Currer, Frances Mary Richardson (DNB00)

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CURRER, FRANCES MARY RICHARDSON (1785–1861), book collector, born 3 March 1785, was the posthumous daughter and sole heiress of the Rev. Henry Richardson (1758–1784), who, a short time before his death, took the name of Currer upon succeeding to the estates of Sarah Currer after the death of his uncle. Her mother was Margaret Clive Wilson, only surviving child and heiress of Matthew Wilson of Eshton Hall, Yorkshire. After the death of her husband Mrs. Richardson married her cousin, Matthew Wilson. Their descendants still own Eshton.

From her earliest youth Miss Currer was fond of books and reading. ‘She is in possession of both the Richardson and Currer estates,’ says Mrs. Dorothy Richardson in 1815, ‘and inherits all the tastes of the former family, having collected a very large and valuable library, and also possessing a fine collection of prints, shells, and fossils, in addition to what were collected by her great-grandfather and great uncle’ (account of the Richardson family in Nichols, Illustrations, i. 225–52). ‘A Catalogue of the Library of Miss Currer at Eshton Hall, in the deanery of Craven and county of York,’ drawn up by Robert Triphook, bookseller, was printed in 1820. The edition was limited to fifty copies. Eshton Hall, which is very picturesquely situated, was partially rebuilt in 1825, the portion containing the library being then erected. Miss Currer continually added to her collection, and found it necessary to have a new ‘Catalogue’ compiled by Mr. C. J. Stewart. One hundred copies of this handsome volume were printed in 1833 for private circulation. It contains four steel engravings representing the book-rooms and outside of the house; two may be seen in Dibdin's works quoted below. The catalogue is admirably arranged after a modification of Hartwell Horne's system of classification, and has a good alphabetical index. It is a model catalogue of a private library, and is now rare and much sought after. Miss Currer's library was chosen with a view to practical usefulness, but it contained many rarities. It was rich in natural science, topography, antiquities, and history. There was a fair collection of Greek and Latin classics. The manuscripts included the correspondence (1523–4) of Lord Dacre, warden of the east and middle marches, the Hopkinson papers, and the Richardson correspondence. The books were all in choice condition, many with fine bindings.

In 1835 she was at the expense of printing for private circulation ‘Extracts from the Literary and Scientific Correspondence of Richard Richardson, M.D., of Bierley, Yorkshire,’ her ancestor, edited by Dawson Turner. Dibdin describes Eshton Hall and its literary and artistic treasures in his usual enthusiastic manner (Reminiscences, ii. 949–957), and gives some further details on a second visit (Bibliographical Tour, ii. 1081–1090). The ‘Tour’ is dedicated to Miss Currer. He estimates the number of volumes in the library at fifteen thousand. Another authority (Sir J. B. Burke, Seats and Arms of the Nobility, &c., 1852, i. 127), who furnishes an account of the house and its contents at a later period, places the number at twenty thousand. She died at Eshton Hall, 28 April 1861, and was buried at Gargrave, Yorkshire.

She was an extremely accomplished and amiable woman, and had the scholar's as well as the collector's love of books. She was unfortunately deaf, and although not unsocial, found among books the chief occupation of her life. Dibdin refers to her as being ‘at the head of all female collectors in Europe’ (Reminiscences, ii. 949). She was an intimate friend of Richard Heber, and gossip whispered that there was once some likelihood of a marriage between them. It was believed she had intended her library to remain as an heirloom at Eshton Hall, but the principal part was sold by Messrs. Sotheby in August 1862. The sale produced nearly 6,000l. (Athenæum), 16 Aug. 1862). A fine collection of coins and medals was also sold. The books contain an heraldic book-plate, and are generally noticeable for their fine condition. Dibdin speaks of a whole-length portrait at Eshton of Miss Currer when about twenty-eight years of age, painted by Masquerier (Tour, ii. 1083).

[Gent. Mag. 3rd ser. xi. 1861, pp. 89–90; Annual Register, 1861, pp. 425–6; Burke's Peerage, 1887; Whitaker's Craven, 3rd ed. 1878; Martin's Catalogue of Privately Printed Books, 2nd ed. 1854, pp. 257, 445, 459; Nichols's Illustrations, i. 225–52.]

H. R. T.