Medieval and Modern Manuscripts: The Humphreys Bequest Collection

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The medieval manuscripts include a number of codices and more than 200 fragments. They are predominantly of English or Western European origin and mostly date from 13th - 15th centuries. The subject matter is wide, although religious and philosophical works predominate. The 15th century items include a Bridgentine book of hours, 1467; a set of religious homilies; the Logica Parva of Paulus de Venetiis; and a papal bull of Sixtus IV on the constitutions of the Dominican order, 1474.

The modern manuscripts mainly date from 17th - 19th centuries and are largely in English. Collected by Dr Humphreys primarily to illustrate the development of handwriting over the ages, they are written in hands ranging from the most sophisticated to the near illiterate, with special emphasis on juvenile and semi literate hands. The principal document types are letters; accounts; bills; receipts and bonds; calligraphic, arithmetical and geometrical exercise books; foreign travel journals; commonplace books; poetry books; recipes; and sermons. The collection includes one of three known copies of the marriage treaty of Mary Tudor, 1553; a record of coroners' inquests at Colchester, 1605; a copy of Mother Shipton's prophecies, c. 1700; a Warwickshire farm account book of 1734-1743; a letter of Frederick Augustus, Duke of York, second son of George III, written in 1770 when aged 6, and giving a delightful vignette of the royal nursery; a collection of theorems and problems in solid geometry, late 18th century; in-letters, 1803-1821, of G.B. Niccolini, librarian of the Biblioteca dell' Accademia delle Belle Arti di Firenze; a plumber's bill of 1883; an account of a cruise round the English coast by yacht, 1848; a religious verse written with the toes, 1857 by an armless 10 year old child; correspondence of 3 excise officers, 1843-1856; a description of Bombay, 1877-1882; the visitors' book of the Victoria Hotel, Buttermere, 1877-1880, including the signature of Disraeli; a diary of the visit to Malta by Edward VII in 1903; and the letters to his parents of a soldier of the Great War, Alan Moron, killed in action in 1917.

Administrative / Biographical History

Kenneth William Humphreys, 1916-1995, B.Litt, MA, PhD, FLA; Librarian, European University Institute, Florence, 1975-1981; educated at Southfield School, Oxford and St Catherine's College, Oxford. Library assistant, All Souls College, Oxford, 1933-1936; assistant at Bodleian Library, Oxford, 1936-1950; Deputy Librarian, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, 1950-1952; Librarian, University of Birmingham, 1952-1975; Professor of library studies, Haifa University, 1982; honorary lecturer in palaeography, University of Leeds, 1950-1952; University of Birmingham, 1952-1975; Panizzi lecturer, Panizzi Trust, 1987; honorary secretary, Standing Conference of National and University Libraries, 1954-1969, Vice-Chairman, 1969-1971, Chairman, 1971-1973; member of the Library Advancement Council for England, 1966-1971; member of Council, Library Association, Chairman, 1973; Chairman of the Executive Committee, West Midlands Regional Library Bureau, 1963-1975; Chairman of the Joint Standing Conference and Committee on Library Cooperation, 1965-1975; National Committee on Regional Library Cooperation, 1970-1975; member of the Comite International de Palaeographie, and Colloque International de Palaeographie, 1955-1994; President: National and University Libraries Section, International Federation of Library Associations, 1968-1970, President of the University Libraries Sub-Section, 1967-1973; Ligue des Bibliotheques Europeennes des Recherche, 1974-1980; Round Table on Library History, 1978-1982; member of Committee, British Academy Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues, 1983-1995 (secretary 1983-1994); Editor, Studies in the History of Libraries and Librarianship; Joint editor, Series of Reproductions of Medieval and Renaissance Texts; Honorary DLitt Dublin (Trinity College), 1967; Honorary FLA, 1980; Socio d'onore, Italian Library Association, 1982.

Publications: The Book Provisions of the Medieval Friars, 1964; The Medieval Library of the Carmelites at Florence, 1964; The Library of the Franciscans of the Convent of St Antony, Padua at the Beginning of the Fifteenth Century, 1966; The Library of the Franciscans of Siena in the Fifteenth Century, 1977; A National Library in Theory and Practice, 1988; The Friars (Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues, 1990; articles in library periodicals.

Reference: Who's Who 1995 (London, 1995).


The collection was arranged by Humphreys himself in different sequences as follows: French library documents; manuscripts and archives in bound format (numbered); miscellaneous letters and documents in fascicles (numbered); manuscripts stored in brown paper (arranged by century); documents relating to the French Revolution (numbered); medieval manuscripts/fragments.

Conditions Governing Access

Open. Access to all registered researchers.

Acquisition Information

The collection was bequeathed to the University Library by Dr Kenneth Humphreys who died in 1994.

Other Finding Aids

Paper catalogues to file and item level are available on request in the Special Collections Department.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the University Archivist, Special Collections.


Further deposits are not expected.

Related Material

University of Birmingham Information Services, Special Collections Department also holds a small collection of papers relating to Humphreys' in his capacity as Librarian at the University of Birmingham (GB 150 US35).

University of Birmingham Information Services, Special Collections Department also holds the archives of the University of Birmingham and archives of other former staff, officials and students.