Cripps, Wilfred Joseph (DNB12)

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CRIPPS, WILFRED JOSEPH (1841–1903), writer on plate, was descended from an ancient Cirencester family, members of which took a prominent part in the affairs of the town from the time of Elizabeth, and gained their wealth from the great wool trade of the Cotswolds. His grandfather, Joseph Cripps, sat for Cirencester in parliament, with one short interruption, from 1806 until his death in 1841, when he was succeeded in the representation by his son, William Cripps. The latter, a barrister on the Oxford circuit, became a whip of the Peelite party and a junior lord of the treasury in August 1845, and married his cousin, Mary Anne, daughter of Benjamin Harrison, a descendant of 'Parson Harrison ' who held the living of Cirencester for sixty-three years (1690-1753). Wilfred Joseph Cripps, the eldest surviving issue of this marriage, was born in London on 8 June 1841, and was educated at Kensington grammar school, King's College, London, and Trinity College, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. in 1863, proceeding M.A. in 1866. He took an active part in the volunteer movement, frequently attending the rifle competitions at Wimbledon. In May 1865 he was called to the bar in the Middle Temple, practising for a few years on the Oxford circuit.

About 1871 or 1872 he began his researches into old English plate, and three or four years later, on the introduction of William Lord Bathurst, Charles Octavius Swinnerton Morgan [q. v.] entrusted Cripps with his notes on the subject, with a view to completing the inquiry. Cripps published in 1878 his scholarly treatise, 'Old English Plate.' The foundations of the research had been laid by Sir A. W. Franks, Morgan, and others, but Cripps gave earlier researches a wider vogue. Nine editions of his manual, which greatly stimulated the demand for antique silver, appeared between 1878 and 1906, and each new edition embodied fresh discoveries. Cripps's labours covered a wide field. In April 1892 he read a paper on the old church plate of Northumberland and Durham before the Society of Antiquaries of New- castle-on-Tyne (Arch. Ael. ser. 1. xvi. 249–267). In 1880 he published a volume on ‘Old French Plate,’ which stirred a keen interest in Europe and America (2nd edit. 1893). For the Science and Art Department at South Kensington he prepared in 1881 a handbook dealing with college and corporation plate.

Cripps's expert authority was universally recognised. In October 1880, associated with Sir Philip Cunliffe Owen, he examined by the request of the Russian government the magnificent imperial collection of plate in Russia, and in 1881 he was similarly employed in Sweden and Denmark and at Berlin. In 1880 he was a member of the English sub-commission connected with the Exhibition of Gold and Silver Work at Amsterdam (Athenæum, 28 Feb. 1880, p. 289). Through his efforts valuable replicas of famous objects of artistic workmanship were obtained for the national collections at South Kensington and elsewhere.

Cripps interested himself in the archæology of his native town, and unearthed about the site of the forum of Roman Cirencester remains of the basilica and other principal buildings. His discoveries were communicated to the Society of Antiquaries in two papers, ‘Roman basilica of Corinium at Cirencester’ (Proc. Soc. Ant. new ser. xvii. 201–8), and ‘Roman Altar and other Sculptured Stones found at Cirencester in April 1899’ (ib. xviii. 177–184). He served many years in the royal North Gloucester militia, retiring with the rank of major; he completed in 1875 a history of the regiment which had been begun by Captain Sir J. Maxwell Steele-Graves. He was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in June 1880, and became local secretary for Gloucestershire, was made a C.B. in 1889, and in 1894 received the honorary freedom of the Goldsmiths' Company. Deputy-lieutenant of the county of Gloucester, and J.P. for the counties of Gloucester and Kent, he took a very active share in all local, especially educational, affairs. He keenly interested himself in the local welfare of the conservative cause.

Cripps died at his residence, Cripps Mead, Cirencester, on 26 Oct. 1903, and was buried at Cirencester cemetery. He was twice married: (1) on 31 May 1870 to Maria Harriet Arabella (d. 1881), second daughter of John Robert Daniel-Tyssen; (2) on 2 Dec. 1884 to Helena Augusta Wilhelmine, Countess Bismarck, daughter of Count Bismarck, of Schierstein, Prussia, a relative of the German chancellor. He had no issue.

Cripps also wrote, among many other papers and articles: 1. ‘Notes on Ancient Plate of the Merchant Taylors' Company’ (privately printed), 1877. 2. ‘English and Foreign Silverwork’ (Journ. of Soc. of Arts, 11 May 1883). 3. ‘Report on the Plate at Welbeck Abbey,’ 1883. 4. ‘Church Plate and how to describe it’ (Trans. Bristol and Glouc. Arch. Society, 27 Apr. 1893).

[Proc. Soc. Ant., ser. 2, xx. 110; Archæologia Aeliana, ser. 2, xxv. 188–191; Wilts. and Gloucestershire Standard, 31 Oct. 1903; Burke's Peerage, s.v. Amherst; private information.]

C. W.