Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bray, William (1736-1832)

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BRAY, WILLIAM (1736–1832), antiquary, the fourth and youngest son of Edward Bray of Shere in Surrey, who married Ann, daughter of Rev. George Duncomb, was born in 1736. When only ten years old he was entered at Rugby, and cultivated literature by means of occasional purchases from an itinerant bookseller from Daventry. On one occasion, having ordered a single number of the 'Rambler,' the bookseller, to his amazement, ordered all the copies which had then appeared, a proceeding which, as Bray was wont to declare, nearly ruined him. On leaving school he was placed with an attorney, Mr. Martyr, at Guildford, but not long afterwards obtained a position in the board of green cloth, which he held for nearly fifty years and was then superannuated. On the death of his elder brother, the Rev. George Bray, on 1 March 1803, he inherited the family estates in Shere and Gomshall. In 1758 he married Mary, daughter of Henry Stephens of Wipley, in Worplesdon, who died 14 Dec. 1796, aged 62, having had numerous children, though only three, one son and two daughters, lived to maturity, and the son predeceased his father. Bray was an incessant worker. His position in the county and his legal training caused him to be associated in many charitable and civil trusts in Surrey. He died at Shere 21 Dec. 1832, aged 96, and a mural monument is erected to his memory in its church. Bray was elected F.S.A. in 1771, became the treasurer of the society in 1803, and contributed frequently to the 'Archæologia.' His first publication was the 'Sketch of a Tour into Derbyshire and Yorkshire;' originally published anonymously in 1777, the second edition appearing with the author's name in 1783, and though its pages were somewhat overburdened with antiquarian lore, it was frequently reprinted and included in Pinkerton's 'Travels.' His next work, which was printed privately, was 'Collections relating to Henry Smith, sometime Alderman of London.' When the Rev. Owen Manning, who had begun a history of Surrey, died in 1801, Bray undertook to complete the work, and in its prosecution visited every parish and church within the county's borders. The first volume was issued in 1804, the second in 1809, and the third in 1814; it still remains one of the best county histories that England can boast of. In the British Museum there exists a duplicate of this work in thirty folio volumes, with a special title-page dated 1847, and with over 6,000 prints and drawings collected by Mr. R. Percival. Bray's last literary labour was the printing and editing of the 'Memoirs of the Life and Writings of John Evelyn, comprising his Diary, &c.,' which was first published in 1818 in two volumes, appeared in 1827 in five volumes, and has been often reissued.

[Manning and Bray's Surrey, i. 495, 523, iii. 687; Gent. Mag. 1833, pp. 87, 88; Rugby School Register, i. 34; Anderson's British Topography, 268.]

W. P. C.