Guided tours from April to October

Bagster’s Comprehensive Bible

This 19th century Bagster’s Comprehensive Bible is one of SWACS’ more enigmatic historical holdings. As the origins are unclear we would be interested to hear from anyone has any idea regarding its provenance.

It may be a relict of West Wemyss Primary School which replaced Wemyss Colliery School (built c.1859). The ‘Dorothy’ school, founded by Dorothy, Lady Grosvenor (nee Wemyss), opened in 1896 and closed in 1981. Several items from the school came into SWACS’ care, including a teachers’ desk, stool and a handbell.

So was the bible also used by a school teacher or perhaps a Sunday School teacher? Is it from a local church? or was it donated by a local individual?

Whoever owned it was something of a biblical scholar, studying the text at length and adding handwritten notes and commentaries throughout. Some notes have slipped out of place. Can you say to which biblical text or book they refer to?

If you or someone you know can tell us more about it’s origins, please get in touch.

Restoration work:

As seen in the pre restoration images, the bible had fallen into a state of disrepair, due largely to wear and tear, heavy handling and poor storage conditions.

  • Pre restoration damage included:
  • Detached spine unable to support the weight of the text block
  • Deteriorating spine linings harbouring dirt, grit, soot and mould
  • Silk end-bands on spine header badly deteriorated
  • Endpapers detached and ‘glued’ to end-boards, due partly to finger licking and flicking plus the effects of damp and mould
  • Several pages detached, creased and torn

Restoration was undertaken by a professional bookbinder who made an excellent job of putting the bible back into working order, cleaning and repairing damaged pages, replacing endpapers, hand sewing a new headband, polishing bindings and hollowing out the spine for ease of use, whilst retaining patina and evidence of use.

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Notes on Messrs. Bagster and Sons, London

Samuel Bagster (1772-1851) was a devout Christian born in London. Educated from the age of seven by Baptist minister and teacher, John Ryland Jnr (1753-1825), he was then indentured to a bookseller and opened his own bookshop in the Strand in 1794.
In 1816 he moved his business to Paternoster Row and produced The English version of the polyglot bible. In the same year he married. Two sons entered the family firm. Samuel the Younger (1800-1835) became an independent printer in 1824 producing many of Bagster & Sons bibles, he also wrote devotional works and an instructive book onThe management of bees. His brother Jonathan (1813-1872) also wrote devotional works and was to continue the family firm with his son and daughter.
Printed and published at a time when the production of bibles was a prerogative of the Crown, Bagster’s comprehensive versions proved popular if controversial in a market that included Crown monopolies on supplies of stationery, bindings and gilding, labour, excise, export and import costs and duties and distribution rights, for bibles based strictly on the authorised King James version. However the law did not apply to bibles printed with additional notes and Bagster’s popular editions included copious explanatory notes, illustrations and maps; all frowned upon by the authorities as they both challenged the authorised version and undercut profits.

Production and distribution of bibles was confined in England to the king’s printer and universities of Oxford and Cambridge, in Scotland to Sir David Hunter Blair (1778–1857) and John Bruce, in Ireland to Scots born, Dublin based, George Grierson (1678-1753) and his descendants.

In a House of Commons Parliamentary report of 1831-1832 on the Establishment, and Printing (King’s Printers), William Waddel (holder of the King’s patent in Scotland) complained against independents such as Bagster –

“No persons in Scotland have a right to print bibles, Testaments, Confessions of Faith, Catechisms, or any articles included in the patent, but the patentees … 
That charges are regulated by the Edinburgh scale of charge. The same forms are used by public offices in Scotland as in London, but are not allowed to be sent from England to Scotland. … 
The Revenue Commissioner in 1824 took the opinion of printers, bookbinders, and stationers, as to the charges, and there has been no alteration of prices. … 
Proceedings were instituted [by Waddel] against the King’s printer in England, in consequence of the Edinburgh Bible Society receiving Bibles at a cheaper rate from the British and Foreign Bible Society than they could be supplied by the King’s printer, Scotland; and but for the public subscription to the British and Foreign Society, the King’s printer, Scotland, could have supplied them cheaper. More Bibles and Testaments have been sold since the prohibition. The patentees would not have interfered with the import from England, but to protect their profits.” 

Pam Cranston, SWACS