Federer Collection

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Charles Federer 1837-1908 & the
Federer Collection of Yorkshire Material

Charles Antoine Federer: litterateur, bibliophile, historian, antiquary and Methodist layman, was born in Switzerland on 18 October 1837. After studying at St. Gall and Lausanne he came to England in January 1857 and worked as an assistant master, first at Bakewell Grammar School, Derbyshire, and then at schools at Gildersome, Wetherby, and Low Moor, Bradford, Yorkshire. Having a passion for languages and dialects, and being fluent in Latin, Greek, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Danish and Dutch, he gained employment  as a teacher of both modern and classical languages at the Bradford Mechanic’s Institute and the Technical College.

On settling in Bradford in 1864 Federer was tireless in pursuing his interests in local history and language. With William Cudworth and other local scholars, Federer founded the Bradford Historical and antiquarian Society, later becoming the President and the editor of its journal, the “Bradford Antiquary”. He was also involved in the Yorkshire Dialect Society, the Bronte Society and worked as editor of the Yorkshire Magazine. Federer was an author and poet in his own right publishing several works on dialects and language including his “Materials for French translation”, and numerous articles in learned journals and periodicals.

While residing in Bradford, Federer, formerly a Roman Catholic, was converted to Methodism and became an active member of the White Abbey Wesleyan Chapel. In this capacity he undertook much useful Circuit work including his regular Sunday morning classes for young men. As a Methodist layman he took a scholarly interest in the history, organisation and theology of his denomination gathering together an extensive collection of Methodist pamphlets, books and memorabilia.

In 1907 his younger son was tragically killed in Canada and later that year his wife, who had given him her total support and encouragement in all his projects, died. These losses affected Federer greatly causing a noticeable decline in his health. Following a complete breakdown in September of the following year Federer passed away in his sleep early in the morning on 5 November, aged seventy-one.

 The extensive library of books and pamphlets assessed by Federer was later acquired by the Bradford City library and now forms the Federer collection of Yorkshire literature, kept in the Local Studies Library on the ground floor of the Margaret Macmillan Tower, Princes way, Bradford. The library is accessible by the side entrance. This collection of almost 12,000 items contains works on all aspects of Yorkshire life including topography, geology, archaeology, medicine, poetry, dialects, charities, sanitation, public works and other Borough and Municipal papers and reports.

As indicated above a  large part of the Federer collection consists of works on Methodism and the different strands of Methodism that existed before reunion in 1932. This includes biographies ion John and Charles Wesley; the Lives and sermons of many Methodist ministers and Lay Preachers, not only in Wesleyan Methodism, but also Primitive Methodism; Wesleyan Reform; Protestant Methodism and various other breakaway groups.

Although a Methodist Federer collected material on many other Nonconformist Churches such as the Baptists, Moravians, the Quakers (Society of Friends); the Congregationalists and lesser known groups such as the Swedenborgians and Southcottians.

Many items are non-religious covering political, social, legal and municipal aspects of Victorian Bradford, as well as poetry and literature generally.

The Federer Collection, with the Dickons and Empsall collections (also housed in the Local Studies Library) provides a unique window into Victorian Bradford and Yorkshire.

Much of the literature is rare and constitutes a significant supplement to the religious material possessed by the five offices of the west Yorkshire Joint Archive Service, the Keighley library and the material stored in the local Studies Department of Leeds City Reference library.

Currently there is only a card index for the Federer Collection, presumably handwritten by Federer himself. About half of the collection consists of pamphlets which are available on microfiche.

In August 2019 Dr Simon Ross Valentine, volunteer archivist, began the task of cataloguing and collating the Federer Collection. The work is ongoing and is gradually being presented online, thereby making Federer more accessible to researchers globally.      

The online catalogue follows the scheme adopted by Federer, dividing the collection into three headings: Author, Town and Subject. So far approximately 1,300 entries in the Subject section are listed in the online catalogue.

Each entry in the card index has the subject, author, date, and reference. In most cases the title of the item is self explanatory. In some cases however a short description of the item is given as the title is vague.

Certain abbreviations are used throughout:

  • pph – pamphlet not a book.
  • W – Wesleyan Methodist.
  • NC – Methodist New Connexion.
  • P– Primitive Methodist

If you would like to know more about the Federer Collection and its fascinating collection of material please feel free to contact:

 the Local Studies Library on 01274 433688; or email   local.studies@bradford.gov.uk 

Dr Valentine can be contacted on archegos@btinternet.com

Access the Federer Collection index here (PDF)