Man with lifelong love affair with literature

Thomas Hutchinson with his pupils at Pegswood School, courtesy of Mr Robert Dixon.
Thomas Hutchinson with his pupils at Pegswood School, courtesy of Mr Robert Dixon.

At Preston Park Museum and Grounds, just outside the town centre of Stockton-On-Tees, we have recently finalised documenting the Thomas Hutchinson collection, a process which began back in October 2013 with funding sourced through the Arts Council England.

The project, which entailed six months of work, was entitled ‘Unlocking the Past’ and sought to explore, collate and celebrate the history of the museum’s collection through a number of themed strands. The aims of the project were to make our ceramic, furniture and Hutchinson book collection more accessible to the public whilst providing innovative information to the wider public, beginning with an in-depth inventory of the Hutchinson collection, which includes his own writings, extensive book collection, newspaper clippings and personal correspondence.

Thomas Hutchinson.

Thomas Hutchinson.

Initially, each individual item was inventoried and designated a new location accordingly in the newly built collections access store. The original estimate of the number of books was 1,500, with 1,800 having been inventoried at the conclusion of the project, and the number continues to rise, with the collection currently standing at 2,500 books. With the help of a team of enthusiastic and conscientious volunteers these additional books were discovered, inventoried and finally stored appropriately.

Thomas Hutchinson was born in Newcastle in 1856. Details of his early life are scarce, but we know that he was raised in the city and in 1877 Hutchinson, at the age of 21, gained one of the first student teaching placements on a scholarship basis at Rutherford College, known today as Northumbria University. After completing his studies he joined a junior school in the pit village of Pegswood, teaching children from a range of social backgrounds.

To his pupils he was affectionately known as Hutch, and in a time of great social change and upheaval Hutchinson would teach those on the margins of society, such as miners’ children, who were often displaced regularly as they moved from one colliery to the next, and as such had difficulty attending conventional schools.

Illness and disease would also cause a large number of children to either physically be unable to attend class or sadly lose their life, and Hutchinson’s approach to teaching aimed to maximise the amount of time every child spent in education, adhering to his motto that ‘whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well’ — an approach to life that he impressed upon his pupils at every opportunity.

Hutchinson’s approach to teaching aimed to maximise the amount of time every child spent in education, adhering to his motto that ‘whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well’ — an approach to life that he impressed upon his pupils.

Hutchinson quickly worked his way to the post of headteacher over two years, settling himself in Morpeth with his wife Sarah, where they started their family. The couple remained at Morpeth, and he continued to teach until his retirement in 1920 at the age of 64. Throughout his career and his life, Hutchinson never lost sight of his commitment to educate those less advantaged than himself.

Alongside his teaching, Hutchinson developed a hobby of collecting early publications and first editions of some of the most notable literary figures of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, some of whom were his contemporaries. It is believed that he began collecting around the late 1870s, at the time he had begun his study to become a teacher.

The collection became separated in the early 20th century, with the first sale taking place at Sotheby’s in 1905; a copy of the catalogue for the sale can be found in Hutchinson’s personal leather-bound inventory within the collection, affectionately entitled The Little Library of a Country Bookworm.

The second sale took place in 1921 at Anderson and Garland Auctioneers, Newcastle on June 7, 8 and 9. The sale lots comprised of various valuable first editions and rare books.

'Ballades of a Country Bookworm' by Thomas Hutchinson, 1888.

'Ballades of a Country Bookworm' by Thomas Hutchinson, 1888.

It is acknowledged that he sold the first lot of books at Sotheby’s to fund his son’s tuition fees, with written evidence found in The Little Library of a Country Bookworm. Why he decided to sell 978 of his books in the 1921 sale, or indeed the final inventory of the number sold, is unknown, but a conversation between Hutchinson’s grandson and a member of the museum’s specialist collections team may provide a clue as to the motive behind the clear-out, with the recounting of an early childhood memory of every available room in the family household being crammed full of books.

The remainder of Thomas Hutchinson’s collection of books was donated to the museum in 1973 by his niece who lived in Stockton-On-Tees, on behalf of Thomas Hutchinson’s daughter, Dora, who after the death of her mother and father remained in the family home.

The content of the collection ranges from mid-17th century theological essay collections, such as George Herbert’s A Priest to the Temple or The Country Parson, to more modern works of fiction from the Edwardian period, with poetry anthologies and playbooks also prevalent. It is believed that Hutchinson sourced his first editions and rarest books from specialist auction houses in London and Newcastle.

Hutchinson’s own self-published works, of which there are three known and a further two remaining incomplete, centre on Northern dialect and rhythm, with the majority of his works written in verse.

Fond of reading and writing, Hutchinson had known some of the greatest literary and political figures of the age, from Robert Louis Stevenson, Lionel Johnson, Joseph Cowen and Joseph Crawhall to William Winter and Thomas James Wise. Some of the correspondence between Hutchinson and these contemporaries were found within the collection in the form of letters and notes pasted within books, with further exchanges coming to light upon research and interviews with surviving family members.

In his retirement Hutchinson worked for the Morpeth Herald, publishing small poetical pieces, and continued to write poetry up until his death in 1938.