Thomson-Byrom Collection

  • Reference
      GB 133 TBY
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English  unless otherwise stated.
  • Physical Description
      1.2 linear m.; 7 subfonds; 15 series.
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

A collection of papers relating to the Byrom family of Manchester, commencing with Edward Byrom (c.1595-1654), the first of six Byroms of that name, including the lines from both of his son Edward's sons, Edward and Joseph, and ending with Ann (wife of Henry Atherton) and Eleanora, granddaughters of the poet, John, and Ann's daughter, Eleanora, who died in 1870.

The principal members of the family represented are Edward Byrom (c.1595-1654), Edward Byrom (1627-1668), his sons, Edward (1656-1711) and Joseph (1659-1733); Edward's sons, Edward (1688-1740) and John (1692-1763), John's son, Edward (1724-1773), and daughters Elizabeth ('Beppy') (1722-1801) and Dorothy (Dolly) (1730-1797); Joseph's son Edward (1702-1760). Ann and Eleanora were the daughters of John's son, Edward.

The archive comprises mainly deeds of title and legal papers, with some personal material, examples of shorthand, plus some examples of paper cut-work silhouettes and art work by John Byrom's daughter, Dorothy. The legal papers concern the acquisition and settlement of the family's various Manchester and Lancashire properties over four generations, from 1657 to 1778, and include numerous wills, notably several drafts of the will of Joseph Byrom (1659-1733).

The deeds and legal documents incorporate leases and sales of property: the Manchester Shambles or market place dwellings and shops, 1655-1729, purchased by Edward Byrom in 1666; St Mary's Gate, 1666-1689; Kersal Cell, purchased by Edward in 1692 and incorporating a corn mill and kiln, 1548-1763; Alport 1705-1778; other Manchester properties - Ridgefield (1738), Fallowfield (1669) and Salford, 1703-1757; plus Bolton-le-Moors (Lostock) 1724-1765.

The shorthand collection includes contemporary examples of written shorthand, cut-work examples of shorthand by Phebe and Dorothy Byrom, plus a small quantity of related material, including a printed copy of the act for securing John Byrom's sole right of publishing his system. Remaining family papers comprise various letters, notes and fragments, predominantly mid 17th and 18th century in date, notably copies of the pedigrees of Byrom descent, and letters from Edward Chetham regarding horse-racing on Kersal Moor, 1750-1761, plus contemporary printed ephemera. Photographs of Byrom heirlooms and Byrom Hall, and a small collection of papers relating to W. H. Thomson complete the archive.

The collection contains material useful for the history of Manchester in the topographical detail contained within the deeds, letters and printed ephemera. There are references to both local and national events in the manuscript material and printed ephemera, whose dates encompass the years of the Jacobite uprisings.

The deeds contain useful information for local and family historians, particularly in the names of parties and tenants, and in the description of land and property. For the social historian or genealogist, marriage agreements and documents relating to property acquisition give an insight into this particular merchant class of late 17th and early 18th century society in Manchester and the north-west of England. The personal papers and ephemera shed light on the social and domestic interests of such a family at this time.

Administrative / Biographical History

The County of Lancaster heraldic visitation of 1664 records three branches or descents of the Byrom family, namely of Byrom, Salford and Manchester. The family coat-of-arms features a chevron between three hedgehogs, surmounted by a hedgehog crest, the motto being 'Frustra per plura'.

Although the name Byrom appears as early as the 13th century in the parish of Winwick, Lancashire, it was not until the 16th century that the Manchester branches become evident; from this, surviving as a younger line of the family, are a series of Edwards, the first being Edward Byrom (c.1595-1654). Succeeding him was his son, Edward (1627-1668); his sons, Edward Byrom (1656-1711) and Joseph (1659-1733); Edward's sons, Edward (1688-1740) and John (1692-1763), John's son, Edward (1724-1773), and daughters Elizabeth ('Beppy') (1722-1801) and Dorothy (Dolly) (1730-1797); another Edward (1702-1760) was the last surviving son of Joseph, having outlived his three brothers. Ann, wife of Henry Atherton of Preston, and Eleanora Byrom were the daughters of John's son, Edward. Ann's daughter, another Eleanora, died in 1870.

Predominantly linen drapers and mercers by trade, the family played an active part in the cultural and commercial affairs of Manchester during the 17th and early 18th centuries. Over four generations, the family acquired various properties in Manchester. They dealt in locally produced textiles or Manchester goods, most notably from the premises at the Shambles by the market place, later known as the Old Wellington Inn, and from rented market stalls, where they at one time also sold salt. Purchased by the second Edward in 1666, the Shambles property was to remain within the family for over 250 years. In 1999 the building was removed from its original location to a site 300 yards away at Cateaton Street, beside the cathedral. The adjoining properties were purchased by his sons, Edward (1656-1711), and Joseph (1659-1733).

