Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Torre, James

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TORRE, JAMES (1649–1699), antiquary and genealogist, was the son of Gregory Torre by his wife Anne, daughter and heir of John Farr of Hepworth; he was baptised at Haxey in Lincolnshire on 30 April 1649. Torre's family came originally from Warwickshire, but since the time of Henry IV had lived in or about the Isle of Axholm in Lincolnshire (preface to Drake, Eboracum). His father bore arms for the king in the civil war, and was obliged to compound for his sequestered estate at Goldsmiths' Hall. Torre was educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he spent two and a half years, graduating B.A. in 1669. He entered the Inner Temple as a student, but appears never to have been called to the bar. His inclination led him to the study of ecclesiastical antiquities and genealogies. ‘The former he followed with that prodigious application and exactness as perhaps never any man before or since could equal’ (ib.) Settling at York, he practically devoted his life to research into the ecclesiastical antiquities of Yorkshire. His collections relating thereto, in five folio volumes, the result of most minute and laborious effort, are in the possession of the dean and chapter of York. The first volume bears the title ‘Antiquities Ecclesiastical of the City of York concerning Churches, Parochial Conventual Chapels, Hospitals, and Gilds, and in them Chantries and Interments, also Churches Parochial and Conventual within the Archdeaconry of the West Riding, collected out of Publick Records and Registers, A.D. 1691.’ The other archdeaconries are treated in similar fashion in two more volumes; the fourth volume consists of peculiars belonging to the church or fee. All are indexed. ‘These collections serve as an index or key to all the records of the archbishops, deans, and chapters, and all other offices belonging to the church or see of York’ (preface to Drake, Ebor.) They were presented to the chapter library by Archbishop Sharp's executors (Sharp, Life of Sharp, ed. T. Newcome, i. 137). Torre's method with regard to parochial churches was to notice briefly in whom the lay interest was vested at an early period, following Kirby's ‘Inquest’ for the most part; next in whom the patronage of the church vested. He also went through the wills proved at York, extracting from them all clauses relating to the interments of the testators, and appended the same to the accounts given of the churches in which such interments were to take place. The number of records to which Torre's manuscripts form a kind of index is absolutely startling (preface to Burton, Monasticon Eboracense, 1758). These collections have proved of the greatest service to Yorkshire topographers, Hunter speaking of them ‘as a vast treasure of information,’ and Drake owning that his work is ‘but a key to some part of Torre's collections’ (preface to Drake, Ebor.)

Torre also wrote five volumes in folio, entitled ‘English Nobility and Gentry, or supplemental Collections to Sir William Dugdale's “Baronage,”’ wherein Dugdale's work is transcribed and corrected, and genealogies of many families of lesser note inserted; these volumes (1898) are in the possession of the Rev. Henry Torre, rector of Norton Curlieu, Warwick.

Torre died on 31 July 1699 of ‘a contagious disorder then prevalent’ (Thoresby, Diary) at Snydall, Yorkshire, shortly after his purchase of the Snydall estate; he was buried in the parish church, Normanton, where there is a brass to his memory. Thoresby speaks of Torre as ‘the famous antiquary … a comely proper gentleman’ (ib.)

He married, first, Elizabeth, youngest daughter of the Rev. William Lincolne, D.D., of Bottesford (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. v. 507); secondly, Anna, daughter of Nicholas Lister of Rigton, by whom he left a son Nicholas and a daughter.

A portrait of Torre, painted in oils, is in the possession of the Rev. H. J. Torre, rector of Norton Curlieu.

A small octavo volume published and printed in York in 1719, and entitled ‘The Antiquities of York, collected from the Papers of C. Hildyard, with Notes and Observations by J. T.,’ is nothing more than a transcript of ‘a lean catalogue’ (Nicholson, Engl. Hist. Lib. fol. p. 27) of the mayors and sheriffs of York, which was published in 1664 by C. Hildyard, and ‘which is crept into the world again under the title of “The Antiquities of York City,” with the name of James Torre, gent., as author prefixed to it’ (preface to Drake, Ebor.)

[Stonehouse's History of the Isle of Axholme; Davies's York Press, and authorities quoted in text.]

W. C.-r.