Papers of J.G. Sharps

Scope and Content

The archive of J.G. Sharps includes material which will be of value to those interested in the life and work of Elizabeth Gaskell, nineteenth-century literature more generally, biography and life writing, textual criticism, the history of collecting, Unitarianism, and nineteenth-century Manchester and Knutsford. The archive can be broadly divided into the following areas:

Material collected by J.G. Sharps

This comprises original holograph letters, typescripts and publications acquired by Sharps, primarily in relation to his Gaskell interest, although there are also papers relating to other significant figures. The material came from various sources: some was purchased through auction houses and manuscript dealers; some was sold, given, or bequeathed to Sharps by other private collectors (including A. Stanton Whitfield and Thomas Seccombe); and some was given to Sharps by people who were made aware of his research interests. His collection includes some highly significant material, and was credited by John Chapple as being perhaps the largest Gaskell collection in private hands. The manuscript material includes: MS transcript of a poem by James Graham, First Marquis of Montrose, in Elizabeth Gaskell's hand; 16 holograph letters written by Gaskell; an important group of letters relating to Gaskell's family including five letters written by her brother John Stevenson (two of which are incomplete), one letter from Marian Lumb (daughter of Hannah Lumb, who brought Gaskell up), and five letters of the Stevenson family dating from the 1790s; early typescripts of approximately 86 letters by Gaskell (and some written by John Stevenson), which include copies of letters that are no longer extant; a letter to Gaskell from Richard Cobden; three letters written by Charlotte Brontë's friend Ellen Nussey (one to Gaskell and two to Brontë's widower Arthur Bell Nichols); a letter from William Gaskell to Manchester writer Mrs Linnaeus [Isabella] Banks; MS verse signed by William and Mary Howitt; 14 letters to Thomas Seccombe (the literary scholar who edited and wrote introductions to some of Gaskell’s works) dating from 1910-1911, including six from Meta Gaskell; and some holograph letters either sent to or collected by A. Stanton Whitfield, including one letter from the historian E.A. Freeman, and one letter from the literary scholar Ernest de Selincourt.

The collection also contains some published material including: two Christmas numbers of Charles Dickens's periodical All the Year Round (1863-4); a number of copies of Gaskell's “My diary”: the early years of my daughter Marianne (privately printed by Clement Shorter, 1923), one of which is inscribed by Shorter; a copy of The works of Mr Abraham Cowley (1700), signed by William Gaskell; and two published sermons by William Gaskell.

Correspondence of J.G. Sharps

This consists of approximately 2,000 letters sent to Sharps from all over the world, dating from the 1950s to 2005. They relate to: his tireless attempts to track down primary sources relating to Gaskell; the acquisition of material for his collection; his search for publications and references relating to Gaskell; his research into many different aspects of her life and work – initially for his thesis and published book, and subsequently for papers, talks and general interest (the correspondence gives a fascinating insight into the extent and nature of his detective work); Gaskell-related enquiries he received from around the world; and his exchanges of information with other Gaskell scholars and specialists based in the UK and overseas.

Sharps's correspondents included well known Gaskell scholars past and present, as well as academics and writers specialising in other nineteenth-century writers, or the literature of the period generally, such as: Miriam Allott; Richard D. Altick; Barbara Brill; John Chapple; Dorothy W. Collin; Annette B. Hopkins; Coral Lansbury; Anne Lohrli; Francesco Marroni; Arthur Pollard; Robert L. Selig; Alan Shelston; Kathleen Tillotson; Ross D. Waller; Jane Whitehill; A. Stanton Whitfield; and Edgar Wright. There are also letters from Gaskell collectors and enthusiasts, literary societies, publishers, booksellers, libraries and musuems in the UK and America. In addition there are individual letters from a number of significant twentieth-century literary figures, including Valentine Ackland, F.W. Bateson, Michael Horovitz, Daphne Du Maurier and John Lehmann.

Other research material

This includes material created by Sharps himself, such as drafts and the final copy of his BLitt thesis on Gaskell, and drafts and proofs of Mrs Gaskell's observation and invention. However, there is also pre-publication material by other writers, including: galley proofs of Elizabeth Gaskell: a portrait in letters by J.A.V. Chapple, assisted by J.G. Sharps (1980); typescript of A. Stanton Whitfield’s Mrs Gaskell: her life and work (1929); proofs of Chapple and Pollard's Letters of Mrs Gaskell (1966); and typescript of Graham Handley’s An Elizabeth Gaskell chronology (2005). There are also numerous pamphlets, newsletters, cuttings and photocopied material.

Papers relating to the Gaskell Society

This material includes: notes for Gaskell Society talks given by Sharps; photographs taken at Society events; correspondence relating to Society activities; and copies of agendas and minutes.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Geoffrey Sharps was born in 1936. He attended Sir John Deane’s Grammar School at Northwich in Cheshire, excelling in both arts and sciences. He gained an MA in English from the University of Edinburgh, followed by a DipEd (awarded in 1962) and MEd (1963) in Psychology from Queen’s University, Belfast.

