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Leland Lewis Duncan, MVO, OBE, FSA

Leland Lewis Duncan, MVO, OBE, FSA

Great War Order of the British Empire medal. Wikimedia: Alexeinikolayevichromanov, CC BY-SA 4.0.


Leland Lewis Duncan was a long-time member of the Society and his work and records survive in the Marsham Street store and in various Society Publications.

Leland Lewis Duncan died at Lewisham on 26 December 1923, aged 61. He had for some time been in poor health, but so sudden an end was quite unexpected and came as a great shock to his friends.

He was born on 24 August 1862 at Lewisham and educated at the Colfe Grammar School there, from which he passed into the Civil Service, being appointed to the War Office in 1882, and there he remained until he retired in 1922 at the age of 60. While in the War Office lie steadily improved his position in the office, his services being recognized by an M.V.O. in 1902 and an O.B.E. later. He lived all his life at Lewisham, and from one point of view his life was quite uneventful. From another point of view his life was full of events, marked by productions of archaeological. interest of many kinds to be set out later, for, from his. earliest years, he took interest in matters archaeological, and he frequently amused his friends in his later years by stories of how he would, when a, junior clerk, slip out of the War Office during the luncheon hour and make for the underground chamber at Somerset House, where those interested were allowed to copy the wills entered in the various. registers. He would copy a will or two and then return to, the office, and he was full of amusing tales of his various adventures in this connection.

Luckily the time when Duncan, first began copying wills was when Challenor Smith had succeeded, in the teeth of all kinds of opposition, in getting the records indexed and put in tolerable order, and, under the influence of Challenor Smith's enthusiasm for accurate and exhaustive study, Duncan was inspired to take up the line of work upon wills, to which he devoted himself down to the time of his death, and he was privileged, as one of the general editors of the Index Library of the British Record Society, to supervise the publication in 1893 of Challenor Smith's index of P.C.C. wills from the earliest date to 1558, which was soon seen to be a model of its kind, neither to jejune nor too copious.

Duncan became a member of the K.A.S. before 1887, and his first contribution to Archaeologia Cantiana was an admirable list of Kentish Administrations 1559-1603, which appeared in the early pages of Vol. XVIII. and has been an immense boon to Kentish students ever since. The excellence of this and of some subsequent contributions led the Council to take an unusual course in 1906 of printing an extra volume called Testamenta Cantiana, consisting of extracts: from wills of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries concerniri., the various churches of the county. For this volume Duncan found a collaborator of his own calibre in Ivor Hussey, who undertook the East Kent portion, mainly from Canterbury wills, while Duncan dealt with the West Kent portion from the P.C.C. and Rochester wills. The result was admirable, and it is unfortunate that this new experiment, breaking absolutely fresh ground, has not up to the present inspired antiquaries of other counties to attempt a similar volume. In general form and arrangement the work would be hard to rival, but it might well be imitated with advantage.

Duncan, besides finding rich store of matter in the testamentary dispositions of the dead, paid very special attention to their existing memorials in our churches and churchyards, and his soul was often vexed by the treatment meted out to them at the "restoration " of churches and in the' improvements " in churchyards. He had a well-thought-out plan of plotting the churchyards, so as not to risk getting an accurate copy of all the legible inscriptions remaining, and the collection of such things which he made is likely to be of great value to the student. The memorials he copied at 'Tenterden were printed at his own expense in 1919, and he very handsomely presented a copy to every member of our Records branch. Those of many other parishes were left in manuscript at his death and presented by his sisters (he was never married and was an only son) as his administrators to the K.A.S., who will preserve them as priceless records, which may, it is hoped, eventually be printed in full as, historians come forward to write each the particular history of his own parish. The fast perishing nature of these memorials makes such records of importance in the highest degree.

