The Hockliffe Project

The Hockliffe Project has been designed to promote the study of early British children's literature. It provides internet access to the Hockliffe Collection of Early Children's Books, located in Bedford in the UK. This website database contains a catalogue of the Collection along with digital images of many of the books, plus bibliographical information and critical and contextualising essays. The Project's aim is to facilitate a re-evaluation of children's literature in its own infancy, and to let these rich and varied books speak for themselves. You enter the database using the link 'Enter this Database' on the left.

Brief Introduction to the Hockliffe Project

The Hockliffe Collection is a unique cache of over a thousand British children's books dating predominantly from the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They were originally collected by Frederic Hockliffe (1833-1914), a Bedford publisher and bookseller. In 1927 his eldest son, Frederic Rich Hockliffe (1861-1929), bookseller and mayor of Bedford, donated the collection to Bedford Training College. This later became Bedford College of Higher Education, then part of De Montfort University and is currently owned by the University of Bedfordshire. The Collection itself is housed in the Polhill Library of the University of Bedfordshire.

The books in the Hockliffe Collection range in date from 1685 to the mid-twentieth century, although the majority were published between 1760 and 1840. The collection is not comprehensive, but it is representative of the wide range of writing for children in late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. There are fables, nursery tales and stories, and there are books of instruction and religious works. There are periodicals and books of poetry, and there are alphabets, spelling books and battledores. There are chapbooks and ballads, mathematical, geographical, historical and scientific books, and toy-books, game-books, and books with moveable parts. The books vary enormously in size and shape as well as in the quality of paper and printing. Bindings, generally original, are very diverse too. Most of the books contain illustrations of some sort, often hand-coloured. Above all, perhaps, the Hockliffe Collection is interesting because it has been used. Many of the books are marked in some way, with indications of ownership or comments scrawled in margins. There is wear on some of the books which testifies to heavy use. Equally interesting is that some books appear to have been either little used or treated with great care.

The project ran between 1999 and 2002, with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Board. It was undertaken by a team of academics from the English Department and Centre for Textual Scholarship at De Montfort University. The website was created by Matthew Grenby. In 2012, the original site was reconfigured, repairing various problems and providing many new sets of images.