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James Spencer Northcote papers

Collection MS-2004-048: James Spencer Northcote papers


  • Creation: 1850-1880

Scope and Contents

The James Spencer Northcote papers primarily consists of correspondence between Northcote and John Henry Newman, Richard Simpson, James Burns, and Father Ambrose Rose St. John, during the years that Northcote served as acting editor of The Rambler. The correspondence mainly relates to articles published in The Rambler. Of particular note are letters written by John Henry Newman to Northcote expressing his unhappiness with how the Church in Rome views English converts. Other correspondence from Newman relates to Northcote's editorship of The Rambler.

The remainder of the collection consists of a notebook with Northcote's sermon drafts, as well as a few sermons given by others. The front and back covers contain lists of his "Occasional sermons" as well as those he gave at St. Mary's School, Oscott in England.


Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research; portions of the collection are available digitally.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical Note: James Spencer Northcote

James Spencer Northcote was born at Feniton Court, Devon, England on May 26, 1821 to Maria and George Barons Northcote (1796-1875), landowner of Feniton Court. Northcote was educated at Ilmington Grammer School (1830-1837). He entered Corpus Christi College in Oxford in 1837 and graduated with a BA in 1841. While in Oxford he was influenced by John Henry Newman and E. B. Pusey of the Oxford Movement. In 1842 he married his cousin Susannah Spencer Poole (d. 1853). Having been ordained an Anglican deacon in 1844, he served as a curate at Ilfracombe but entertained many doubts about the Anglican position.

In 1845 Northcote's wife and three of her sisters converted to Catholicism. After resigning his position in the Church of England, Northcote followed suit. He set out his reasons for converting in The Fourfold Difficulty (1846). From 1847 to 1850 he lived in Rome and became close friends with G. B. De Rossi, a historian of the catacombs. Henceforth the catacombs were an area of lifelong study for Northcote and he published a number of archeological works and guides relating to them.

Northcote spent 1850-1853 at Clifton, where he edited the Clifton Tracts. In addition, from June, 1852 to September, 1854 he edited the Catholic periodical The Rambler. Following the death of his wife in 1853 he began studying for the priesthood, at the Birmingham Oratory and later at the Collegio Pio in Rome, and was ordained in 1855. In January 1860 he was appointed vice-president of St Mary's College, Oscott, an important Catholic public school and seminary. The following July Northcote was made president of the school. During his seventeen year period at St. Mary's he modernized the studies and raised the profile of the school.

In 1877 Northcote retired due to ill health. He spent ten more years as a parish priest, initially at Stone and then at Stoke-on-Trent. In 1887 he was forced to retire from active work for health reasons. He died at the presbytery in Stoke on March 3, 1907. All of his three sons and three daughters predeceased him.


"James Spencer Northcote." Dictionary of National Biography (online version), downloaded March 21, 2005.

"James Spencer Northcote." Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, Vol. III. London; Smith, Elder and Co, 1912.

Obituary, The Tablet, Saturday March 9, 1907; page 381-382.

"Oxford Movement." New Catholic Encyclopedia (Vol. X), The Catholic University of America: Washington D.C., 1967.

Historical Note: <title render='italic'>The Rambler</title>

The Catholic periodical The Rambler was founded by J. M. Capes, a convert to Catholicism, in 1848. In the 1850s editorial control was assumed by Richard Simpson and Sir John Dalberg Acton. The Rambler represented a movement among Catholic converts that was in opposition to English Catholic authorities and their extreme ultramontanism, or emphasis on strong Papal prerogatives and powers. This put the periodical and its editors into conflict with the Catholic hierarchy in England.

The English hierarchy, headed by Cardinal Wiseman, held that no Catholic paper should publish material that would be damaging to the Church. John Henry Newman was an avid supporter of The Rambler and took over co-editorship from Simpson in March 1859 but was forced to resign by the hierarchy within a few months. The bishops' displeasure with Newman's editorship was compounded when he wrote an article titled "On Consulting the Laity in Matters of Doctrine" and published it in The Rambler.

The Rambler changed its name to the quarterly Home and Foreign Review in 1862. In 1864 the journal was discontinued. James Spencer Northcote co-edited the journal from June 1852 to September 1854.


New Catholic Encyclopedia (Vol.III), Catholic University of America; Washington, D.C., 1967.

Meriol, Trevor. Newman: Light in Winter. Doubleday: Garden City, NY. 1963.


.75 Linear Feet (2 containers)

Language of Materials



Composed of the correspondence of nineteenth-century English priest James Spencer Northcote with John Henry Newman, Richard Simpson, James Burns, and Father Ambrose Rose St. John. The letters discuss the Catholic periodical The Rambler and religious matters. Also includes a notebook with Northcote's sermon drafts, as well as a few transcripts of sermons given by others.


The collection is divided into two series: I. Correspondence; and II. Sermon notebook.


Because the current accessioning system was not used until January 1986, it is not possible to know exactly the dates of acquisition of materials received before that time. However, notes on file indicate that the correspondence was found in issues of The Rambler during cataloging.

Existence of digital copies

Portions of this collection are available digitally. Links are included in the inventory.

Related Materials

Boston College collection of John Henry Newman, MS.1986.039, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

James Spencer Northcote Papers
Helen Brady, March 2005; Edward Copenhagen, May 2005; Rachael Young
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Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States