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The story of two rivals: Dodsworth and Britton

The Story of two rivals: Dodsworth and Britton

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The story of two rivals: Dodsworth and Britton

Posted By : Emily Naish Tuesday 10th March 2020

The Story of two rivals: Dodsworth and Britton

A blog by Salisbury Cathedral library volunteer Dawn Wilson

William Dodsworth was Salisbury Cathedral Verger for 49 years until his death 7 August 1826.  He wrote, an publisged in 1814, An Historical Account of the Episcopal See, and Cathedral Church of Sarum, or Salisbury: Comprising of the Bishops; The History of the Establishment from the earliest period; and a description of the monuments.  This is a popular book and not only are there at least seven copies owned by the Cathedral, I know that many local private collectors are likely to hold this book.  (For more about Dodsworth and his Historical Account please see my previous blog The Many Versions of Dodsworths History.) However, how many people know the story behind this book by Dodsworth and its competition with John Britton? 

Mr Britton an established writer, was completing his 9th volume of Architectural Antiquities of Great Britain when he decided embark on a new project to publish engravings of Salisbury Cathedral architecture, with some account of the building; both historical and descriptive, to be entitled The History and Antiquities of the Cathedral Church of Salisbury

Dodsworth and Britton’s books are very similar.  Both are presented in quarto format and both contain similar content, both apparently published in 1814, but which author won the race to publish their book first?  Behind the scenes there was great rivalry.

Two Histories of Salisbury Cathedral: by Dodsworth and Britton

The two rival histories in the Cathedral library

Mr Britton came to Salisbury Cathedral to meet with the Verger, Dodsworth, not knowing that Dodsworth was working on his very own book of Salisbury Cathedral.  Britton discussed facilitating the labours of various artists including Mr Frederick Nash, whom Britton had engaged to prepare accurate drawings of the Cathedral.  In Britton’s autobiography it is written; ‘Cordiality and friendliness prevailed amongst these parties, until some of the plates were engraved; when Britton learnt his artist, Mr Nash, had persuaded Dodsworth to undertake the publication of a quarto volume.’  Nash had unscrupulously transferred his services to Britton’s rival Dodsworth. 

However, not only did Britton have problems with one of the artists he had commissioned, he was also struggling to get hold of archive material to help write the historical content of his book.  So, he wrote to his friend Mr Hatcher requesting assistance with examining the Episcopal Registers at Salisbury.  Mr Hatcher, the secretary to the Archdeacon of Wiltshire and whom had been granted access to the Episcopal Archives, wrote back to Britton saying he would remain loyal to Dodsworth and continue to assist Dodsworth with examining the books of the establishment. 

So, not only was Britton having problems getting access to the Cathedral records he was also incited by Nash’s disloyalty to him and this spurred Britton into publishing a prospectus in 1814 of The Historical Description of the Cathedral Church of Salisbury in the size he had already announced, the quarto, and imitating all its essential features.  Britton’s publication was further issued in five successive numbers, between May 1814 and his final completed version published March 1815.

However, Dodsworth completed and published his book in 1814.  Before, Britton finished he had already seen Dodsworth’s publication and therefore lists Dodsworth book in his list of Books, Essays and Prints published at the back of his publication.  Thus, Dodsworth won the race!

Salisbury Cathedral histories Britton's listing of Dodsworth's book

Britton's list of recommended reading includes (at number 8) Dodsworth's history

There is a silver lining for Britton; he had decided to write a series of books on Cathedral Antiquities.  Indeed, he was already underway with compiling the Histories of Norwich and Winchester Cathedrals.  This time he was more optimistic that these new books would be more superior due to the free access he had of their archives.  Britton had always admitted Dodsworth's version contained more historical facts than his publication of Salisbury Cathedral and he wanted to rectify this in future Cathedral publications.  Britton ended up writing 14 volumes on Cathedral Antiquities of England.

It also appears that from letters written between the rival authors that, however hostile they might have been at the commencement of their opposition, they became reconciled by the end.  Indeed, Dodsworth gladly sent Britton a copy of his book. 

You can find both Dodsworth and Britton’s gravestones within Salisbury Cathedral.  It appears these gentlemen have quite some legacy. 

The two rival's title pages

History of Salisbury Cathedral by Britton        History of Salisbury Cathedral by Dodsworth