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Camden Society

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 1551 CAMDEN SOCIETY
Held at: Royal Historical Society
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Full title: Camden Society
Date(s): 1838-1897
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 13 volumes, and 20 files.
Name of creator(s): Camden Society | 1838-1897


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Camden Society was founded on 15 Mar 1838, at the home of John Bowyer Nichols, parliamentary printer, and proprietor of Gentleman's Magazine, during a meeting presided over by Thomas Amyot, secretary of the Slave Compensation Commission and Treasurer of the Society of Antiquaries. Others present at this first meeting included John Bruce, John Payne Collier, Rev Joseph Hunter, historian and PRO staff member; Sir Frederick Madden, Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum, Thomas Stapleton, genealogist, Thomas Wright, editor of early texts.

The meeting resolved to found a society for the publication of early historical and literary remains, to be called the Camden Society. (Not to be confused with the Cambridge Camden Society founded in 1839, and from 1846 known as the Ecclesiological Society). The Society was to be governed by a President and a Council of twelve members and including a Treasurer and Secretary. Membership of the Society was by annual subscription of 1, and an annual meeting was to be held on the 2 May - the birthday of William Camden (1551-1623, historian and antiquary). It was proposed to publish unedited manuscripts as well as republish selected scarce printed books. Copies of the publications were to be sent to every member and surplus stock to be offered publicly. The Society also determined that distinct works be published separately, allowing the individual to bind them in their own chosen arrangement.

At the first meeting of the new Society on 22 March 1839, a Council was elected, with Lord Francis Egerton as President, John Bruce as Treasurer and Thomas Wright as Secretary. Membersip increased rapidly, and in less than a month the Council determined to print 500 copies of and edition of Bruce's Historie of the arrivall of Edward IV in England, and Payne Collier's edition of Bishop Bale's Kynge Johan. By July of the same year, the membership list was close to 500. This same year it was proposed that Queen Victoria should be asked to be Patron. Prince Albert joined the Society in 1843 and remained a member till his death in 1861.

The first general meeting, 2 May 1839, raised the membership limit to 1000, which was in increased to 1250 by Mar 1840. Candidates even had to wait until death or resignation caused vacancies. However, this pressure seems to have slackened by about 1845, and by 1851, only 750 copies of editions were being printed, and membership afterward dropped to between 300-400.

The rules of the Society agreed in 1839, also enlarged the scope of the Society so as to permit the printing of translations, and provided for the appointment of a director who could act as vice-president.

The business of the Council consisted mainly of membership approval, selection of works for publication and copyright. In Jun 1838 decided to send copies to the five great libraries, and Mar 1839 decision that all publication should be entered at Stationers' hall. Another issue the council faces was the responsibility of the Society for the opinions of its editors, and in May 1839, the ruled that the Council must see proofs of each work issued, especially the prefaces.

A number of libraries were admitted as members of the Society and obtained a set of publications, the first being the London Library in 1842, followed by the Chetham Library, Manchester, in 1850, the Marylebone Public Library in 1854, and the Westminster Public Library in 1857.

The society played a part in the agitation, 1848-1869, to secure access for literary inquirers to early wills in courts and district registries, and opposed the imposition of fees for literary searches among wills. In 1865, it successfully advocated the use of photography for making facsimile copies of wills.

The Camden Society's outstanding contribution is Albert Way's edition of Promptorium parvulorum one of the earliest works projected by the Society but only completed in 1865. Other publications were undertaken jointly with the Early English Text Society (founded 1864). The Camden Society was facing financial difficulties by the early 1880s, exacerbated by a failed project to compile a general index to the first 100 volumes that it had printed. The Society by then had only 183 paying members. By 1892, the membership had risen slightly to 237 subscribers, but by 1994 was 95 in arrears from subscribers which could not be recovered.

In 1896 it was suggested that the Society amalgamate with the Royal Historical Society, and that united membership of the two societies would be large enough to support the annual publication of two Camden volumes and one of the RHS proceedings. A joint committee of the two societies appointed to consider this proposal reported favourably in 11 Mar 1896. In December of the same year, the Society formally adopted, and practical arrangements made at the final Council meeting on 28 Apr 1897.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Camden Society comprising: minutes of the Camden Society 1838-1897 (6 vols); and index to minute books, 1870 (1 vol); Secretary's correspondence files, 1867-1897 (19 files); secretary's correspondence notebook, 1891 (1 vol); miscellaneous file with list of members, 1858-1861 (1 file); letter book, 1872-1875 (1 vol); subscriptions 1869-1880 (1 vol); Candidates and admissions register 1839-1896 (1 vol); printed report of the Camden Society, May 1842 (1 vol); A descriptive catalogue of the works of the Camden Society, John Gough Nichols, Westminster, J B Nichols and sons, 1862 (containing related papers pasted in [1860s-1970s].

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The material is uncatalogued.

Conditions governing access:

By appointment only. Contact the Executive Secretary, Royal Historical Society, University College London, Gower St, London, WC1E 6BT. Tel 020 7387 7532

Conditions governing reproduction:

Subject to usual copyright restrictions and condition of the original.

Finding aids:

The material is uncatalogued.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Transferred to the RHS on the amalgamation of the two societies, 1897.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The Royal Historical Society holds copies of the published works of the Camden Society in its library, as well as the archives of the Royal Historical Society

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

A centenary guide to the publications of the Royal Historical Society 1868-1968 and the former Camden Society, 1838-1898, Alexander Taylor Milne, RHS, London 1969.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Historical Manuscripts Commission's On-Line National Register of Archives; `The Camden Society' Charles Johnson, in Royal Historical Society 1868-1968, R A Humphreys, RHS, London, 1969.
Compiled by Alison Field, as part of the London Signpost Survey project.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
September 2003

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