The Correspondence of John Bell, Antiquary and Land Surveyor, Gateshead, Newcastle

Scope and Content

Letters to John Bell and copies of letters from him. Letters largely concern Bell's search for trademen's tokens dating between 1648-1672 issued in any town in Northumberland, Durham or north of York, to help in his preparation of a description of them.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Bell was born in Newcastle on 7 October 1783, first son of John Bell (1755-1816), a land surveyor and bookseller, and Margaret, the daughter of John Gray of Combfield House, co. Durham. He married Barbara, the daughter of Thomas Pringle of Newcastle, on 22 November 1806; they had nine children. His brother was Thomas Bell (1785-1860), land surveyor and book collector. Thomas Bell had fourteen children with his wife Hannah, among them John Gray Bell, bookseller.

On leaving school John and Thomas worked with their father in his business in Union Street, Newcastle. John left to establish his own business on the Quayside in 1803. He began collecting coins, antiquities and ephemera on a range of subjects, including the book trade, and started a numismatic society in Newcastle which ran for only a short time. He published two undated charts of British silver coinage.

Following the failure of the numismatic society Bell issued "Proposals, for publishing, by subscription, reprints of a rare and curious collection of old English tracts", but nothing came of this. In 1812 he published Rhymes of Northern Bards, a collection of songs and poems from Newcastle, Northumberland, and Durham. Over the next five years Bell published eleven pamphlets of local interest.

In 1817 John Bell's business failed, and he was declared bankrupt. His assignees, who included his brother Thomas, ordered all his possessions to be sold, and his collection of ephemera was widely dispersed. Following his bankruptcy Bell moved to Gateshead to practice as a land surveyor; he occasionally also sold books and continued to collect ephemera.

In 1812 John Bell sent a circular to the leading gentry of Northumberland and Durham, proposing the formation of a society for the study and preservation of antiquities in these two counties. The project received the support of Hugh, second duke of Northumberland, and the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne was formally established on 6 February 1813. Bell was elected treasurer, an office he held until his bankruptcy. He remained the society's librarian until 1849, and published seven papers in its transactions, now Archaeologica Aeliana, three of them jointly.

John Bell died on 31 October 1864, aged eighty-one, and was buried in St. John's cemetery, Elswick.

(Taken from Peter Isaac's article on Thomas Bell in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004-5)).


The collection has been arranged into 2 series: Letters to John Bell from various correspondents, and copies of letters from him and Letters from Daniel Henry Haigh, Leeds, to John Bell, Gateshead, and copies of Bell's letters to Haigh.

Access Information

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Acquisition Information

John Bell's correspondence, the catalogue of Thomas Bell's Library of 1860, and a number of printed books were presented to Chetham's Library by John Gray Bell, John Bell's nephew, [?in 1866]. John Gray Bell was a bookseller who traded at 11 Oxford Street, Manchester, prior to his death in 1866. He inherited part of John Bell's collection.


No further accruals are expected.


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004-5).

Geographical Names