Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Caley, John

CALEY, JOHN (d. 1834), antiquary, was the eldest son of John Caley, a grocer in Bishopsgate Street, London (Gray's Inn Admission Register; Kent's London Directory). At an early age he devoted himself to antiquarian pursuits, and busied himself about old books, catalogues, and manuscripts. In this way he made the acquaintance of the well-known Thomas Astle [q. v.], by whose influence he was placed in the Record Office in the Tower. Here he quickly became known as a skilful decipherer of ancient records, and his promotion was rapid. In 1787 he received from Lord William Bentinck, as clerk of the pipe, the keepership of the records in the Augmentation Office, in place of Mr. H. Brooker, deceased (Gent. Mag. vol. lvii. pt. ii. p. 1126); and in 1818, on the death of the Right Hon. George Rose, he was appointed keeper of the records in the ancient treasury at Westminster, formerly the chapter-house of the abbey (ib. vol. lxxxviii. pt. i. p. 367). Meanwhile he had entered himself at Gray's Inn, on 11 Jan. 1786, but never proceeded to the bar. When the first record commission was nominated in 1801, Caley was appointed secretary, an office which he continued to hold until the dissolution of the commission in March 1831. A special office, that of sub-commissioner, to superintend the arranging, repairing, and binding of records, was forthwith created for him, and for discharging this duty he was rewarded with a salary of 500l. a year, besides retaining his two lucrative keeperships. To Caley's influence were attributed many of the scandals which brought the commission into such ill repute. Everything appears to have been left to his discretion, and he did not fail to profit by such easy compliance. We have, too, the testimony of Sir Henry Cole, Mr. Illingworth, and others, that owing to Caley's systematic neglect of duty the arranging and binding of the records were executed in a most disgraceful manner, the lettering and dates being inaccurate in almost every instance. He also removed the seals from a great number of conventual leases, cartæ antiquæ, and Scotch records, many of which were of elaborate and beautiful workmanship, ostensibly for arranging the documents in volumes, but in reality for the convenience of copying them and taking casts to add to his collection at his house in Spa Fields, where were also stored, greatly to their injury, many of the more valuable national archives entrusted to his keeping.

As a sub-commissioner Caley became a joint-editor in no less than fourteen of the works undertaken by the commission. He also printed, at the request of Dr. Burgess, the then bishop of the diocese, a few copies of the ‘Ecclesiastical Survey of the Possessions, &c., of the Bishop of St. David's,’ 8vo, privately printed, 1812 (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. viii. 104, 2nd ser. xi. 233–4). The following year, 1813, he engaged, in conjunction with Dr. Bandinel and Sir Henry Ellis, to prepare a new edition of Dugdale's ‘Monasticon,’ which extended to six volumes, the first of which appeared in 1817, the last in 1830. To this undertaking, however, he did little else than furnish documents (Nichols, Illustr. of Literature, viii. xxxviii). Caley was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in March 1786, and to the eighth volume of the ‘Archæologia’ (pp. 389–405) he contributed a memoir of great interest and research, ‘On the Origin of the Jews in England.’ His other contributions were: in 1789 an extract from a manuscript in the Augmentation Office relative to a wardrobe account of Henry VIII (ix. 243–52); in 1790 a valuation (temp. Henry VIII) of the shrine called Corpus Christi Shrine at York (x. 469–71); and in 1791 the highly curious ‘Survey of the Manor of Wymbledon, alias Wimbleton,’ taken by the parliamentary commissioners in November 1649 (x. 399–448). He was also a fellow of the Royal and Linnean Societies, and a member of the Society of Arts.

Caley died at his house in Exmouth Street, Spa Fields, on 28 April 1834, aged 71. His library, rich in topography and collections of reports and searches made by him as a legal antiquary during a period of fifty years, was sold by Evans in the following July. Several of his manuscripts were acquired by the British Museum (Index to Cat. of Additions to Manuscripts in Brit. Mus., 1841–5, 1854–75, 1876–81).

Applicants for historical documents had to apply at Caley's private house, whither they were brought in bags by his footman. The wrong document might often be brought, and a search which would now occupy two days, free of cost, would then be prolonged through as many weeks, while the scale of payment depended entirely upon the pleasure of the already highly paid official. From the offices, described at the time as ‘dirty and dark,’ the public was rigidly excluded; the contents were kept in a state of the utmost disorder, the only clue to them being the indexes in Caley's possession at his private house. No access whatever was allowed to the indexes, nor indeed to any records except those sent for to Spa Fields for the purposes of inspection.

[Gent. Mag. (1834), ii. 320–1; Commons' Report on Record Commission, 1836; Pamphlets on Record Commission in Brit. Mus.]

G. G.