Nothing Common about This Book

Published on October 26, 2018

The Christ's Hospital Manuscript

Western Libraries is home to thousands of rare and unique treasures, many of which came from one of our greatest benefactors, bibliophile John Davis Barnett.

Barnett purchased books from across genres and on a vast variety of topics. Commonplace books are one type of book he collected. These are collections of personal notes, observations or other information, recorded by an individual, and bound for personal use. This was common practice from the late 15th to the late 18th century, and these books are unique and valuable records of information, and of the people who created them.

One of the commonplace books Barnett purchased at the turn of the 20th century is a large and beautifully hand-written manuscript by a student in England named Patrick Crichton. It contains text, mathematical equations, diagrams, and maps, which the student copied from other works and sources, and executed with elegant precision in his own hand.

Crichton wrote the manuscript in 1812, when he was 18 years old and a student at Christ's Hospital, one of the oldest boarding schools in England, founded in 1552 by Charles II. According to Clifford Jones, author of The Sea and the Sky: The History of the Royal Mathematical School of Christ's Hospital, about 1,000 of these manuscripts were created by students at the college, but only 59 are still known to exist, and each is unique.

At some point in time, the volume was beautifully bound in leather, and embossed on the front with the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom, and on the back with an 18th century frigate. Recently, found resting patiently for the past 200 years in the middle pages of the book, was a small, paper silhouette of a woman.

This is just one example of the many special and valuable volumes collected and donated to Western Libraries by John Davis Barnett. We hope to digitize it soon, so it can be viewed online by anyone in the world who wishes to examine it. If you'd like to see the Christ's Hospital manuscript in person, visit the Archives and Research Collections Centre in The D.B. Weldon Library.

Mariner's Compass

Crichton's hand drawn illustration of a mariner's compass, which he would have learned for navigation at sea.


An example of Crichton's elegant and flowing handwriting, as appears throughout the manuscript.