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

CROFT, JOHN (1732–1820), antiquary, was the fifth son of Stephen Croft of Stillington in Yorkshire, who died in 1733, by Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Edmund Anderson, bart. He was born on 28 or 29 Feb. 1732, and, like many other younger sons of old county families, was given the chance of making his fortune in business. Several members of his family before him had been in the wine trade, and Croft was sent when young to Oporto to follow in their steps. He became a member of the factory in that town, and after remaining there for many years returned to England and joined an old-established firm of wine merchants at York, which dealt especially in the wines of Portugal. He was admitted to the freedom of that city in 1770, and acted in 1773 as one of its sheriffs. For the greater part of his life Croft took much interest in antiquarian researches, and was a familiar figure in all the book or curiosity sales of York, with the result that he left behind him at his death an important collection of curiosities acquired, as he was a keen purchaser, at an inconsiderable cost. His eccentricities of manner and dress did not prevent his being generally popular in the city society. It is told of him that he read aloud to his wife the whole of ‘Don Quixote’ in the original Spanish, of which she did not understand a syllable, but she said that she liked to hear it, the language was so sonorous. His memory and mental powers remained unimpaired until the day of his death, which happened suddenly at his house in Aldwark, York, on 18 Nov. 1820, and he was buried in the minster on 24 Nov. The patient woman whom he married was Judith, daughter of Francis Bacon, alderman of York, lord mayor in 1764 and 1777, by his second wife, Catherine Hildrop. She was born at Selby on 26 Dec. 1746, was married 16 June 1774, died 17 June 1824, and was buried near her husband. They had issue two sons, who died before their father. The name of Croft is still identified with the wines of Portugal.

Croft's earliest work might be considered a trade advertisement of his business. It was ‘A Treatise on the Wines of Portugal; also a Dissertation on the Nature and Use of Wines in general imported into Great Britain,’ and its author was described as ‘John Croft, S.A.S., member of the factory at Oporto and wine merchant, York.’ The first edition was printed in that city in 1787, and dedicated to William Constable of Burton Constable; a second edition, corrected and enlarged, was issued in the next year. In 1792 he printed at York, probably for private circulation, ‘A Small Collection of the Beauties of Shakspeare,’ a work of less value than the unpretending, but not useless, ‘Annotations on Plays of Shakespear (Johnson and Steevens's edition), York, 1810,’ which he dedicated to the Society of Antiquaries. Croft was a collector, if not an utterer, of witticisms and repartees, and his note-books of anecdotes and jests were printed anonymously and apparently for circulation among his friends as 'Scrapeana, Fugitive Miscellany, Sans Souci, 1792.' The results of some of his researches among the ancient foundations at York were revealed in a small volume of 'Excerpta Antiqua; or a Collection of Original Manuscripts, 1797,' which he also dedicated to the Society of Antiquaries, and its pages are worthy of examination even now. In 1808 he caused to be printed, without his name, a thin tract of twelve pages entitled 'Rules at the Game of Chess,' to which he prefixed an engraving of 'one of Charlemagne's pawns of ivory about four inches high, kept in the royal treasury of St. Denis, near Paris.' Croft's last publication was 'Memoirs of Harry Rowe, constructed from materials found in an old box after his decease. By Mr. John Croft, wine merchant. Together with the Sham Doctor, a musical farce, by Harry Rowe, with notes by John Croft.' Rowe was trumpet-major to the high sheriffs of Yorkshire and master of a puppet-show.

[Croft pedigree in Foster's Yorkshire Pedigrees: Davies's York Press, pp. 307-10; Yorkshire Gazette, 25 Nov. 1820.]

W. P. C.