[The Fairclough Collection]

Archive Collection
  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 338 BF
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      The engraved portraits and photographs of portraits, costume, etc. comprise 24 linear metres. In addition, there are some 3,000-3,500 books, pamphlets and serials. Pre-1850 volumes are housed in the Special Collections of the Library. Post-1850 volumes are shelved on the 3rd floor of the Library and are available for loan.
  • Digital Materials

      Dutch satirical engraving caricaturing Oliver Cromwell from the Fairclough Collection of engraved portraits

  • Digital Content

Scope and Content

The collection centres on the portraiture and costume of the seventeenth century and includes illustrations of British gardens, landscapes, houses and furniture. The engraved portraits are grouped and boxed by various chronological schemes or by the occupation of the sitters. Two series of portraits, which Mr Fairclough himself mentioned as being of particular interest, are the supplementary illustrations to Clarendon's 'History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars', containing about 1,000 portraits bound into 3 volumes (SCM 10834-10836) and the supplementary illustrations to John Evelyn's Diary, which are housed in 9 boxes, interleaved with the loose pages of the 1819 edition (EP36). A series of 14 boxes contains photographs of portraits filed alphabetically. In 1951, Professor Simmons commented in a letter to the Librarian that, '[Fairclough] has for years been in touch with owners of country houses, trying to secure photos of 17th century portraits they possess ... they are scarce, and I understand from him that it would be virtually impossible to put together such a collection now'. A further series of 5 boxes contains photographs of portraits filed chronologically to give a year-by-year review of seventeenth century costume. A third series of 38 folio boxes contains some thousands of illustrations under the general title of 'Life in the 17th Century Illustrated'. These range from buildings, county by county, to furniture, silver, pastimes, ships and so on. The books, pamphlets and serials were intended as a working library to aid research, and there is an emphasis on original sources, the Civil War and Commonwealth, social history and biographies.

Administrative / Biographical History

Unfortunately, little is known about Mr A. B. R. (known as Basil) Fairclough’s life. We do know that in 1951 he was in his early forties, that he left school in 1925 and that he studied at St. John’s College, Oxford. He was born in the West Country. His correspondence with the Library shows that he was still alive in June 1986. He met his wife Elizabeth, a vicar’s daughter, while he was an undergraduate at Oxford, where she was teaching music. They married and moved with their infant son to Chipping Campden, where they lived at Dover’s House in the High Street. For a time, Fairclough worked at the Alcuin Press, which was based at Chipping Campden until 1935. He also worked for the Gordon Russell furniture workshops in Broadway. According to the writer Christopher Whitfield, whose social circle in Chipping Campden he was a part of, Fairclough was ‘independently well off’. By 1951, the family had moved to Richmond, from where Mr Fairclough commuted daily to work in central London. His wife had worked in the Library of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the couple attended lectures at the V & A together. He donated the collection to the Library in 1970, because, ‘I could not have afforded to continue the search, which had already occupied 40 years, nor had I then the space’. In 1980, his wife died and he moved from Richmond to Burford, Oxfordshire. In 1983, by which time he must have been well into his seventies, he enrolled in an Open University 2nd year course in English seventeenth century history. He also worked as a bookbinder and restorer from his house in Burford. Fairclough was extremely modest about his own achievements, commenting in 1951, ‘I have always wanted to achieve academic standards in some way, but never felt I should do so really’. However, he assembled what Professor Simmons described as ‘a remarkable collection’, which represents an exceptional resource for scholars of seventeenth century British history.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to bona fide researchers. The Special Collections is open Monday-Friday 9 am-5 pm. Access by appointment only. Contact specialcollections@le.ac.uk to make an appointment.

Acquisition Information

Mr Fairclough first offered to bequeath the collection to the University of Leicester in 1951; A. L. Rowse had suggested Leicester as a potential home for the collection. The collection was eventually delivered to the University of Leicester Library on 19 February 1970. Fairclough himself visited the Library during February 1970 and unpacked all the books onto the shelves.


Mr Fairclough founded an annual public lecture, to be given at Leicester on a seventeenth century subject, and made payments under a Deed of Covenant to fund these lectures. The first lecture seems to have been given in 1955 and on this occasion Mr Fairclough himself arranged an exhibition of items from his collection in the Library. The October 1956 lecture was given by C. V. Wedgwood. By 1962, it seems that the lecture series had lapsed, although we have evidence that it was revived in 1965.

Other Finding Aids

A hand-written card catalogue is available for the engraved prints and photographs.

Archivist's Note

Description prepared by Margaret Maclean on 25 July 2011.

Conditions Governing Use

Some of the material in the archive may remain in copyright. Photocopies of material can be supplied for private research purposes only. However, it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study. A copy of such written approval from the copyright holder must be received by the Librarian before reproductions can be made. It is also the researcher's responsibility to obtain the relevant copyright holder's permission to publish or cite papers from the archive. A copy of such written approval from the copyright holder must be received by the Librarian prior to publication. The Library will not be responsible for any failure on the part of authors and publishers to seek such permission to publish. Readers are required to sign a form accepting these conditions.

Custodial History

Mr Fairclough began the collection as soon as he left school in 1925, and continued to add to it even after it was given to the University of Leicester Library in 1970. Initially he bought books from second-hand bookshops, together with engraved portraits for the purpose of extra-illustration (a hobby popularised by The Rev. J. Granger). From 1946, he began to catalogue books containing photographic illustrations of portraits and to collect photographs of portraits. The collection was stored at Fairclough's home in Richmond. Mrs Fairclough supervised the cataloguing of the collection. In 1960, an aunt gave Fairclough the library of his grandfather, Arthur Appleby, who died in about 1900, and any books of his grandfather's relating to the seventeenth century were incorporated into the collection.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

English Heritage, which is now responsible for the National Monuments Record, holds 97 NMR prints and negatives of Fairclough's photographs of churches and rural housing between c. 1950-1968.Campden and District Historical and Archaeological Society holds 4 photographs of Chipping Campden taken by Fairclough during the 1930s.