fonds Purvis - Records of Canon John Stanley Purvis

Identity area

Reference code



Records of Canon John Stanley Purvis


  • 1898-1966 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

0.97 cubic metres

50 boxes

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

John Stanley Purvis was born in Bridlington on 9 May 1890. Educated at St Catherine’s College, Cambridge, he initially worked at Cranleigh School in Surrey, joining the staff as a history teacher in 1913.

In 1915 he enlisted in the army and spent several years abroad, during which time he wrote the war poems ‘From Steyning to the Ring,’ ‘Chance Memory,’ and ‘High Wood’ under the pseudonym Philip Johnstone, the latter of which was published in ‘The Nation’ in 1917. He also made a number of sketches of battlefields, including one in 1916 which depicted the first time tanks were used in warfare.

Purvis was wounded at the Battle of the Somme in 1917 and in 1918 he returned to Cranleigh, becoming a Housemaster there the following year. In 1928 he wrote and directed the school’s pageant.

In 1932 Purvis took holy orders and was ordained deacon in 1932 and priest in 1933. Between 1932 and 1938 he served as assistant chaplain at Cranleigh School as well as curate of St Mary’s, Bridlington. In 1939, the year after Purvis retired from Cranleigh, the school founded the Purvis Society which holds regular lectures on a variety of topics to this day.

In 1938 Purvis became rector of Goodmanham, and in 1941 vicar of Old Malton, both in Yorkshire. Between 1945 and 1947 he was warden of the York Diocesan Conference House at Foston Hall. In 1947 he became vicar of St Sampson with Holy Trinity King’s Court in the city of York, a position he held until 1966. In 1956 he was made canon and prebendary of Strensall in York Minster.

From 1939 Purvis also held the position of Archivist to the archbishopric and diocese of York and had begun sorting and rearranging the vast diocesan archive with the aim of making it accessible to the public for the first time.

When, in the mid-1940s, a campaign developed to found a university in York, the diocesan archives became central to the plans of the newly formed Academic Development Committee, later the York Academic Trust, of which Purvis was member and director of its annual archive summer schools.

In 1949 a plan to rehouse the diocesan archive in a new Minster Library fell through and an alternative scheme was proposed by committee member Oliver Sheldon to use the archive as the foundation of a new institute of historical research. It was hoped that such an institute would not only provide a permanent home for the records but also bring scholars to York, raising the city’s academic profile and laying the foundations for a university.

As this scheme was being developed, Purvis also alerted Sheldon to a bequest left by fellow Bridlington man, William Borthwick, which was to give the institute its name and financial endowment.

Sheldon’s scheme was successful. The Archbishop of York agreed to the deposit of the diocesan archive and the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research opened in 1953 in St Anthony’s Hall in Peasholme Green, York. Purvis was its first Director, a position he held until 1963 when the institute became part of the new University of York and Purvis was succeeded by Norah Gurney.

As Director, Purvis undertook lecture tours in America to publicise the work of the institute and established a publications programme through the institute’s own ‘St Anthony’s Press,’ today known as the Borthwick Papers. He also designed the Borthwick’s logo, based on the boss of St Anthony’s pig on the ceiling of St Anthony’s Hall.

A noted scholar, Purvis was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society, and a member of York Georgian Society, Yorkshire Philosophical Society and the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, of which he was also President from 1955. He was also President of the York branch of the Historical Association from 1958.

During his lifetime he produced a large number of scholarly works and articles on history and archives. In 1923 he published ‘The Dissolution of Bridlington Priory,’ followed in 1926 by an edited collection of Bridlington charters, court rolls and papers.

In the 1930s his published works included studies of monastic chancery proceedings relevant to Yorkshire, the priory of St John the Evangelist at Healaugh, and sixteenth century woodcarvings; in the 1940s his work included studies of Goodmanham Church, Old Malton Priory and Sheriff Hutton parish records.

His later work reflected his connection to the Borthwick Institute. In 1951 he published a history of St Anthony’s Hall, and in 1952, a guide to the provenance and history of the York diocesan registry. As Director he revised his history of St Anthony’s Hall and published a guide to ecclesiastical and educational records and a handlist of the Borthwick’s collections.

He also worked extensively on the York Mystery Plays, the medieval civic plays revived in the 1951 York Festival of the Arts. Purvis wrote the first modern script for the revival which was published in ‘The York Cycle of Mystery Plays: A shorter version of the ancient cycle’ in the same year, and expanded in his ‘The York Cycle of Mystery Plays’ in 1957.

