Papers of Mary Bateson

  • Reference
      GB 133 MBP
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English  and Latin .
  • Physical Description
      9 series; 26 items. Condition: Generally good. Many of the papers are slightly dirty, some are torn.
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The archive chiefly comprises the research papers, notes and transcriptions of Mary Bateson (1865-1906), historian and fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge, relating to her publications and lectures on medieval history from the mid-1890s until her death in 1906. There are extensive notes on Bateson's most significant editorial works, the Records of the Borough of Leicester (1899-1905) and Borough Customs (Selden Society, 1904 and 1906); and research for articles written for the English Historical Review. Other papers include notes on monarchs, primarily Edward I and Edward II, the Poor Law, Leges Burgorum (a form of law in Scottish towns created by David I), the Cinque Ports, other miscellaneous notes on English boroughs and towns, and several letters relating to her publications and research.

The archive also contains notes and transcriptions written by others, possibly assistants, students or other academics, primarily on medieval history. Many of Bateson's own notes are written on the backs of papers written by others. Several notes, including a set on examination entry forms, are dated some years after her death; although they too focus on medieval history, their relationship with Bateson's own papers is unclear.

Administrative / Biographical History

Mary Bateson (1865-1906), historian and suffragist, was one of the most widely admired historians of her generation and a pioneer of women's rights. She was born in the small fishing town of Robin Hood's Bay in North Yorkshire on 12 September 1865. Her father, William Henry Bateson (1812-81), a former master of St John's College, Cambridge, and her mother, Anna Aikin (1829-1918), a women's rights campaigner and supporter of liberal causes, were both founding members of Newnham College, Cambridge. Mary Bateson continued the family connection with Newnham: she entered the college in 1884 and was awarded a first in the history tripos in 1887, only five years after women were first allowed to sit examinations at Cambridge. She remained at Newnham until her death in 1906, serving as an associate, lecturer, and eventually a fellow.

Bateson's research initially focused on monastic and religious history; her article on 'double monasteries', published in the Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (1899), was a pioneering study of women's monastic communities. In the 1890s the focus of her research shifted towards examining the customs and laws of the boroughs of medieval England, leading to the publication of a two-volume work, Borough Customs (Selden Society, 1904 and 1906). Other publications written and edited by Bateson include numerous articles in the English Historical Review (1890-1906), The Charters of the Borough of Cambridge (1901), and Records of the Borough of Leicester Volumes I-IV (1899-1905). She also wrote much popular history, contributing to Unwin's history series, The Story of Nations (1903).

In 1905 Bateson was awarded the prestigious Warburton lectureship at the University of Manchester, and presented two lectures on the 'Survival of ancient customs in English borough law'.

Mary Bateson was also a suffragist and tireless advocate of women's rights. She served the Cambridge Women's Suffrage Association and was a member of a delegation representing women graduates that met the Prime Minister, Campbell-Bannerman, in 1906.

Mary Bateson never married, and lived alone at her home on Huntingdon Road, Cambridge. She died at the age of only forty-one of a brain haemorrhage on the 30 November 1906, leaving Newnham College her entire library and about £2,500. The college returned her generosity by creating a research fellowship in her name.


There was no apparent ordering to the bundles within the archive. However, many bundles had been previously sorted and labelled, probably while at the University of Manchester. The archivist retained the original order within the bundles, but sorted the bundles into series reflecting the different research interests of Mary Bateson. The series are as follows:

  • /1: Notes on Leges Burgorum;
  • /2: Notes on the records of the Borough of Leicester;
  • /3: Notes on borough customs;
  • /4: Notes on English towns;
  • /5: Notes on the Cinque Ports, etc.;
  • /6: Notes relating to foreign countries;
  • /7: Other research notes;
  • /8: Collection of index cards;
  • /9: Correspondence, proofs and other notes.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The archive was transferred from the Philip Haworth Library to the John Rylands University Library in December 2007.

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.

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 University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The archive was stored for many years in a large cardboard box in the Philip Haworth Library, the library of the History Department of the University of Manchester. Its earlier provenance is unknown.

Related Material

The John Rylands Library also holds the papers of Manchester historians James Tait and Thomas Frederick Tout, which contain correspondence with Bateson; ten letters in Tout (TFT/1/71) and seven letters in Tait (TAI/1/21).


Mary Dockray-Miller, 'Bateson, Mary (1865-1906), historian and suffragist', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Mary Dockray-Miller, 'Mary Bateson (1865-1906): Scholar and Suffragist', in Women Medievalists and the Academy, ed. Jane Chance (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), pp. 67-78.

Reginald L. Poole, 'Mary Bateson', The English Historical Review, vol. 22, no. 85 (Jan 1907), pp. 64-8; available online at