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Price, Johnfree

  • David Vaisey

Price, John (1735–1813), librarian, was born on 1 March 1735 at Llandegla, Denbighshire, and baptized on 7 March, the son of the Revd Robert Price (b. 1705?), rector of the parish, and his wife, Anne (d. 1756). In 1737 his father became vicar of Llangollen, Denbighshire, where John was educated before matriculating from Jesus College, Oxford, on 26 March 1754. He graduated BA in 1757 and MA in 1760. In the latter year he was ordained. In 1757 Humphrey Owen, who was Bodley's librarian and a fellow of Jesus College, appointed him janitor of the Bodleian—a position he held until 1760. From 1761 to 1763 he occupied the post of sub-librarian and from 1762 to 1763 also acted as Owen's substitute as curate of Kingston Bagpuize, Berkshire. Owen was elected principal of Jesus College in 1763, and from 1765 to 1767 Price was acting librarian and received Owen's salary. On Owen's death in 1768 Price succeeded him as Bodley's librarian after a close election in which he defeated William Cleaver, afterwards principal of Brasenose College, and, successively, bishop of Chester, Bangor, and St Asaph. Price took the degree of BD in the year of his election and also succeeded Owen as a delegate of Oxford University Press.

Throughout his long period of office in the Bodleian Library, Price also held ecclesiastical appointments. He was curate at Northleigh, Oxfordshire, from 1766 to 1773 and at Wilcote, Oxfordshire, from 1775 to 1810. In 1782 he was presented to the living of Woolaston with Alvington, Gloucestershire, and in 1798 to Llangattock, Brecknockshire, both by Henry Somerset, fifth duke of Beaufort, whom Price frequently visited at Badminton. He was never a fellow at Jesus College, although he drew an annual stipend as a graduate scholar from 1758 until 1783. In June 1789, persuaded by his friend, the poet laureate Thomas Warton, he migrated to Trinity College where he remained until his death.

The advances made by the Bodleian Library during Price's forty-five years as its librarian owed little to his administrative skills. In 1787 Thomas Beddoes, who had just been elected chemical reader at Oxford, addressed a printed Memorial concerning the state of the Bodleian Library, and the conduct of the principal librarian to the library's curators. In it he attacked Price for 'a regular and constant neglect of his duty', for non-attendance at the library, and for lending out books before they were catalogued. He also criticized in detail the library's opening hours, its methods of acquisition, its choice of books and serials, and the expenditure of its meagre income on fitting up rooms rather than on acquisitions. The Memorial has been called 'a classic of library criticism' (Philip, 107), but it was the curators rather than Price who acted upon it to reform the library's policies and finances. Price's reputation rested elsewhere. To John Nichols he was the 'able Pioneer in Literature, whose friendly attentions will be recollected by many researchers into the vast treasures of the Bodleian Library' (Nichols, Illustrations, 5.514). He was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and shared the interests and enjoyed the friendship and respect of many in the antiquarian and literary worlds. His correspondence reproduced by Nichols shows in particular how much the bequest of Richard Gough's enormous topographical collection to the Bodleian owed to Price's careful cultivation of the benefactor. In these circles he was known as 'honest Johnny Price'.

Price wrote little, although he is acknowledged in the prefaces of many of the works of his friends. His Short Account of Holyhead in the Isle of Anglesea was included in Nichols's Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica (10, 1783) and an 'Account of a brass image of Roman workmanship found at Cirencester' written in 1767 was published in Archaeologia (7, 1785). He amassed a considerable collection of books, prints, maps, and manuscripts (including the benefactors' book from the parish of Northleigh) which were sold, partly at a five-day sale from 17 June 1814 by Thomas King junior, at 125 High Holborn, and partly through a catalogue subsequently issued by King.

Price, who was unmarried, died at his house at 1 St Giles', Oxford, during the night of 11–12 August 1813 and was succeeded as Bodley's librarian by his godson Bulkeley Bandinel. He was buried on 20 August at Wilcote church, where a mural tablet was erected to his memory.


  • I. Philip, The Bodleian Library in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (1983)
  • W. D. Macray, Annals of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, 2nd edn (1890)
  • GM, 1st ser., 83/2 (1813), 400–01
  • D. Womersley, ‘Jesus in the eighteenth century’, Jesus College Record (1996–7), 66–7
  • Llandegla parish registers, 3 vols., Clwyd Family History Society (1992–4)
  • Llangollen parish registers, 7 vols., Clwyd Family History Society (1988–94)
  • A catalogue of the library of the Revd John Price (1814) [sale catalogue, Thomas King, London, 17–21 June 1814]
  • Bibliotheca curiosa: supplement to Tho. King, junr's catalogue, including the reserved part of the library of the revd John Price (1814) [sale catalogue, Thomas King, London, 17 June 1814]


  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp.
  • Bodl. Oxf., library records
  • Bodl. Oxf., travel journals
  • Norfolk RO, travel diary of his Suffolk and Norfolk tour


  • J. C. Bromley, line engraving, pubd 1819 (after H. H. Baber), BM
  • engraving (after sketch by H. H. Baber, 1798), repro. in Philip, The Bodleian Library
  • line engraving, BM
Gentleman's Magazine
J. Foster, ed., , 4 vols. (1887–8), later edn (1891); , 4 vols. (1891–2); 8 vol. repr. (1968) and (2000)
, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)
J. Nichols & J. B. Nichols, , 8 vols. (1817–58); repr. (1966)