This volume contains transcriptions of 148 letters dating from 1651 to 1677, with a break from March 1659 to June 1662, mainly written to William Sancroft, later Archbishop of Canterbury. The original manuscripts are held in the Bodleian Library, The British Library, Durham University Library and Leicestershire Record Office. The letters are presented in chronological order with no division into periods or themes. The introduction is very valuable and excellent footnotes provide context and explanations for the documents. George Davenport, personal secretary from 1662 to John Cosin, who had been appointed bishop of Durham in 1660, is known for his work in establishing Bishop Cosin's library on Palace Green, Durham. Davenport was also rector of Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham from 1665 until his death in 1677.
The early letters highlight the work of Anglican clergy during the Interregnum. Davenport studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge where his tutor was William Sancroft. The continuation of episcopal ordination is illustrated by Ralph Brownrig, deprived bishop of Exeter, making Davenport ‘a full minister’ (Letter 3). Later in 1656 Davenport mused whether all will be laymen once existing bishops die. Davenport embraced Arminian beliefs supporting the use of the Book of Common Prayer and the enhancement of churches with altars, pulpit cloths and organs. Davenport visited clergy in exile in France in 1655, including John Cosin who held the difficult role of Anglican chaplain at Queen Henrietta Maria's court. There is very little for the political historian: Davenport noted some events such as the Dutch Wars, the end of the Major Generals, the offer of the crown to Oliver Cromwell in 1657, but there is no discussion of politics or any letters from the immediate Restoration period.
The challenges of the Religious Restoration such as the fate of the Book of Common Prayer, the authority of the church together with the need for conciliation are the focus of many letters. Davenport advocated the sweetness of peace, piety and discretion rather than strife (Letter 62). He described the insecurity of the restored church and its inability to be as strict with parishioners as it was before its abolition (Letter 64). The Restoration offered vast scope to Davenport to further the building and beautifying of churches, chapels, Cosin's library, hospitals for the poor and clerical residences. Houghton-le-Spring church, where he described the chapel as in good repair but ‘in need of beautifying’ (Letter 39), was restored during his ministry. He supervised the restoration of the chapel at the bishop's palace of Bishop Auckland. His sermon at its consecration urged the clergy and laity present to be inspired by its beauty ‘to repair and beautify their own churches and chancels’ (Letter 71). He spent fifteen years and a great deal of money rebuilding most of the fifteen-hearth rectory at Houghton for himself and his successors. However, he was not wholly successful as women did not like his new parsonage because it had no room suitable for a nursery (Letter 105). Davenport also managed the repair of Sancroft's prebendal house, which had been badly damaged in the 1640s and 1650s and needed £450 of repairs. To the management of this, twenty-two letters refer, detailing negotiations with individual craftsmen and the building expertise needed by the clergy to recognize the problems such as the odour arising from stables if sited under the parlour (letter 82). The charitable work of the church is also illustrated by the founding of Cosin's Almshouses on Palace Green and the hospital at Houghton-le-Spring. Pluralism and absenteeism among the clergy were very evident. At the Restoration Sancroft was briefly chaplain to John Cosin, bishop of Durham, rector of Houghton-le-Spring church, and prebend of the ninth stall at Durham from 1662, the year in which he became chaplain to the king. Sancroft was appointed master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and from 1664 dean of St Pauls. By 1671 the bishops of three dioceses and the deans of three cathedrals held Durham prebends.
The multi-disciplinary role of the clergy, both the spiritual, in writing sermons, catechizing, caring for parishioners or pursuing Anabaptists in County Durham, and the secular is very apparent. Glebe and tithe management occupied a great deal of time when these rather than salaries provided the income of a parish or prebend. Davenport managed Sancroft's prebend, which also necessitated supervising tenants and repairing farm buildings. The materialistic aspect of clerical life is also evident in the competition among the clergy for the most valuable prebends.
Davenport recorded many of the fears and superstitions of the age. The uncertainty of life is evident in his dread of the Plague and frequent illnesses of friends, with death and remarriage common. The personal impact of the Great Fire of London is reflected as it made Sancroft homeless (Letter 100). Davenport the man, a collector of manuscripts and books, a failed attempt to marry and a few of his inner thoughts are also revealed. In 1659 he yearned for a settled life in a good house with fresh air and a library at a ‘convenient distance from London’ (Letter 35). From 1662 he settled in County Durham, which he grew to like despite the cold. He hoped in vain for a Durham prebend, but declined to canvass for fear of being laughed at if he did not succeed.
Overall the letters offer fascinating evidence of the spiritual and materialistic lives of senior and local clergy in the Restoration church.