Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Topham, John
TOPHAM, JOHN (1746–1803), antiquary, born on 6 Jan. 1746 at Elmly, near Huddersfield, was the third son of Matthew Topham (d. 1773), vicar of Withernwick and Mapleton in Yorkshire, and of his wife Ann, daughter of Henry Willcock of Thornton in Craven. Matthew was the fifth son of Christopher Topham of Caldbergh and Withernwick. John early showed an inclination for antiquarian study. He proceeded to London while young to fill a small appointment under Philip Carteret Webb [q. v.], solicitor to the treasury. By his influence he obtained a place in the state paper office with Sir Joseph Ayloffe [q. v.] and Thomas Astle [q. v.] On 5 Feb. 1771 he was admitted to Lincoln's Inn, and on 5 April 1779 he was elected a member of the Royal Society. In May 1781 he was appointed a deputy-keeper of the state papers, and in April 1783 a commissioner in bankruptcy (Gent. Mag. 1781 p. 244, 1783 i. 367). On 19 March 1787 he became a bencher of Gray's Inn, and on 29 Nov. was elected treasurer of the Society of Antiquaries, to which he had been admitted a fellow in 1767 (Foster, Reg. of Admissions to Gray's Inn, p. 393; Gent. Mag. 1787, ii. 1119). About 1790 he became librarian to the archbishop of Canterbury, in succession to Michael Lort [q. v.] He also filled the offices of registrar to the charity for the relief of poor widows and children of clergymen and of treasurer to the orphan charity school. He died without issue at Cheltenham on 19 Aug. 1803, and was buried in Gloucester Cathedral, where a marble monument was erected to him in the nave (Fosbroke, History of Gloucester City, 1819, p. 141). On 20 Aug. 1794 he married Mary, daughter and coheiress of Mr. Swinden of Greenwich, Kent.
Besides making numerous contributions to the ‘Archæologia’ of the Society of Antiquaries, Topham rendered important services to historians by his work among the state papers. Together with Philip Morant [q. v.], Richard Blyke [q. v.], and Thomas Astle he collected and arranged the ‘Rotuli Parliamentorum’ from 1278 to 1503, published for the record commission, to which he was secretary, in six volumes between 1767 and 1777. In 1775 he edited Francis Gregor's translation of Sir John Fortescue's ‘De Laudibus Legum Angliæ’ and (in collaboration with Richard Blyke) Sir John Glanvill's ‘Reports of certain Cases … determined … in Parliament in the twenty-first and twenty-second years of James I,’ to which he prefixed ‘an historical account of the ancient right of determining cases upon controverted elections.’ In 1781 the Society of Antiquaries published a tract by him entitled ‘A Description of an Antient Picture in Windsor Castle representing the Embarkation of King Henry VIII at Dover, May 31, 1520’ (London, 8vo), and in 1787 he contributed ‘Observations on the Wardrobe Accounts of the twenty-eighth year of King Edward I’ [1299–1300] to the ‘Liber Quotidianus Contrarotulatoris Garderobæ,’ published by the same society under his direction.
Topham's library was sold in 1804, and several of his manuscripts were purchased by the British Museum. Among these may be mentioned the Topham charters, in fifty-six volumes, relating to lands granted to various religious houses in England (Sims, Handbook, p. 150).[Poulson's History of Holderness, i. 474; Gent. Mag. 1794 ii. 765, 1803 ii. 794; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. x. 366, 415; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, iii. 202, 206, 250, viii. 134; Nichols's Lit. Illustr. vol. vi. passim.]