The first Edward (c.1595-1654), a linen draper, bought property at Hanging Ditch. He married Ellen Worsley of Carr, Bowdon, Cheshire, and was buried in the nearby Collegiate Church (now the cathedral). His son, Edward (1627-1668) succeeded him in the family business, acquiring the property by the market cross or Shambles. His inventory at death was valued at over £1,695. He married Ann, daughter of John Crompton of Halliwell, Bolton, Lancashire; after his death she married Roger Mekin, another Manchester linen draper, to whom her son Edward was subsequently apprenticed.

The third Edward (1656-1711) expanded the business by acquiring additional property at the Shambles and by tenanting market stalls. In 1680, he married Dorothy, daughter of John Allen of Redvales, Bury, Lancashire. He was survived by his sons, Edward and John, the former continuing the draper's business on his death.

Joseph Byrom, brother of the third Edward, was particularly successful financially. Whilst his elder brother inherited the main market place business, Joseph traded extensively as a silk mercer. He married Elizabeth Bradshaw, the daughter of the mercer to whom he had been apprenticed. He augmented the family property in St Mary's Gate in Manchester not only by the purchase of houses at Millgate and nearby Blue Boar Court, but also by a substantial tract of the then largely undeveloped land at Alport at the southern end of Deansgate, extending to the Irwell to the west, foreshadowing later involvement in the Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company, in which he became a shareholder. His son, Edward (1702-1760), built Manchester's first quay on the Irwell, also building himself a house on the newly constructed Quay Street. Joseph also acquired the ancestral home, Byrom Hall, situated in the parish of Winwick, near Wigan, Lancashire, for £1,200, plus Smithills manor and hall at Bolton in 1722, at a cost of £4,688. His wealth was sufficient to make him an early possessor of a carriage and two horses, which appear listed as a bequest to his wife in his draft will of 1717. Two of his sons, Edward and Josiah, survived him.

The family's other main property acquisition was the purchase of Kersal Cell in Salford from the Kenyon family in 1692. The Priory or Cell of Kersal originally formed part of the lands of the Cluniac order of the Holy Trinity, Lenton, Nottinghamshire, which had been dispersed at the dissolution of the monasteries.

The family's most famous member was the poet, John Byrom (1692-1763), who was born in Manchester on 29 February 1691/2. A senior fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1715, he subsequently undertook medical training in Montpellier in France, but pursued neither his first intended career in the church nor as a doctor. He further declined the offer of the post of keeper of Chetham's Library, Manchester, in 1718. Instead, it was the promotion and teaching of his form of shorthand, published posthumously in 1767 as the The universal English short-hand; or the way of writing English, in the most easy, concise, regular, and beautiful manner, which occupied most of his energies. He spent a number of years in London and travelling the country teaching; amongst his pupils were many notable contemporaries, including John Wesley and Horace Walpole. Whilst in London, John Byrom enjoyed the company of his literary and scientific contemporaries, being made a member of the Royal Society in 1724. In 1742 he succeeded in obtaining the sole right of publishing and teaching his system. Although forms of shorthand were already known, the linear qualities of Byrom's version represented an improvement on earlier types, and influenced later systems.

John's poetry covered a range of topics from the theological to the topical, but he is best remembered for penning the words to the well-known Christmas hymn, Christians Awake, written as a Christmas present for his younger daughter, Dorothy. Set to music by John Wainwright, organist at Stockport parish church and deputy organist at Manchester Collegiate Church, it was reputedly performed outside John's home in Hanging Ditch on Christmas morning, 1750.

In 1721, he married his cousin, Elizabeth, daughter of Joseph Byrom, of which union three children survived, namely, Elizabeth ('Beppy'), Edward and Dorothy. Both of John's daughters, and his sister, Phebe (1697-1785), were proficient at his shorthand. It was his Phebe who continued the market place business after her father's death in 1740, being listed as a milliner in Elizabeth Raffald's trade directory as late as 1781, the term millinery then implying locally produced textile goods, rather than the present more restricted definition.

John's son, Edward, was also active in the commercial life of the town, not only in his uncle Edward's business, but also in the institution of the Manchester bank, situated around St Ann's Square, and of which he was a partner. Like other members of the family since the time of the first Edward, he participated in civic and public affairs, holding office of the court leet (Borough reeve, 1761). He was also a benefactor of the now-demolished St John's Church, Deansgate, which he founded in 1768.

The family had Jacobite leanings, as borne out by a number of Jacobite relics retained by them through the generations. John Byrom's reservations about taking the oath of abjuration appear to have accounted for his reluctance to pursue certain careers as referred to above. His famous epigram on the subject reflects the dilemma: God Bless the King, I mean the faith's defender; God bless (no harm in blessing) - the pretender; But who pretender is, or who is king, God bless us all - that's quite another thing. John's daughters were less circumspect in their actions; his elder daughter, Elizabeth, records in her journal her meeting with the Young Pretender, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, on his proclamation and subsequent encampment in Manchester in November 1745, whilst his younger daughter, Dorothy, procured money and victuals for imprisoned Jacobites.


