Cooper Abbs Collection

The collection

The Cooper Abbs Collection is a family library started by the Revd Cooper Abbs of Monkwearmouth (1738-1800), and treasured and added to by his descendants. The books individually are not always of significance, however they give an insight into the social history of a well to do North Eastern family library. The library is predominantly of the 18th century, and contains literature, history including Ancient and European, reference books including dictionaries and grammars, and some theology.

Treasures include:

  • First editions of Thomas Percy's Reliques of ancient English poetry (1765); and of Sir Walter Scott's Tales of a grandfather (1830); and the later volumes of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, signed by the author.
  • 16th century edition of Thucydides, once part of the Royal Library, sold by the British Museum as a duplicate in 1787.
  • Eight chirurgical treatises by Richard Wiseman, one of the landmarks of English surgery published in 1719.
  • Knowledge of the heavens and the earth made easy, 1726, a first edition of a popular work on astronomy.

The collectors

Cooper Abbs 1738-1800

  • Born Sunderland
  • MA Magdalen College, Cambridge
  • Ordained priest
  • Justice of the Peace
  • Lived in Monkwearmouth

George Cooper Abbs 1769-?

  • Eldest son of Cooper Abbs
  • BA University College Oxford
  • Passed books to younger brother Bryan

Bryan Abbs 1771-1830

  • Second son of Cooper Abbs
  • Purchased estate of Cleadon in Durham
  • Deputy Lieutenant of County of Durham

George Cooper Abbs 1798-1878

  • Eldest son of Bryan
  • BA St John's College, Cambridge
  • Ordained priest
  • Keen naturalist - member of Tyneside naturalists field club
  • Knew the artist and engraver Thomas Bewick
  • Lived at Cleadon which was sold on his death
  • Library passed to his nephew Henry and then Henry's daughter Kathleen

Cooper Abbs 1802-1872

  • Younger son of Bryan
  • Father of Henry
  • Lawyer and Justice of the Peace
  • Also a friend of Thomas Bewick
  • Daughter Rachel became Mrs Punshon who appears as owner in some of the books

Kathleen Cooper Abbs

  • Classical scholar
  • Lots of charity work, drowned while swimming to raise funds for local churches
  • Involved in education eg as a member of the North Riding Education Committee


The Cooper Abbs Collection was a bequest to the Friends of the National Libraries from Miss Kathleen Cooper Abbs of Mount Grace Priory, Northallerton, who died in 1974. The Friends subsequently decided to deposit the collection at the University of York in 1975.

Collection access

Most of the material in the collection is catalogued and can be accessed via the University of York’s online catalogue. Items can be consulted in the Borthwick Search Room and copies can be made subject to copyright. Material cannot be loaned outside the University of York without the permission of the owners.

Collections elsewhere

Further information