In Haunt

The twenty-second instalment as part of an ongoing series for Haunt Manchester by Dr Peter N. Lindfield FSA, exploring Greater Manchester’s Gothic architecture and hidden heritage. Peter’s previous Haunt Manchester articles include features on Ordsall HallAlbert’s Schloss and Albert Hall, the Mancunian Gothic Sunday School of St Matthew’sArlington House in Salford, Minshull Street City Police and Session Courts and their furnitureMoving Manchester's ShamblesManchester’s Modern Gothic in St Peter’s Square, what was St John’s ChurchManchester CathedralThe Great Hall at The University of ManchesterSt Chad’s in Rochdale and more. From the city’s striking Gothic features to the more unusual aspects of buildings usually taken for granted and history hidden in plain sight, a variety of locations will be explored and visited over the course of 2020. 

In this article he considers the Georgian craftsman and antiquary Thomas Barritt (1743–1820) of Manchester, in light of a video series (see here) Peter has created for Chetham’s Library, where the majority of Barritt’s manuscripts are held. Peter has previously written about Chetham’s Library in a Haunt Manchester article here


Below - Fig.1: Thomas Barritt of Manchester’s book-plate self-portrait. Image Courtesy of Chetham’s Library, Manchester.

Image Courtesy Of Chetham’s Library, Manchester

Dr Peter N. Lindfield FSA is a Senior Research Associate in the Departments of English and History at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has published widely on Georgian Gothic architecture and design broadly conceived, as well as heraldry and the relevance of heraldic arts to post-medieval English intellectual, cultural, and aesthetic culture. Last year, as part of Gothic Manchester Festival 2019, he co-organised an event at Chetham’s Library Baronial Hall with Professor Dale Townshend titled ‘Faking Gothic Furniture’ (it also features, along with The John Rylands Library, in a previous article by Peter, here). This involved discussing the mysterious George Shaw (1810-76), a local Upper Mill lad who developed an early interest in medieval architecture and heraldry, going on to create forgeries of Tudor and Elizabethan furniture for a number of high-profile individuals and places at the time, including Chetham’s!

Currently Peter is completing his Leverhulme-funded research project exploring forged antiquarian materials in Georgian Britain, and also working on the recently re-discovered Henry VII and Elizabeth of York marriage bed, which itself was the inspiration behind many of Shaw’s so-called ‘Gothic forgeries’.

A Man from History: Thomas Barritt of Manchester

Thomas Barritt (1743–1820) (Fig.1) is a really interesting character from Georgian Manchester. He worked as a saddler in Hanging Ditch, close to the Cathedral and Chetham’s Library, meaning that he worked as a craftsman with leather. This undoubtedly brought him into close contact with notable families within Lancashire. Barritt married three times, one of his legs was replaced with a cork prosthetic having lost the limb as a youngster, and one of his children, Thomas Barritt the Younger, fled to the United States of America because of his strong Jacobite (Catholic) sympathies.

Barritt was not only a craftsman—he was a keen study throughout his life, exploring a range of material that typically interested people known as antiquaries; a class of gentlemen that were often ridiculed in print—both visually and in novels—for concentrating upon small detail rather than looking at the ‘bigger picture’. This is illustrated especially well by Thomas Rowlandson’s 1797 watercolour ‘Gouty Gulston the Antiquarian at Antwerp’ (Fig.2) now in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), CA, USA. Like other antiquaries, such as ‘Gouty’ Gulston depicted by Rowlandson, Barritt recorded and recovered the past by examined historic architecture, fragments of all sorts, and historic deeds. The trappings of this studious antiquarian ‘calling’ can be seen in his self-portrait (Fig.1), which includes the historic arms, armour, family trees, coins, and manuscripts that interested him so much. Barritt was concerned with Manchester’s and Lancashire’s medieval, Gothic history. He was also interested in one of the most demonstrable marks of learning and social status: heraldry.

Below - Fig.2: Thomas Rowlandson, ‘Gouty Gulston the Antiquarian at Antwerp’, 1797. M.49.15, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA. Image in public domain.

Thomas Rowlandson, ‘Gouty Gulston the Antiquarian at Antwerp’

The vast majority of Barritt’s manuscripts are held at Chetham’s Library in central Manchester, and over the past month I have been recording and producing a number of videos examining various aspects of Barritt’s life and antiquarian interests. These videos are now live on Chetham’s website, here, and in later 2020 I will be running an online colloquium in collaboration with Chetham’s on Barritt, to which anyone interested in Lancashire, Barritt himself, antiquarianism, heraldry, topographical studies, and so on, is welcome to attend. The first, introductory video from my series of Barritt is found below, and please visit the Chetham’s website to see the remainder.

Barritt is a marginal figure within the traditional culture of antiquarianism, and this research and engagement project has sought to raise his profile to a level appropriate to his industry, skill, and zeal.

I wish to thank Chetham’s Library for allowing me to undertake this project, which is based heavily upon their manuscript collection, and for making me a Visiting Curator at the Library.

By Dr Peter N. Lindfield.

Image credits in the captions. 

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