Papers relating to the will of Rev. John Hymers

Scope and Content

The papers comprise details of John Hymers' investments, more particularly his investment in railway stocks and shares, his rents and his tithes as rector of Brandesburton, papers related to succession duties and reports from organisations to whom he made charitable bequests. Many of the papers represent the massive correspondence about his will as well as details of its invalidity and the case made by Robert Hymers and James Mills to rescue its intentions for the Corporation. A copy of the will itself is also in the collection.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Hymers was born in Ormesby, North Yorkshire, in 1803, the son of Thomas Hymers (1763-1834), a farmer, and his wife Esther Parrington (1767-1831), daughter of the vicar. He had an older sister and brother (twins), Thomas and Esther, a younger sister, Jane, and a younger brother, Robert Hymers (b.1807). John Hymers went to school at Wilton-le-Wear and Sedburgh and then went to St John's College, Cambridge, as a sizar, becoming second wrangler in 1826. He became fellow and then tutor at St John's and became fellow of the Royal Society in 1838. He was a mathematician, whose publications were largely about calculus, conic sections and equations theory. In 1841 he took a doctorate in divinity and became Lady Margaret professor and in 1848 he was elected president of St John's (Dictionary of National Biography; Scott, Hymers College, ch.1).

John Hymers was a man who made college life his home for the first part of his life. His mother, father and two of his siblings died in the early 1830s prompting him to go on a grand tour of Europe, which he followed with several years in college, preferring to remain unmarried. However, he slowly became disillusioned with the incursion of the university into the independent life of the colleges and in 1852 he left St John's for the rich college living of Brandesburton in the East Riding of Yorkshire. He tried to return soon after but St John's refused him his old post with the result that he spent the rest of his life in an isolated Yorkshire parish. However, it was a living that provided £1500 per annum, a sum that he regularly spent on books, paintings, railway shares, railway travel and on setting up a local school and library. The church gradually became ruinous and accounts of his value as a parish priest are not flattering (Scott, Hymers College, ch.1).

In the final years of his life John Hymers became close to the family of his older sister, Esther Jackson (1802-1864), and her daughter, Esther Jane Jackson, became his housekeeper for a while and eventually a major beneficiary of his will and governor of Hymers School in 1901 (there is a letter to Esther Jackson at DDCV[2]/79/10 dated 1861). John Hymers was a man who combined focused miserliness with focused generosity. Though he let his church fall apart, he did spend money on the village and his will was equally generous. When he died in 1887 he left a personal estate of nearly £170,000. Apart from specific bequests to his younger brother Robert and various members of Esther's family, including his nephew Robert who died in a lunatic assylum, and several local charities which included the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, the Infirmary and the Seaman's orphanage in Hull and the Sea Bathing Convalescent Home in Scarborough, he left all his estate to Hull Corporation to build 'a grammar school in this town on the model of the grammar schools at Birmingham and Dulwich for the training of intelligence in whatever social rank of life it may be found among the vast and varied population of the town and port of Hull' (Dictionary of National Biography; Scott, Hymers College, ch.1; DDCV/214/11).

John Hymers' will was not shown to his solicitor, James Mills, and it was declared invalid after his death. However, his heir-at-law, his younger brother Robert (himself a solicitor), set to work with James Mills to honour the intentions of the testator and the Corporation received a £50,000 bequest to set up what became Hymers College in Hull. Papers about the foundation of the school and the subsequent presentation of Robert Hymers as freeman of Hull in 1891 by the Corporation are all in the collection.

Access Information

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Related Material

Hull University Archives:



  • Dictionary of National Biography
  • Scott, F W et al, Hymers College: the first hundred years (1992)