Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Allan, George
ALLAN, GEORGE (1736–1800), a celebrated antiquary and topographer, son of James Allan, of Blackwell Grange, near Darlington, co. Durham, was born 7 June 1736. He had an extensive practice as an attorney at Darlington, but chiefly devoted his energies to antiquarian pursuits, with especial reference to the history of Durham. He acquired, at great expense, the various collections known as Gylls's, Hunter's, Mann's, Hodgson's, and Swainston's MSS. He also purchased the rich and splendid museum of natural history belonging to Marmaduke Tunstall, of Wycliffe, the birds alone of which had cost 5000l. The Rev. Thomas Rundall, vicar of Ellingham, Northumberland—previously usher, then headmaster, of Durham Grammar School—bequeathed to him in 1779 twenty manuscript volumes of collections relating to the counties of Durham and Northumberland. To these manuscript treasures he added a vast mass of charters, transcripts of visitations, legal and genealogical records, and printed works on history and topography; and the noble library thus accumulated Allan generously laid open to the use of the antiquaries of his time. Hutchinson's well-known ‘History of Durham’ (3 vols. 1785–1794) was undertaken at his instigation, and the chief material was furnished by Allan from five large manuscript volumes previously arranged and digested, besides which he contributed engravings of coins, seals, and other illustrations.
In 1764 he had an offer of the place of Richmond Herald, but refused the appointment as incompatible with his established professional connection and future prospects. In 1766 he married Anne, only daughter and heiress of James Colling Nicholson, Esq., of Scruton, Yorkshire, by whom he had six children—George Allan, who succeeded him at the Grange, and was M.P. for the city of Durham 1812; James Allan, captain 29th foot; and four daughters. In 1744 he was elected fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, to whose library he presented twenty (or twenty-six) manuscript volumes of collections relating to the university of Oxford, made by the Rev. William Smith, rector of Melsonby.
About 1768 he set up a private press at the Grange, and from that time worked at it indefatigably, producing many valuable antiquarian and historical books and pamphlets, now very rare and valuable, of which it is scarcely possible to make a complete list. We know of the following, some without date:—1. ‘Charter granted by Queen Elizabeth . . . . Free Grammar School at Darlington,’ 1567. 2. ‘Inspeximus of the Surrender . . . . Monastery of St. Cuthbert at Durham,’ 1540. 3. ‘Foundation Charter of the Cathedral Church at Durham,’ 1541. 4. ‘Collections relating to St. Edmund's Hospital at Gatesheved, from 1247,’ 1769. 5. ‘Collections relating to the Hospital of Gretham from 1272,’ 1770. 6. ‘Collections relating to Sherburn Hospital, from 1181,’ 1771. 7. ‘Recommendatory Letter of Oliver Cromwell to William Lenthall, Esq., Speaker . . . . College and University of Durham.’ 8. ‘Letter from William Frankeleyn, Rector of Houghton-le-Spring, to Cardinal Wolseley, . . . Coal Mines at Whickham and the Cardinal's Mint.’ 9. ‘Address and Queries . . . compiling a complete Civil and Ecclesiastical History of the County Palatine of Durham,’ 1774. 10. ‘Antiquarian Tracts, selected from the Archæologia.’ 11. ‘A Sketch of the Life and Character of Bishop Trevor,’ 1776. 12. ‘The Legend of St. Cuthbert, by Robert Hegg, 1626,’ 1777. 13. ‘Origin and Succession of the Bishops of Durham,’ 1779. 14. ‘Hall's MS. Catalogue of Bishops, from the Dean and Chapter's Library.’
He also issued, as early as 1763, a prospectus for an elaborate copper-plate peerage in forty-two numbers, but finding the expense would reach some thousands of pounds he relinquished the scheme after publishing the first number. He also engraved several charters in facsimile and seals of bishops for his own and other works. He was so industrious in literary matters that for the mere love of typographical art he printed gratis some of the works, pamphlets, and poetical pieces of his friends. There are now existing seven works of Mr. Pennant's, done by him, some with the imprint, ‘Printed by the friendship of George Allan, Esq., at his private press at Darlington.’ He was so fond of transcribing that, shortly before his death, he copied a manuscript visitation by Dugdale, 2 vols, fol., and emblazoned the arms neatly. In short, ‘every day of his life he is said to have written almost a quire.’ His copy of Le Neve's ‘Fasti’ contained many thousands of corrections and additions when he offered it to Gutch for his edition of that work.
Allan was of a kindly nature, and the only shadow resting on the story of his life is a long-standing quarrel with his father, which continued until the death of the latter in 1789; but the literary correspondence of the time seems to imply that the fault was not with the son. He retired from the law in 1790, and died suddenly of a second paralytic stroke, 18 May 1800.
His great library and museum was sold under the will, and purchased by his son, George Allan, who with like liberality opened the collections to literary men. Amongst others indebted to them were Robert Surtees, in his ‘History and Antiquities of Durham,’ Sir Cuthbert Sharp, in his ‘History of Hartlepool,’ and John Nichols, for the materials which furnished the lives of Bishop Talbot and Mr. Hutchinson.
Excellent steel portraits of the subject of this memoir and his literary colleague, Hutchinson, seated in council in the Grange library, are given in vol. ix. of Nichols's ‘Literary Anecdotes.’[Brit. Top. i. 332; Hutchinson's Durham; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes and Illustrations; Gent. Mag. lxx. 802, lxxxvi. pt. 2, 137; Surtees's History of Durham, iii. 371.]