(36)  Walter Arthur Copinger


The Suffolk Review dated Spring 1988 contained an article entitled "Walter Arthur Copinger M.A., LL.D., F.S.A., F.R.S.A. Scholar and Lover of Suffolk" written by Mr. Irving Rosenwater, with whose permission part of it is reproduced here:-

From all the external evidence that survives, Walter Arthur Copinger (1847 - 1910) was a man whom success pursued, almost relentlessly, at every stage of his life.  It is a temptation to be avoided to speak loosely of his "career", for so abundantly was he an example of the "man of many parts" that his careers were many and varied.  He was a Victorian all-rounder, a man of tremendous mental energy and agility, allied to industry that typified so many of his era.  Although his livelihood was principally derived from the law, in both its practical and academic milieux, he was not a lawyer tout seul.  He was writer, historian, antiquary, archaeologist, bibliographer, philosopher, genealogist, heraldist, Biblical scholar, archivist, musical student, and, not least, collector of books.  He was also a husband and father: and Lord of the Manor of Buxhall, Suffolk.

He was born in South London, at 3 Norman Terrace, Clapham, his birth being registered within the registration district of Wandsworth.  He was born on April 14, 1847, the second son of Colonel Charles Louis George Emanuel Coppinger and his wife Mary, widow of George James, and daughter of Thomas Pearson of Shepperton, Surrey.[1] 

W. A. Copinger was educated privately at Wellesley House, Brighton - his parents residing at a succession of Brighton addresses during his youth - before going to University College, Durham.  An opportunity, however, to embark on a career in law in London caused him to leave Durham without completing his course there. He subsequently opted for the upper branch of the law and was admitted a student of the Middle Temple in 1866.  He was called to the bar by the Middle Temple on January 26, 1869, at the age of only twenty-one.  It was only two years later in 1870 that the first edition of his "Law of Copyright" was published.  W. A. was soley responsible for the first three editions of this work which became known as Copinger on Copyright and became the standard work on Copyright Law in England.  A position it still retains to this day thanks to three further editions by W. A's son-in-law James Marshall Easton and subsequent editions by F. E. Skone-James and latterly his son.

While living in London W. A. became a member of the Honorable Artillery Company.  He subsequently moved north and had a variety of homes in or near Manchester, including Richmond Villa; Timperley, Cheshire; Kersal Cell (where John Byron was born and, in 1747, wrote the Christmas hymn "Christians Awake"); The Priory, Greenheys; and Birch Hall, Rusholme.  In addition he built Tyn-y-coed Tower, Dinas Mawddwy, Merioneth, North Wales, the property there being essentially a small Welsh hill farm and residence.  Part of the tower subsequently fell down narrowly missing W. A's daughter Kitty.

In 1897 W. A. Copinger acquired the Cockerells Hall estate, Buxhall, with the Manor and Lordship.  The acquisition is recorded in the "East Anglian Daily Times" of Tuesday, December 21, 1897, which states;

Dr. Copinger has inaugurated his return to the old locality  by very properly turning his thoughts to the ancient parish church of Buxhall, and has presented to it a carved oak lectern of singular beauty, which is precisely the same workmanship and style as that in the Manchester Cathedral.  The stem is richly carved, and supported by four angels with outstretched wings, bearing on their breasts doves and crosses.  The desk, which is four-sided, is of fine open carving, and the whole structure is surmounted by a remarkable figure of Moses holding in his hands the books of the law.  The lectern was used by the rector for the first time on Sunday.[2]

Another Buxhall estate acquired by W.A. Copinger was Fasbourn Hall formerly known as Copinger Court or Copinger Hall, which is mentioned as far back as 1441 in the will of John Copinger.  (The prior spelling of "Fasbourne" had fallen into disuse.)  It was held separately from the Buxhall estate itself.

W. A. Copinger became Professor of Law in the Owen's College, Manchester, and the Victoria University there.  He had been appointed a lecturer in 1888, and in 1892, on the resignation of Professor Munro, with whom he had collaborated in a fascinating text book, best known as "Copinger and Munro on Rents", Copinger became Professor of Law, and finally dean of the faculty of law in the Victoria University. 

Of the highest significance was the paper he read in September 1891 at the fourteenth Annual Meeting of the Library Association at University College, Nottingham.  It was a paper on "The Necessity for a Bibliographical Society and suggestions for its operations".  He envisaged the formation of such a Society with a wide range of functions, which he set out seriatim, outlining even suggestions for provincial branches outside London.  The response to that paper and Copinger's subsequent efforts led directly to the foundation in 1892 of the Bibliographical Society, which has flourished without a break to the present time.  Whether W. A. Copinger was the sole founder or a joint-founder is a matter of historical interpretation.  The relevant facts are fully related in "The Bibliographical Society, 1892 - 1942: Studies in Retrospect" (ed. F. C. Francis), London, 1945, whence it can be seen that J. Y. W. MacAlister, later Sir John MacAlister, one of the secretaries of the Library Association, many years later - in January 1914, nearly four years after Copinger's death - put forward a claim as a founder.  The claim is made in a faulty recollection which even Francis concedes "seems to do very much less than justice to Copinger".  F. C. Francis[3] nevertheless has accepted the claim though the evidence he himself adduces is certainly tenuous, and the Bibliographical Society itself now links the name of MacAlister with that of Copinger as founders.   "The Dictionary of National Biography" says in this respect of Copinger:

Largely owing to his efforts, supported by Richard Copley Christie, the Bibliographical Society was founded in London in 1892.[4]

There remains to be said something about the personal life of Walter Arthur Copinger. On September 3 1873, he married Caroline Agnes, (1834 - 1909), eldest daughter of the Rev. Thomas Inglis Stewart, vicar of Landscove, Devon.[5]  They had ten children (five boys, five girls); and at W. A. Copinger's death, two boys and all the five girls were alive.  Of the children, only one acquired general renown - Harold Bernard Copinger (b. 11.7.1880; d. 11.10.1951), barrister-at-law of the Middle Temple, and occasional author.

