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Rare Tudor manuscript owned by Wisbech antique collector set to go under the hammer



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A rare Tudor manuscript designed to help with swan-keeping in the era when mute swans were owned by the English crown is set to go under the hammer this summer.

The two-volume manuscript, which belonged to Wisbech antique dealer Peter Crofts, is included in Sworders’ August 23 sale of Books and Maps in Stansted Mountfitchet and was used from the 16th to the19th century by landowners in Norfolk and Suffolk.

A favourite delicacy for the banqueting table, the swan has been deemed a royal bird from the Middle Ages. All swans flying free on open and common waters were deemed the property of the crown and only the monarch could grant the privilege of owning a 'game' of swans to individuals or institutions.

Peter Crofts and his wife Pat. Photo: Sworders.
Peter Crofts and his wife Pat. Photo: Sworders.

All such birds had to be marked and pinioned to assist in any dispute over ownership, or for swan upping, the annual overseeing of the marking of the new cygnets. A Swan-Master was appointed both to care for the royal swans and to oversee and regulate swan-keeping throughout England. He was assisted by deputies with responsibility for a specific and manageable region.

The manuscript included in Sworders’ sale references the ‘Hundred of Wisbech’ in Norfolk and Suffolk. The first volume dated 1566 contains over 600 marks, followed by 19 pages of manuscript notes concerning the ‘Laws and Ordinances regarding swan’.

The names start with the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, on to the Bishop of Ely and the Dean of York and finish with wealthy landowners.

A rare Tudor manuscript designed to help with swan-keeping in the era when mute swans were owned by the English crown to be sold with an estimate of £8000- 16,000. Photo: Sworders.
A rare Tudor manuscript designed to help with swan-keeping in the era when mute swans were owned by the English crown to be sold with an estimate of £8000- 16,000. Photo: Sworders.

The second volume is dated 1834 and includes notes on swan marks followed by 84 pages of swan marks and an index of owners. A similar manuscript was sold by Christies in 1999. This one, from the estate of Wisbech dealer Peter Croft, is guided at £8,000-16,000. More details can be found here.

Peter Crofts was a big man in many senses of the word. Broad and above average height, with thick white hair and clear penetrating eyes, he cut an imposing figure. Above all, he was a big man in terms of his courage, spirit and determination to make the most of life.

Peter was born in Elm, a small village south of Wisbech. His parents were well-known professional farmers and Peter joined the family firm, where he remained active until his death.

Peter Crofts lost both legs in an air crash. Photo: Sworders.
Peter Crofts lost both legs in an air crash. Photo: Sworders.

After leaving Wisbech grammar school, he volunteered to serve in the Fleet Air Arm and subsequently went to the USA as part of the Admiral Tower Scheme, to train as a pilot.

He gained his wings at Corpus Christi Air Base in Texas. On 25 March 1945, a month and a day before his 21st birthday, the engine of his Corsair F4U failed during take-off, crashed and burst into flames, leaving Peter severely injured.

He spent the next three and a half years in hospital. In his own words ‘on April 25th, surgeon Sam Stabins came to see me and told me he would have to amputate both my feet… it sounds better than legs. I spent the 26th April, my 21st birthday, with no legs’. The care he received forged a great love of America and many lifelong friendships.

A rare Tudor manuscript designed to help with swan-keeping in the era when mute swans were owned by the English crown to be sold with an estimate of £8000- 16,000. Photo: Sworders.
A rare Tudor manuscript designed to help with swan-keeping in the era when mute swans were owned by the English crown to be sold with an estimate of £8000- 16,000. Photo: Sworders.

In 1948 Peter met Major Bernard Edinburgh of Stamford, a well-known and knowledgeable antique dealer who took him under his wing and encouraged him to set up and trade himself. In 1950 he married Pat, who shared his love of antiques. In 1958 Peter was elected a member of the British Antique Dealers Association, whom he served for the following forty years.

A rare Tudor manuscript designed to help with swan-keeping in the era when mute swans were owned by the English crown to be sold with an estimate of £8000- 16,000. Photo: Sworders.
A rare Tudor manuscript designed to help with swan-keeping in the era when mute swans were owned by the English crown to be sold with an estimate of £8000- 16,000. Photo: Sworders.
A rare Tudor manuscript designed to help with swan-keeping in the era when mute swans were owned by the English crown to be sold with an estimate of £8000- 16,000. Photo: Sworders.
A rare Tudor manuscript designed to help with swan-keeping in the era when mute swans were owned by the English crown to be sold with an estimate of £8000- 16,000. Photo: Sworders.

Despite his disability, he was a keen sailor, greatly enjoying time on his boat ‘Amity’, an eighty-eight year old clinker-built Norfolk beach boat. He was also a trustee and generous benefactor of the Fenland Museum.



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