In 1964 he was awarded a BLitt from Oxford, which was converted to an MLitt during the 1970s. His thesis formed the foundation of his encyclopedic work, Mrs Gaskell’s observation and invention: a study of her non-biographic works, which was published in 1970 and is something of a Bible for Gaskell scholars: it traces in minute detail the textual and contextual background of all of Gaskell’s works – major and minor – apart from her biography of Charlotte Brontë. Sharps undertook exhaustive research, tracking down primary sources all over the world, and his book is still regarded as an essential source of accurate information about, and meticulous analysis of, Gaskell’s work.

J.G. Sharps worked closely with John Chapple and Arthur Pollard when they were compiling the first collected edition of Gaskell’s letters (published in 1966). In the Introduction to their edition they paid him the following tribute:

As editors we count the day fortunate on which we first heard from him; his readiness to share his discoveries of unknown letters, both original and printed in obscure places, has been matched by the generous way in which he has made available the wealth of information he gathered in the course of his own research. This edition would have been immeasurably poorer without his help (Chapple and Pollard, p. xxiv).

J.G. Sharps’s work on Gaskell was a lifelong passion. While Mrs Gaskell’s observation and invention was the only major work on Gaskell that he published, he continued actively to research her life and writings right up until the time of his death. He enthusiastically engaged in detective work, scouring the catalogues of booksellers and manuscript dealers, and writing hundreds of letters to libraries and private collectors; he also entered into correspondence with well-known scholars and writers on Gaskell, including pre-war writers like A. Stanton Whitfield and Jane Whitehill, as well as contemporaries like John Chapple, Arthur Pollard and Alan Shelston among others.

He built up an impressive Gaskell collection of his own – comprising first and early editions, as well as original manuscript material. This was enhanced further when he acquired the collection of A. Stanton Whitfield on the latter’s death in the 1970s; he also acquired significant material from the widow of J.T. Lancaster. He was always generous in sharing his discoveries with others, and his collection was always made available to serious researchers. His collection is cited in numerous scholarly works on Gaskell, and the original Gaskell correspondence in his possession has appeared in both volumes of Gaskell’s letters.

He played a very active role in the Gaskell Society, sitting on the steering committee at its first meeting in 1985 and subsequently serving a term as President. He became a very well-known figure in the Society, and maintained an active involvement even during his final illness; many warm tributes were paid to him in the Society's publications after his death.

Despite his enduring interest in Gaskell, his career led him in a slightly different direction: he joined the staff of North Riding College of Education, Scarborough, in 1964; he initially lectured in English and Educational Psychology, but opted to concentrate on the latter from 1967 until 1987, the year of his retirement. He also found time after retiring to take a Theology degree at Hull University in the early 1990s.

J.G. Sharps died after a long illness on 6 January 2006.


The archive has not yet been subject to archival arrangement and remains in its original order.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader, although some of the photocopied material is closed for copyright reasons, and some of the twentieth-century material may be subject to Data Protection closures. Readers are advised to contact the Library in advance if they wish to see any of the material in the archive.

Acquisition Information

The Sharps papers came to the JRUL as a bequest, and were received from his widow Heather Sharps in 2006.

Conditions Governing Use

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 1998. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the UML to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Open parts of this collection, and the catalogue descriptions, may contain personal data about living individuals. Some items in this collection may be closed to public inspection in line with the requirements of the DPA. Restrictions/closures of specific items will be indicated in the catalogue.

Appraisal Information

Some duplicates and ephemera will be subject to appraisal.

Custodial History

The Papers of J.G. Sharps comprise both his own archive and printed and manuscript material he acquired from other sources, including auction houses, book dealers and private collectors (notably A. Stanton Whitfield). The material remained in the custody of Sharps until his death in 2006.

Related Material

The Library also holds a collection of books from J.G. Sharps's personal library; this includes numerous first and other early editions of Gaskell's work. Other related collections include: the Papers of Elizabeth Gaskell (which include literary manuscripts, in-letters and Gaskell's autograph collection); numerous individual letters written by Gaskell; the Papers of the Jamison Family, which include original letters written by Gaskell and her daughters, as well as much material relating to the circles in which the Gaskells moved and nineteenth-century Knutsford; and some correspondence of the Gaskell bibliographer, Walter E. Smith, which includes 17 letters and five cards sent to Smith by Sharps as well as four pieces of copy correspondence between Smith and Sharps.


J.G. Sharps, Mrs Gaskell's observation and invention: a study of her non-biographic works (Fontwell: Linden Press, 1970).

J.A.V. Chapple, Elizabeth Gaskell: a portrait in letters (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1980).

J.A.V. Chapple and A. Pollard (eds), The letters of Mrs Gaskell (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1966).

J.A.V. Chapple and Alan Shelston (eds), Further letters of Mrs Gaskell (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000).