One further manifestation of Walter Copinger's religious interest was connected with his attraction to music.  He played the violin and pianoforte, and there is a collection of seventy-five hymn tunes composed by him and duly published - thirty-five tunes in a first collection (1883) and seventy-five tunes in a second edition (1885).  This second edition includes names of tunes such as Buxhall, Finborough, Lavenham, Haughley, Woolpit, Stowmarket: all Suffolk names.

W. A. was also President of the East Anglians of Manchester and district, whom he would entertain on occasions at his home: on June 26, 1901, for example, he held a garden party at Kersal Cell for about one hundred East Anglians, at which the Dean of Manchester was present.  He was also a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquities of Ireland.  He was a Council member of the Cork Historical and Antiquarian Society, a President of the Manchester Incorporated Law Library Society and First President of the Bibliographical Society.  He was a Vice Chairman of the Committee of Management of the Victoria Dental Hospital and a Chairman of the Public Libraries Movement Committee.  He was also a member of the Chetham Society, the Ex-Libris Society, the Harleian Society, the Incorporated Society of Authors, the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society and the Library Association.

Walter Arthur Copinger died at his home in Manchester in the early hours of March 13, 1910, aged 62, as a result of pneumonia following an attack of influenza.  He was buried at Birch, Rusholme, Manchester.  The following is a copy of his Will:-

Will of Walter Arthur Copinger, 1910.

On the 30th day of May 1910 Probate of this Will was granted at Manchester to Harold Bernard Copinger the son Katharine Copinger spinster the daughter and James Marshall Easton the Executors.

The Lordship of the Manor

At his death of Walter Arthur Copinger was the Lord of the Manor of Buxhall and owner of a large amount of property in the area. In a Will so full of “hereinbefore”s and “hereinafter”s as to be indecipherable his considerable property was to be used for the benefit of his children although, as was pointed out earlier, his eldest son , Charles Arden de Burgh, was left the sum of £500 and excluded from the remainder of the provision.

So it seems that Harold Bernard came to hold the Lordship of the Manor. It is known that he put the title up for auction but the item is marked as “Not Sold” in an existing auction list. There is no evidence of the title having been sold elsewhere and it is to be assumed that the title must in principal have passed on to Harold’s son Patrick and from him to Paul.

The matter is not helped by the absence of any further documentation.

In “Hall of Flagons”, published by Bennett's, Buxhall, Suffolk. The author Tony Clayton raises, but fails to answer, the question of the present holder of the Lordship.

Dr. Copinger described himself as 45th Lord of the Manor of Buxhall but this was another claim which the twins Bridget and Rosie Copinger Hill disputed.  There were originally four Lords; Buxhall, Cockerels Hall, Lefty and Fenn Hall.  It was reported in the East Anglian Daily Times on 21st December that he had acquired the Cockerells Hall Estate with the Manor and Lordship but there appears to be no documentary evidence that he acquired the Buxhall title with the Buxhall Estate in 1899

 The Twins submitted that 'Mr. Hill' was still de facto the Lord of the Manor, although the Manor was mortgaged.  From their research they concluded there was no reference to the Manor of Buxhall title of Lordship  being sold in any known archives.  They added that the last Copinger Hill Rector was not a particular friend of Dr. Copinger and in conversations with the family had never mentioned disposing of the Title.

 Nevertheless the Title was offered for sale with Fasbourn Hall in the 1918 auction of the Buxhall Estate following the death of Dr. Copinger in 1910.  It was again offered for sale the following year as a separate lot but withdrawn. 

There could be several claimants to the title but does it matter?  Today such a title has little significance and the Lord can no longer fine a villager for not wearing a hat or playing bowls on Sunday.  Even in 1918 the benefit of sixteen rents arising out of the Manor totalled less than £2 and one for 3½ pence (less than 2p) had not been paid in years. 

Titles are sold from time to time to the highest bidder, are much sought after, and often realise ridiculous sums of money.  Perhaps one day the Buxhall title will come on the market and let us hope for old times sake it will come back to the village - that is, if it's not there already.

[1] Charles Louis George Emanuel Coppinger was born at Boulogne on September 10, 1821, and outlived his son Walter Arthur, dying in May 1913 (not in 1866, as was stated in various editions of Kelly's Handbook).  He served with distinction in the French army in Algeria, and was a Colonel in the American army. He married on March 31, 1845, as his first wife, Mary James (née Pearson), of Shepperton.  It was she who died in 1866, having been born in 1811.

[2] The preceding sentence of this newspaper report touches on another topic: "Dr. Copinger was the founder and first President of the Bibliographical Society." The importance of this statement, significantly written only five years after the foundation of the Society in 1892, will become apparent further on in this essay.

[3] Since 1960 Sir Frank Francis, and from 1959 to 1968 Director and Principal Librarian of the British Museum.

[4] Richard Copley Christie (1830 - 1901) had much in common with W. A. Copinger.  He was a lawyer, scholar and bibliophile and, like Copinger, greatly devoted to Owen's College, Manchester, where among his academic posts he was professor of jurisprudence and law (1855 - 1869).  He always remained closely associated with Owen's College, as governor and council member, and bequeathed his library to the college.

[5] He was born in 1807/8; married in 1832; vicar of Landscove 1853; died 3 Oct 1889.


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This page was last updated on 25-Mar-2002

Copyright 2001 D. P. & E. Copinger
except Suffolk Review article 1988 Irving Rosenwater