Figuring out who once owned a book can be an intriguing and enlightening puzzle –as was recently the case with a book the Library acquired in 1924. I only needed to make a minor adjustment to the catalog record, but the book’s eighteenth century engraved bookplate piqued my interest. The book, The state of the prisons in England and Wales by philanthropist and penal reformer, John Howard (1726-1790), was published in England in 1780. The bookplate is that of Francis Page of Middle Aston. On the opposite flyleaf is the 19th century signature of “Mrs. C S B Spear.” Some biographical sleuthing revealed the intriguing stories of two nearly forgotten former owners.
Sir Francis Page (1661?-1741), who bought the manor of Middle Aston in 1710, was a King’s Bench judge, infamously known as “the hanging judge.” He obviously couldn’t have owned a book published in 1780, yet his two marriages were childless; there were no more Francis Pages. So he willed Middle Aston to his great-nephew, Francis Bourne, on the interesting condition that the younger Francis replace his surname with “Page.” This latter Francis Page, a Member of Parliament for the University of Oxford, died (also childless) in 1803.
Mrs. C.S.B. Spear, it turns out, was born Catherine Swan in 1814, near Worcester, Massachusetts. She was active in the anti-slavery and temperance movements, as was her first husband, Abel Brown, who died as a result of mob violence in 1845. Ten years later she later married Rev. Charles Spear of Boston, an advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and editor of the periodical “The Prisoners’ friend.” Charles Spear died in 1863, but Catherine continued to work for the abolition of capital punishment well into her 80s.