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Ralph Thoresby
Ralph Thoresby (16 August 165816 October 1724), born in Leedsmarker and is widely credited with being the first historian of that city. He was besides a merchant, non-conformist, fellow of the Royal Society, diarist, author, common-councilman in the Corporation of Leeds, and museum keeper.


Ralph Thoresby was the son of John Thoresby, a Leeds merchant who for a time was an officer under Fairfax during the English Civil War, and was by inclination an antiquarian; and of his wife Ruth, from the village of Bulmermarker, north of Yorkmarker.

According to the preface of The Diary of Ralph Thoresby F.R.S., father and son were alike, deeply religious and both with strong attachments to antiquarian pursuits. John Thoresby established for himself a museum of coins and medals, purchasing at great expense two pre-existing collections owned by the Fairfax family and another family called Stonehouse.

Ralph was educated at Leeds Grammar Schoolmarker, and on the death of his older brother became the eldest son of the family. He was sent at age eighteen to the house of a relation in Londonmarker, as part of his grooming as a merchant. He maintained a diary from this point, fairly consistently, throughout the rest of his life; an edited version survives him in print. And for this reason there is easily available a detailed chronology of his life.

From July 1678 to February 1679, he resided in Hollandmarker to complete his mercantile training; from March onwards until the end of his life he was a resident of Leeds.

He inherited his father's business and museum upon the former's death on October 31, 1679, and provided for his younger brother and sister.

In 1683, he was prosecuted as a non-conformist; evidently this was not a great setback since in 1684 he "took his freedom" (joined) the Eastland and Hamburgh Companies, two of the five regulated companies for foreign commerce (the other being the Russian Company, the Turkey Company, and the African Company).

He was married on 25 February 1685 to Anna Sykes, a daughter of Richard Sykes, one of the Lords of the Manor of Leeds.

In 1689 he established a mill for the preparation of rapeseed oil at Sheepscarmarker; in which, as well as in his other mercantile concerns, he had little, or rather no, success.


In 1690 he made the acquaintance of William Nicolson, an eminent antiquarian scholar and later Bishop of Carlisle, and from this point turned his mind towards the production of a history of Leeds and environs. Throughout the last decade of the century, his fame as an antiquarian slowly rose, as did the public attention paid to his museum - an object of curiosity to strangers visiting the city. As a result of his studies of Roman remains, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1697; some of his communications appear in their transactions. In the same year he was elected an Assistant, or Common-Councilman, in the Corporation of Leeds. He abandoned his connections with the dissenters in 1699.

He appears to have retired altogether from business in 1704, with a small income, and devoted himself to this museum, literary pursuits, and his religious observances.

In 1715, he published his Topographical Survey of the Parish of Leeds, to which he annexed a descriptive catalogue of the curiosities of his museum.

In October 1724 he suffered a paralytic stroke, from which he recovered so far as to be able to speak intelligibly and walk without help. He lingered in a melancholy state until the same month in the year after, when he was carried off by a second stroke. He was buried in choir of the (now old) Leeds Parish Churchmarker. He left a wife, two sons and a daughter, the survivors of his ten children. Both sons were clergymen, who gained preferments to Edmund Gibson, Bishop of Lincoln and later of London.

Thoresby's museum did not survive his death. It was gradually dismembered until the remains were sold off at auction in March 1764. His collection of letters from celebrated men found its way into the British Museummarker, as did some of his bibliographic collection. However much of his correspondence and of his diary have suffered an uncertain fate and are feared irrevocably lost. What could be collected of both was published in edited form, in 1830 by Joseph Hunter, in two volumes. The Monthly Review for April 1830, was scathing about the publication:

Such considerations appear not to have troubled Daniel Hopkin Atkinson, who in 1887 published Ralph Thoresby The Topographer - his Town and Times - "a useful and entertaining commentary on Thorseby's Diary and Correspondence".

Ralph Thoresby High Schoolmarker in Leeds is named after him, as was one of the houses of Leeds Grammar School. When the local historical society was launched on 10 July 1889, it was named The Thoresby Society to honour "one of the greatest worthies Leeds had known".


  • Ducatus Leodiensis; or the Topography of the antient and populous Town and Parish of Leedes and parts adjacent in the West Riding of the County of York, 1715. A second edition was published by Dr. T. D. Whitaker in 1816
  • Museum Thoresbyanum, or A Catalogue of his Museum, with the Curiosities Natural and Artificial, and the Antiquities; particularly the Roman, British, Saxon, Danish, Norman and Scotch coins, with Modern Medals, 1715
  • Vicaria Leodiensis: or the History of the Church of Leedes in Yorkshire, 1724


  1. Ralph Thoresby The Topographer - his Town and Times, Daniel Hopkin Atkinson, 1887, published by Walker and Laycock, available from Microsoft Books Live Search
  2. Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearn, edited by C. E. Doble, 1886, Oxford Historical Society / Claredon Press, available from Microsoft Books Live Search

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