In 1958 Purvis was awarded an OBE for his services to historical scholarship in Yorkshire.

John Stanley Purvis died in 1968 at the age of 78.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The archive was first deposited at the Borthwick Institute by the family of Canon Purvis prior to 1975. Further additions were made to the archive in 1975, 1986, 1991 and 2014.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Papers, publications, artwork and photographs of John Stanley Purvis, comprising correspondence, 1898-1968; diaries of trip to USA, 1954; papers relating to academic degrees, 1912-1948, Bridlington, 1921-1968, World War II, 1941-1948, and York Mystery Plays, c.1951-1957; public speeches, including lectures given at York Summer School of Archives and sermons, 1934-1968; archival writing, including notes and lists, transcriptions, guides to the York Diocesan Registry, and indexes, c.1939-c.1962; papers and drafts relating to published works, including books, 1923-1969, pamphlets, 1950-1968, articles, 1924-1969, and reviews, c.1952; publications written or edited by Purvis, including books, pamphlets, reprints from journals, transcripts of radio broadcasts and newspaper articles, 1923-1971; reviews of Purvis’ work, 1948-1959; papers and drafts relating to unpublished works, including books, c.1924-c.1958, and essays, c.1932-c.1958; publications by other authors, including academic books, articles and pamphlets, pamphlets concerning Bridlington School, York Civic Trust, British Records Association, and the Old Cranleighan Society, 1915-1972; York Georgian Society reports, 1945-1972; York Civic Trust annual reports, 1949-1984; Academic Development Committee reports, 1951-1952; Borthwick Institute of Historical Research reports and leaflets, 1955-1960, 1973-1974; sketchbooks, loose pencil drawings, and watercolours by Purvis, mainly of Yorkshire, but also of other counties, cities and towns in the UK, Belgium and the USA, c.1912-c.1968; photographs, including photographs of the Purvis family, c.1903-c.1942, photographs of royal visits, c.1953-c.1961, photographs of York Summer School of Archives, n.d., and assorted photographs of society meetings, York Mystery Plays, churches, towns and cities, archival documents, and social occasions, n.d.

Papers and photographs of Hilda M. Purvis, sister of J. S. Purvis, comprising correspondence, 1922, 1959-1983; diary extracts and notes, 1968-1969; documents and papers , including Purvis family history notes and papers, c.1956-c.1982, and archival writings, n.d.; papers relating to J. S. Purvis’ funeral and memorial, 1968-1977; papers concerning the sale of J. S. Purvis’ books and effects, 1970-1982; publications (not by Hilda M. Purvis), including books, pamphlets, articles, orders of service for church services, and newsletters, 1943-1974; photographs, c.1934-1984.

Papers of Mrs J. B. Purvis, mother of J. S. Purvis, including correspondence, 1915, 1920; archival notes and transcriptions, n.d; and a drawing, n.d.

Papers of Mr John B. Purvis, father of J. S. Purvis, including correspondence, 1873-1874, 1916; manuscript speech on travelling around the world, n.d.

Uncatalogued material, 1916-1971, including copies of poems and printed works by Canon Purvis, and papers read at the sixth summer meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society in 1968.


Further accruals are not expected.

System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws. 24 hours' notice is required to access photographic material.

Conditions governing reproduction

A reprographics service is available to researchers subject to the access restrictions outlined above. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Language of material

  • English
  • Latin

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Access to audiovisual material may be restricted due to technical requirements, please contact the Borthwick Institute for further information.

Finding aids

A typescript finding aid, to file level, is available for consultation in the searchroom of the Borthwick Institute. This includes all material received up to and including 1991. Later material has not yet been catalogued, please contact the Borthwick Institute for further information.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

A collection of Canon Purvis’ papers, 1939-1966, are held by York Explore. These relate to his work as diocesan archivist, Director of the Borthwick Institute for Historical Research, and President of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, as well as his work on the York Mystery Plays. They also include minutes, reports and papers of the York Academic Development Committee and its successor the York Academic Trust, as well as the University of York’s Planning Committee and the work of the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research.

Further papers are held by Leeds University Library. These include letters, notes, offprints, pamphlets, and other papers relating to Yorkshire, antiquarian subjects, local history, the York Mystery Plays and York Festival, and the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research.

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

Access points

Genre access points

Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

GB 193

Rules and/or conventions used

ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, International Council on Archives (2nd edition, 2000); Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names, National Council on Archives (1997).

Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

Created by S. A. Shearn, 01.07.15.




Accession area