Thursfield-Smith Wesleyan Collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises three items formerly belonging to the collector Robert Thursfield-Smith and relating to John Wesley and Methodism: a manuscript copy of John Wesley's hymn-book, produced by an English prisoner of war in France during the Napoleonic Wars (English MS 749); a volume of autograph letters and portraits of Presidents of the Wesleyan Conference (English MS 865); and a manuscript index to the anti-Wesleyan Augustus Toplady's Psalms and hymns for public and private worship (English MS 879).

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert Thursfield-Smith was born in Whitchurch, Shropshire, in around 1828. He was the son of William Thursfield-Smith, a builder and iron-founder. Robert appears to have taken over his father's business upon the latter's retirement. In the 1871 Census he is described as being an iron-founder, civil engineer and timber merchant employing sixty men. The business appears to have expanded over the next decade, for in 1881 he is listed as an iron-founder and timber merchant employing seventy men. He married Sarah Savage, and they had at least two sons and seven daughters between 1854 and 1868.

In both the 1861 Census and the 1871 Census Robert is also described as a local Methodist preacher. His interest in the history of Methodist gave rise to a passion for collecting manuscripts, books, paintings, china and memorabilia relating to the Wesleys and Methodism more generally. Among his most treasured possessions were a volume containing sixty Wesley letters, Wesley's Georgia journal, and an extensive collections of Wesley hymn-books. These collections were kept at his home, 'Highfield', Tarporley Road, Whitchurch, until his death (probably at some date between 1905 and 1910), when they were dispersed to several institutions.

Sources: 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 Censuses available online; Thomas Hayes, 'The "Highfield" Collection', Wesleyan Methodist Church Record (December 1897), p. 305.

Access Information

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

These manuscripts were acquired by Mrs Rylands in 1903, together with a large collection of Wesleyan printed works, from Robert Thursfield-Smith. They were bequeathed to the John Rylands Library following Mrs Rylands's death in 1908.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan and Jo Klett, project archivists, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Augustus Toplady.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928-35 (English MSS 749, 865), and Supplementary Hand-List of Western Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1937 (English MS 879).

Related Material

The UML also holds a transcript of John Wesley's Collection of psalms and hymns (ref.: GB 133 Eng MS 903), and a large collection of Methodist printed books acquired from R. Thursfield Smith. The Methodist Archives and Research Centre within the UML holds the largest collection in the world of the papers of John and Charles Wesley.

Emory University, Atlanta: Pitts Theology Library, Archives and Manuscripts Department holds a catalogue of the Thursfield-Smith collection within their Wesleyana Artifact Collection (ref.: RG 020-3), and information on the R. Thursfield-Smith Wesleyana Collection, including a list of contributors to purchase the collection for Wesley Memorial Methodist Church in Atlanta in 1911, Wesley Memorial Methodist Church Records (ref.: RG 022).

Southern Methodist University, Dallas: Bridwell Library holds 14 letters exchanged between R. Thursfield-Smith and various correspondents, 1893-1904 (ref.: Other British Manuscript Letters and Documents).


For a brief description of Robert Thursfield-Smith's collection, with photographs of Thursfield-Smith and of 'Highfield', his home in Whitchurch, see Thomas Hayes, 'The "Highfield" Collection', Wesleyan Methodist Church Record (December 1897), p. 305  (copy available at Methodist Archives and Research Centre, MAB B959.21).