Joseph Gillow (5 October 1850 in Preston, Lancashire – 17 March 1921 in Westholme, Hale) was an English Roman Catholic antiquary, historian and bio-bibliographer, "the Plutarch of the English Catholics".[1]


Born in Frenchwood House, Lancashire,[2] to a recusant English Roman Catholic family able to trace an uninterrupted pedigree back to Conishead Priory in 1325, Gillow was the son of a magistrate, Joseph Gillow (1801-1872), and his wife, Jane Haydock (1805-1872), a descendant of Christopher Haydock, a Lancashire politician and a member of another prominent recusant English Roman Catholic family, the Haydocks of Cottam[3] [4][5] Joseph Gillow was educated at Sedgley Park School, Wolverhampton (1862-1863) and St Cuthbert's College, Ushaw (1864-1866), where his brothers and uncles had studied for the priesthood. [6] At Ushaw, Gillow developed an abiding interest in Lancashire Catholicism, resulting in the publication of The Tyldesley Diary in 1873. [7]

In 1878 Gillow married Eleanor McKenna, daughter of John McKenna, of Dunham Massey Hall, [8] with whom he had seven children.[9] In marrying into the McKennas, Gillow secured himself a private income which allowed him to pursue his antiquarian interests.[10].

Gillow published various researches into the history of Roman Catholicism in Lancashire, but his greatest achievement was the Biographical and Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics (5 vols, 1885-1902). To fit his material into the five volumes allotted him by his publishers, he needed to abbreviate the later volumes.[10] Cardinal Gasquet described the dictionary as a ‘veritable storehouse of information’, however, until 1986, no index was available.[11]

Gillow was appointed honorary recorder of the Catholic Record Society at its foundation in 1904, and was a frequent contributor.[12]

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