William Arthur Shaw Manuscripts

  • Reference
      GB 133 WAS
  • Dates of Creation
      18th to early 20th century
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      31 subfonds
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The collection, comprising English MSS 441-467, 472-477 and 873, mainly consists of the transcriptions made by William Arthur Shaw as part of his research, especially for his works A History of the English Church during the Civil Wars and under the Commonwealth and The Knights of England. The strengths of the collection are in the areas of seventeenth-century Presbyterianism, persecution of Anglican ministers during the period 1649-1660, proceedings of Parliament during the English Civil War, and the history of the Order of the Bath and other orders of merit, particularly for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

W.A. Shaw transcribed various minutes of the Presbyterian movement in England, including Classis meetings from London (Eng MS 441), Manchester (Eng MS 443), Cornwall (Eng MS 444), Cambridge (Eng MS 444), Essex (Eng MS 453), and Nottingham (Eng MS 445), as well as minutes from the London Provincial Assembly (Eng MS 442) and the Westminster Assembly of 1643 (Eng MS 873).

With his wife Clara he also extracted from various sources, including manuscripts then in the British Museum (now mainly in the British Library), the Public Record Office (now The National Archives), the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and Dr Williams's Library in London, information on the persecution that Anglican ministers faced during the Puritan ascendancy of the Commonwealth and Protectorate periods (1649-1660), with special emphasis on Lancashire and Cheshire (Eng MSS 446, 447 and 449) but including more general coverage as well (Eng MSS 448 and 873).

Shaw was also interested in the proceedings of Parliament during the early stages of the English Civil War and he transcribed extracts from the diaries of two noted Parliamentarians, John Moore (Eng MS 451) and Lawrence Whitaker (Eng MS 452).

The final part of the collection also represents Shaw's research into English knighthood. This part of the collection focuses on lists of English knights and the history and membership of the Order of the Bath (Eng MSS 466, 467, 473 and 474). This material appears to date from after the revival of the Order in 1725. Shaw obtained a number of manuscripts and printed works which previously belonged to the herald Sir Albert William Woods (Eng MSS 472-477). The collection also contains Shaw's notes and transcripts relating more generally to English knighthoods (Eng MSS 463-465) as well as manuscript drafts of his published work entitled The Knights of England (Eng MSS 461 and 462).

Administrative / Biographical History

William Arthur Shaw (1865-1943), historian and archivist, was born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, in 1865. He was educated at Owens College, Manchester, graduating BA in 1883 and obtaining a Litt.D. in 1892. Shaw undertook editorial work for the Chetham Society in Manchester and in 1894 was employed by the Public Record Office as the editor for the ongoing calendaring of State Papers (Foreign) for Elizabeth I's reign, and later calendaring various Treasury record series. Shaw was noted for his engaging style of analysis, which moved beyond the normally dry and descriptive style of cataloguing.

Besides his official work Shaw wrote many articles and publications, chiefly on economics and on the history of the seventeenth century including A History of the English Church during the Civil Wars and under the Commonwealth (1900) and The Knights of England (1906). He also wrote reports on the Sidney papers for the Historical Manuscripts Commission, many essays and other volumes for learned societies, and was a contributor to the Dictionary of National Biography.

Sometime after 1901, Shaw married Clara Edith Goldsbrough, associate of the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Philharmonic Society, daughter of Thomas William John Goldsbrough MD. She helped Shaw with his historical research, writing transcripts of original documents and indexing. Clara Shaw died in 1919. He later married Mabel Elizabeth Grant who survived him.

Source: F.H. Slingsby, 'Shaw, William Arthur (1865-1943)', rev. Marc Brodie, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/36053.

English Manuscripts 472-477 were collected or created by Sir Albert William Woods (1816-1904), herald. Woods was apparently the fifth of six illegitimate children of Sir William Woods, Garter King of Arms. About 1832 Woods began working in his father's office. In June 1837 he was appointed Fitzalan pursuivant-extraordinary and the following year Portcullis pursuivant. In November 1841 Woods became Lancaster herald and gentleman usher of the scarlet rod of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath. When this office was abolished in 1857, he was made registrar and secretary of the Order of the Bath. When his father died in July 1842, Woods succeeded him as inspector of regimental colours. He was elected FSA on 25 March 1847. In November 1869 he was appointed Garter King of Arms, and was knighted the same month. Like his predecessors he had been appointed for life, but his refusal to retire led to delays and criticism. After his death in January 1904, the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood was formed, which took the registration and secretarial work away from the heralds.

Source: Thomas Woodcock, 'Woods, Sir Albert William (1816-1904)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/37009.

Access Information

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

English MSS 441-467 were purchased by the John Rylands Library from W.A. Shaw in October 1928. English MSS 472-477 were purchased from Shaw in December 1928. English MS 873 was donated to the Library by Shaw; the exact date of the gift is unknown, but the item was accessioned in March 1937.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, Jo Klett and Elizabeth Gow, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography articles on William Arthur Shaw, John Moore, Lawrence Whitaker, and George Nayler.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MSS 441-467, 472-477 and 873).