The Watercolours of Archbishop Sumner

The activities of virtually all Archbishops of Canterbury between the late 13th and mid-17th centuries are recorded in the series of bound volumes known as the Archbishops’ registers, which are preserved in the Library and are among its most frequently accessed items. But the registers decrease in significance after 1660, and the survival of records documenting Archbishops’ activities is disappointingly low from then until the early 19th century.

It is highly likely that relevant records were created, but that they were considered the personal property of the Archbishop to do with as he chose. For example, Archbishop William Wake (in office from 1716-1737) left his papers to his Oxford college, Christ Church. Some material, such as from the time of Archbishop Charles Longley (1862-1868), has returned to the Library’s care after passing through the hands of descendants. It is possible that some Archbishops were prepared to see records disposed of to avoid future scrutiny.


Archbishop John Bird Sumner, portrait held in Lambeth Palace.


Sadly it is believed that the correspondence of Archbishop John Bird Sumner (1848-1862) was destroyed in its entirety. Sumner was a keen artist, and as a very small consolation, the Library holds two albums of his watercolours. The first (Ref: MS 1403) was presented to the Library in 1917 by the poet and author Arthur Christopher (A C) Benson, who is perhaps best known for writing the lyrics of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. He was part of a famous literary family as one of the six children of the later Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson.


Archbishop Sumner watercolours of land surrounding Addington Palace (Ref: MS4774 f.11r and f.22r).


The second album (Ref: MS 4774) album contains 21 watercolour views of the parkland surrounding Addington Palace near Croydon, featuring trees, cattle, sheep, and rural labourers. Addington was the official summer residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury during the 19th century (it still stands and is used as a conference and wedding venue). Also included is a distant view of the partially reconstructed Crystal Palace at Sydenham Hill, after its move from Hyde Park. The reconstruction began in August 1852 and it was re-opened in June 1854, so the work is likely to be from between those dates.

Archbishop Sumner watercolour of land surrounding Addington Palace, with the Crystal Palace in the distance (Ref: MS4774 f.5r).

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