast, for instance, or just off the roads into the West Country. Rows of apparently boring brown calf can reveal fascinating contents if you have someone on hand to open up a collection for you. Mark Purcell's public talk on Friday afternoon took everyone beyond the monotony of uniform bindings to what lies behind them. His enthusiasm for the collections left a palpable hum in the room. Nicholas Pickwoad was also on hand to discuss the more esoteric aspects of bookbinding history and full-dress studio conservation.

I hope we gave people plenty of food for thought and opened up possible future discussions. We have come a long way Nicolas Barker was involved in launching the Royal Oak Foundation's Campaign for Country House Libraries in the 1990s. The Trust libraries and their staff are more publicly available now than they have ever been.

Yvonne Lewis, Assistant Libraries Curator

1 For the background on Ellys see Giles Mandelbrote and Yvonne Lewis, Learning to Collect: The Library of Sir Richard Ellys (1682-1742) at Blickling Hall (Blickling: The National rust, 2004).

2 There is a photographic copy of a portrait on file, reputed to be of Ellys, which is currently in private hands

3 Book sale catalogues in public collections have often been re-bound as single items for easier access by researchers

4 Andrew Bush (Adviser on Paper Conservation), Caroline Bendix (Freelance Adviser on Book Conservation), Yvonne Lewis (Assistant Libraries Curator), Nicholas Pickwoad (Freelance Adviser on Book Conservation), Mark Purcell (Libraries Curator), Nicola Thwaite (Assistant Libraries Curator)


5 The use of white cotton gloves for handling collection items' (British Library)
Misconceptions about white gloves'by Baker and Silverman.

6 Catalogus librorum in bibliotheca Osterletensi., London?] , 1771. (ESTC N30998).