The original order cannot be discerned, as the collection has been augmented from other sources by the donor, W. H. Thomson, and it appears that the documents were subject to some arrangement in the process of the writing of his tripartite Byroms of Manchester, and in their subsequent donation to the library. The documents were previously grouped into six boxes, the first four of which contained legal papers, mainly deeds of title, grouped by property and person, and including marriage agreements, apprenticeship indentures and wills.

The remaining boxes contained a mixture of personal material and ephemera relating to various members of the family, along with some stray deeds. The deeds in box 1 appear to have been packaged into several parcels c.1950s, ordered by property and person. Some subsequent ordering was evident in box 5, but included material which belongs elsewhere, such as deeds relating to Kersal. Box 6 comprised a series of packets of miscellaneous material, similar to box 5, but containing a package of items gathered together for exhibition, presumably 'John Byrom and the Manchester Jacobites', held at Manchester City Art Gallery in 1951. Therefore, the documents have been arranged into subgroups reflecting the different spheres of life and activity of the family, as set out below.

Apprenticeship indentures, wills and some of the marriage agreements have also been placed in a separate subgroup, particularly as the latter two groups relate to more than one property. Agreements relating to a single property, however, have been left amongst the relevant deeds. These documents are arranged chronologically.

The handlist reflects the previous boxing and packaging. The former reference numbers relate to the numbers on the handlist.

  • TBY/1 Property Deeds
  • TBY/2 Other Legal Papers (wills, marriage settlements)
  • TBY/3 John Byrom's Shorthand
  • TBY/4 Miscellaneous Manuscript Material
  • TBY/5 Miscellaneous Printed Items
  • TBY/6 Photographs
  • TBY/7 Thomson Papers

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The papers were donated to the John Rylands Library by the Rev. W. H. Thomson of Manchester in 1961 and 1963, with a subsequent donation by the latter's niece, Miss V. Keable. The first gift, received in 1961, comprises predominantly papers relating to the first three Edward Byroms; the second tranche, following two years later, concerns mainly Joseph Byrom, and includes some further property deeds connected with the Shambles, Alport and Kersal. The final donation was received in April 1971, and, besides some deeds, constitutes miscellaneous papers relating to shorthand and the Jacobite cause. The whole collection appears to have been accumulated from more than one source, according to Thomson's published Byrom trilogy, during the writing of which the papers were subject to some arrangement.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The papers were donated to the John Rylands Library in three instalments: the first two by the Rev. W. H. Thomson of Manchester in 1961 and 1963, and the third by the latter's niece, Miss V. Keable, in 1971. The whole collection may have been accumulated from more than one source, according to Thomson's published Byrom trilogy. Some items appear to have been made available to the author from a family descendant during the writing of the book, and some found their way into the exhibition, 'John Byrom and the Manchester Jacobites', held at Manchester City Art Gallery in 1951. Some shorthand items, shorthand silhouettes and the letter from R. Leycester appear to have been originally in the possession of the Byrom descendant. The papers were subject to some arrangement during the writing of the trilogy; a particular batch appears to have been collated for the exhibition. A small amount of correspondence exists relating to the content of particular items, and can be found in TBY/7.


No accruals are expected.

Related Material

Chetham's Library, Manchester, holds the original manuscript of Christians Awake, as well as other material relating to John Byrom, such as his journal, notes, letters and poems, including shorthand (A.1 - A.7), plus manuscript and printed books from his library. Byrom related material can also be found in Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives. According to W. H. Thomson, the deed to the Shambles of 1666 was formerly located in Manchester Central Library, along with deeds relating to the Back Salford acquisitions. Lancashire Archives holds some varied material relating to the family and their involvement in civic life, scattered across different collections, particularly deeds and wills, plus a few agreements relating to their involvement in the Mersey and Irwell Navigation committee.

The Bodleian library, Oxford University (Special Collections), has some material relating to John Byrom; the Senate House Library, University of London, hold non-contemporary notes relating to Byrom and Kersal. Further examples of Dorothy Byrom's silhouettes and artistic efforts can be found in the collection at Manchester Art Gallery. A collection of Byrom deeds and papers is listed in the National Register of Archives (MSS 5463), but their current location is unknown; at the time of their inclusion in the Historical Manuscripts Commission listing, they were held by the trustees of the Byrom Estate, Messrs. Christopher and North, Solicitors, 7 Cork Street, London.


R. Parkinson, The Private Journal and Literary Remains of John Byrom, 2 vols (Manchester: Chetham Society, 1854-57).

C. Roeder, 'Kersal Moor and Kersal Cell: A Sketch from Neolithic Days to Present Times', Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, 25 (1907), 81-93.

H. Talon (ed.), Selections from the Journals and Papers of John Byrom, Poet, Diarist, Shorthand Writer, 1691-1763, edited with notes and biographical sketches of some of his notable contemporaries (London: Rockliff, 1950).

W. H. Thomson, The Byroms of Manchester 3 vols (Manchester: W. H. Thomson, 1959).

W. H. Thomson, John Byrom and the Manchester Jacobites (Manchester: Manchester City Art Gallery, [1952]).

T. P. Underhill, 'John Byrom (1692-1763): Sources and Shorthand' (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Cambridge, 2001).