I might here have attempted some appreciation of the man as apart from his work, but that has been done so beautifully by our member Dr. F. W. Cock in a contribution from his pen inserted in the Kentish Express of 9th February 1924, that I could in no wise hope to rival its felicity and its eloquence, so with his consent and that of the publisher of the paper it is reprinted below. It remains for me only to finish the account of his work by collecting here a slight bibliography of his printed productions, little alas, though it be in comparison with what we hoped he was to do, when his leisure was more abundant, after his retirement from the public service.


Who would have thought that he who delighted us in, last summer's [1923] K.A.S. expedition with his illuminative description of Warehorne Church should so soon have ceased from teaching, and that never again should we hear that quiet voice and see that kindly smile as he put us in possession of all that was to be known of an ancient site or building? Under that pleasant friendly exterior was a wealth of knowledge of the past, a persistent diligence in recording it, and a, charm of expression which is given to few. Never in a, hurry to overwhelm a more eager, but less ill formed brother, his "Don't you think it may be so. and so?" saved many of us from too quick a judgment and fixed the truth which was obvious to him so firmly in his hearer, that he in turn could almost believe that he himself' had discovered it. Ars est celare artem, and this art he had in perfection. Of his published work the list is a long one, and this outside of a very responsible post in the War Office, and when, but a short year ago, he retired from his public work, he seemed to be endued with a renewal of his untiring energy. In that year he had copied all the ancient inscriptions in fifteen East Kent churchyards, had transcribed a, large number of the " Aid " lists in the Record Office, besides many other documents noted and epitomized for his, Kent work. The present writer can but add this little -tribute to his old friend. How, after the meetings of the 'Society of Antiquaries be used to walk home with him all through the darkened streets of London during the long years of the war and discuss many things, seldom of raid or other dangers, largely of Kent antiquarian topics, and hardly ever missing asking advice how he could be of service to his “boys" of the War Office, who were on service at the front, home on furlough, or wounded in hospital. Always .thoughtful of others, with no delight in contradiction, his friendship was a, liberal education to me as we took sweet ,counsel together, and in thought were not divided. Vale, amice,, vale,.


Obituary, Archaeologia Cantiana Vol XXXVII (1926).



Box 1 in the Marsham Street store contains a range of papers by Leland L. Duncan F.S.A. The first item is a looseleaf proof copy of the book “Registers of St Mary’s Lewisham, Kent” Published in London 1891. The next section is an extensive range of notes regarding Allhallows Church, Hoo, Kent. These include transcripts of Wills and Registers, the Churchwarden’s Accounts, transcripts of Court rolls and the Hundred Rolls as well as items connected with the restoration programmes in 1897 and the early 1900s. Correspondence from the Vicar of Allhallows, the Rev. F. J. Hammond, is preserved from 1905 to 1915. The correspondence relates to the restoration and recording of the fabric of the Church and a number of sketches and photos of the Church are included. Furthermore, there are transcripts of the Tithe Book (1841), a list of curates from 1780-1900, a list of the occupations of the parishioners from 1795-1887, and a short published guide to the Church by Leland Duncan. There are also transcripts of deeds and Charters relating to Windhill Manor. The final section is bundle of damaged papers called “The Beckenham Bundle.” These papers contain information relating to the study of Kent Churches. The list is arranged alphabetically under place name and lists bequests given to churches in wills, the dedication of the churches and the types of fraternities associated with individual churches. Furthermore there is information on the Wyat family.



Open articles:


The Parish Church of St. Mary, Lewisham, and an account of its Vicars and Curates. 1902.

The History of the borough of Lewisham. 1908.

'The History of Colfe's Grammar School and a life of its founder. 1910.

The Renunciation of Papal Authority in West Kent, 1534. Vol. XVII.

'The Rectory of Cowden with a list of Rectors. Vol. XXI.

The Will of Abp. Courtenay. Vol. XXIII.

Ecclesiological Notes on Shoreham. Vol. XXIII.

The Will of Cardinal Bourgehier. Vol. XXIV.

Extracts from some lost Parish Registers. Vol. XXXI.