Thomas Plume 1630-1704

From Book Owners Online

Thomas PLUME 1630-1704

Biographical Note

Born at Maldon, Essex, son of Thomas Plume, a coal merchant and landowner; the family were prominent in local affairs and Plume's father and elder brother were both aldermen of Maldon. BA Christ's College, Cambridge 1650, BD (by royal mandate, 1661. His movements during the 1650s are unclear but he seems to have lived with or near John Hacket at Cheam, perhaps acting as his secretary. Vicar of Greenwich 1658, to which he added several other livings during the 1660s; archdeacon and prebendary of Rochester, 1679, where he lived until his death. Little is known of his lifetime activities; he did not publish any writings of his own. Although his father tended towards Presbyterian views, his own seem to have been more solidly establishment Anglican. In addition to his bequests to Maldon – he endowed a school there as well as a library – he left £1,900 to the University of Cambridge, to create an astronomical observatory and a professorship of astronomy there.


Plume is known to have purchased books for Hacket in London during the Interregnum, and became a beneficiary of Hacket’s will in 1670, receiving a monetary bequest as well as his manuscript sermons, which Plume subsequently published (1675). His own library, of ca. 8,000 items, was one of the larger ones of his generation; he bequeathed it to Maldon to create a town library there, housed in a purpose-built room created in a redundant church, at Plume’s expense, ca.1698-1700. He also endowed a post of Librarian, to be “a scholar that knows books”, with an annual salary of £40. It remains largely intact today, still housed as Plume intended.

The Library is typically wide-ranging in subject for its time and size. Around 65% of the contents relate to theology and contemporary ecclesiastical issues, with around 50% of the imprints dating from before 1650. Otherwise, history, classics, science, medicine and literature are all represented, with over a hundred books relating to astronomy. There is little detailed evidence of the build up of the collection, beyond some small groups of books bequeathed to Plume, and a list of titles apparently acquired as duplicates from the books given to St John’s, Cambridge by Peter Gunning in 1684; Plume evidently bought books both new and second-hand. Those acquired new are typically in plain calfskin bindings. A striking feature of the Library is the rare survival of a large collection of ca.1600 unbound, stitched pamphlets in a variety of wrappers and styles. The Library’s manuscripts, which include several small groups of papers of contemporary clergymen, also hold a number of Plume’s notebooks in which he recorded detailed comments and observations on books he read, with dates of reading. Examples: at the Plume Library in Maldon.

Characteristic markings

Inscription of Thomas Plume, and PL monogram (Plume Library B01046, The acts and negotiations, London, 1698)
Early inscription of Thomas Plume (Plume Library B00206, Terence in English, London, 1641)

Plume only occasionally inscribed his name in his books, throughout his life, originally as Plumme but more typically, from the 1650s onwards, as Plume. Books also sometimes have notes on the flyleaves in his hand. A number of books (ca.600 of the total) have a monogram on the flyleaf, or sometimes the titlepage, like a capital L with a loop at the top (P and L?); its significance is unknown. The books were all inscribed by the first librarian, after Plume’s death, “E Bibliotheca Plumeana Maldon Essex”.


  • Deed, S. G. Catalogue of the Plume Library at Maldon, Essex, Maldon, 1959.
  • French, H. "Plume, Thomas (bap. 1630, d. 1704), Church of England clergyman and educational benefactor", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Manley, K. "Thomas Plume", in W. Baker (ed), Pre-19th century British book collectors, Detroit, 1999, 274-78.
  • Pearson, D. "Thomas Plume’s Library in its contemporary context", in Christopher Thornton & Tony Doe (eds), Dr Thomas Plume, 1630-1704: his life and legacies, 2020, 155-75.
  • Petchey, W. The intentions of Thomas Plume, Maldon, 2004.