Humphrey Chetham Papers

  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MSS 1137, 1149
  • Dates of Creation
      17th century
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      2 subfonds

Scope and Content

The collection comprises: a volume containing a copy of the will of Humphrey Chetham, a copy of the foundation charter of Chetham's Hospital and Library, and another document relating to the Hospital and Library (English MS 1137); and another volume containing a contemporary copy of Humphrey Chetham's will (English MS 1147).

Administrative / Biographical History

Humphrey Chetham (bap. 1580, d. 1653), financier and philanthropist, was born at Crumpsall Hall near Manchester. He was educated at Manchester Grammar School and subsequently became an apprentice to Samuel Tipping, a Manchester draper. In 1605 he moved to London and formed a partnership with his brother, selling raw wool, flax, and cotton fibre to spinners, and yarns to weavers, then buying the finished yarn or cloth, trading in a wide range of Lancashire textiles, including fustians, sackcloth, friezes, and bays. In 1621 the brothers purchased Clayton Hall, between Manchester and Ashton under Lyne, setting themselves up with a country estate of some 340 acres.

Following his brother's death in 1627, Humphrey became the sole proprietor of the estate, and in the following year he bought the lordship of Turton, near Bolton, including Turton Tower. By 1640 he had become one of the largest landowners in the region. From the early 1620s onwards he also operated as a financier on a substantial scale; by 1640 he was operating a sizeable banking house. In 1634-5 he served as high sheriff for Lancashire. He leased the tithes of Manchester parish church and in the mid-1620s became embroiled in a dispute over the administration of its chapter and college. In April 1641, he was appointed the collector for Lancashire of the subsidy granted to the king by Parliament, and in October 1643 he was made treasurer for Lancashire, with the duty of collecting money for the maintenance of the armed forces. Four years later he was appointed receiver-general of assessments in the county.

Humphrey Chetham was an enthusiastic benefactor of charitable causes. Between 1649 and 1651 he was engaged in abortive negotiations to acquire the buildings of the Manchester College to provide a hospital for boys. He died on 20 September 1653 at Clayton Hall, and on 11 October his embalmed corpse was taken in a magnificent procession for burial at the collegiate church in Manchester.

Chetham's will, written in 1651, details the bequests for the great charities which have provided his most lasting and remarkable memorial. The will stipulated that £7,000 should be spent on buying lands worth £420 per annum as an endowment for the maintenance in perpetuity of forty places for poor boys from the Manchester area. Another £500 was to be expended on buying a building in the town of Manchester for their accommodation. He gave £200 to buy five chained libraries of improving books for the churches or chapels of Manchester, Bolton, Turton, Gorton, and Walmsley. £1,000 was given for the purchase of books to provide a free public library in Manchester, and £100 was provided for the fitting-out of a library building. Chetham's Hospital and Library were opened in December 1656.

Source: Alan G. Crosby, 'Chetham, Humphrey (bap. 1580, d. 1653)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Access Information

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.


Description compiled by Jo Humpleby, project archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Humphrey Chetham.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1937-1951 (English MSS 1137, 1149).

Related Material

Chetham's Library, Manchester holds the personal and business papers of Humphrey Chetham (ref.: GB 418 MUN.E.1.6-2.5).


  • F.R. Raines and C.W. Sutton, Life of Humphrey Chetham, Chetham Society, New Series, vols 49-50 (1903); specific page references are given below;
  • Stephen John Guscott, Humphrey Chetham 1580-1653: fortune, politics and mercantile culture in seventeenth-century England, Chetham Society, 3rd Series, vol. 45 (2003).

Geographical Names