Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomson, Richard (1794-1865)

THOMSON, RICHARD (1794–1865), antiquary, born at Fenchurch Street, London, in 1794, was the second son of a Scotsman, who first travelled for and then became a partner in a firm of seed merchants called Gordon, Thomson, Keen, & Co., of Fenchurch Street. For many years he worked zealously for the investigation of the antiquities of London. On 14 Aug. 1834 he and E. W. Brayley the younger [q. v.] were elected joint-librarians of the London Institution in Finsbury Circus, in succession to William Maltby [q. v.] The admirable catalogue of that library, issued in four volumes between 1835 and 1852, was compiled in great measure by Thomson. In this congenial position he passed the rest of his days. He arranged, classified, and illustrated the antiquities found in the excavations for the new building of the Royal Exchange; they were afterwards deposited in the museum of the corporation (Tite, Descriptive Cat. p. xlv), and Thomson contributed poems imitating the great authors to ‘A Garland for the New Royal Exchange’ (1845, 50 copies), edited by Sir William Tite. Thomson died at his rooms in the institution on 2 Jan. 1865, aged 70. He was buried at Kensal Green cemetery in the same grave with a brother who had predeceased him, and a monument was erected to his memory. He was unmarried and died wealthy. During his lifetime he had given the institution anonymously many valuable works, and by his will he left it the sum of 500l.

Thomson's literary labours comprised: 1. ‘Account of Processions and Ceremonies observed in the Coronation of the Kings and Queens of England, exemplified in that of George III and Queen Charlotte,’ 1820. Heraldry was one of his hobbies, and in early life he assisted inquirers in investigating their pedigrees. 2. ‘The Book of Life: a Bibliographical Melody,’ 1820. Fifty copies on paper, two on vellum. Presented to the members of the Roxburghe Club. 3. ‘The Complete Angler. By Izaak Walton. Published by John Major,’ 1823. This beautiful edition was edited by Thomson. 4. ‘Chronicles of London Bridge. By an Antiquary,’ 1827. 2nd ed. 1839. An inlaid copy in folio, illustrated and enlarged, with a manuscript continuation, five volumes in all, is in the Guildhall Library. 5. ‘Illustrations of the History of Great Britain,’ 1828, 2 vols. Vols. 20 and 21 of Constable's ‘Miscellany.’ 6. ‘Tales of an Antiquary’ [anon.], 1828, 3 vols.; new edit. 1832, 3 vols. Dedicated ‘to the author of “Waverley.”’ Sir Walter Scott said that the writer was certainly an antiquary, ‘but he has too much description in proportion to the action. A capital wardrobe of properties, but the performers do not act up to their character’ (Journals, ii. 148). The legend of ‘Killcrop the Changeling’ is reproduced in Nimmo's ‘Popular Tales,’ ii. 238–53. 7. ‘Historical Essay on Magna Charta,’ 1829. 8. ‘Historical Notes for a Bibliographical Description of Mediæval illuminated Manuscripts of Hours, Offices,’ &c. [anon.], 1858. 9. ‘Lectures on Illuminated Manuscripts and the Materials and Practice of Illuminators,’ 1858. 10. ‘An Account of Cranmer's Catechism’ (a memorial book for the friends of William Tite and Richard Thomson), 1862; twelve copies of the ‘Philological Curiosities’ in the ‘Catechism’ were struck off separately in the same year.

[Gent. Mag. 1865, i. 387; Introduction to London Inst. Cat. p. xxiv; information from Mr. Williams of the London Institution.]

W. P. C.