Ayloffe, Sir Joseph 1709-1781, baronet, an eminent antiquary, was the great grandson of Sir William Ayloffe, first baronet, through his third wife [see Ayloffe, William, ad fin.], and was the son of Joseph Ayloffe, barrister-at-law of Gray's Inn and sometime recorder of Kingston-upon-Thames, who died in 1726. Born about 1709, Ayloffe was educated at Westminster, was admitted a student of Lincoln's Inn in 1724, and spent some time at St. John's College, Oxford, before 1728. In 1730 he succeeded, as sixth in succession, to the family baronetcy on the death of his unmarried cousin, the Rev. Sir John Ayloffe, a descendant of the first family of the original holder of the title. Sir Joseph seems very early in life to have manifested an interest in antiquities, which received at once the recognition of the learned, although for many years he was merely collecting information and published nothing. On 10 Feb. 1731-2 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and on 27 May of the same year a fellow of the Royal Society. Seven years later he became a member of the well-known literary club—the Gentlemen's Society at Spalding. But he did not confine himself altogether to antiquarian research. In 1736-7 he was appointed secretary to the commission superintending the erection of Westminster Bridge; in 1750 he was auditor-general of the hospitals of Bethlehem and Bridewell; and in 1763, on the removal of the state archives from Whitehall and the establishment of a State Paper Office at the Treasury, he was nominated one of its three keepers. In 1751 Ayloffe took a prominent part in procuring a charter of incorporation for the Society of Antiquaries, of which he was for many years a vice-president, and at its meetings he very frequently read papers. He died at Kensington on 19 April 1781, and with him the baronetcy became extinct. He married, about 1734, Margaret, daughter of Charles Railton of Carlisle, by whom he had one son, who died of small-pox at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1756. Both father and son were buried in Hendon churchyard. Sir Joseph was the intimate friend of his colleague at the State Paper Office, Thomas Astle, and of Richard Gough; the latter described Ayloffe as the English Montfaucon.
Ayloffe's published writings belong to his later life, and were never very successful with the general public. In 1751 he circulated proposals for printing by subscription the debates in parliament prior to the Restoration, in eight octavo volumes. But little favour was apparently extended to the scheme; although in 1773 it was advertised that the first volumes would soon be sent to press, none appear to have been published (cf. Rawlinson MSS. in the Bodleian, s. v. Ayloffe). It was also in 1751 that Sir Joseph issued a prospectus inviting subscribers for a translation of Diderot's and D'Alembert's Encyclopédie, with additional or expanded articles on subjects of English interest. But the first number, which was published on 11 June 1752, obtained such scanty support, and was so severely handled in the Gentleman's Magazine (xxii. 46), that the project was immediately abandoned. Some years previously Ayloffe had induced Joshua Kirby, a well-known draughtsman of Ipswich, to prepare a number of engravings of the chief buildings and monuments in Suffolk, and twelve of them were published with descriptive letterpress by Ayloffe in 1748. It was Ayloffe's intention to introduce Kirby's drawings into an elaborate history of the county upon which he was apparently engaged for the succeeding fifteen years. In 1764 he had made so much progress in collecting and arranging his materials that he published a lengthy prospectus for the publication of an exhaustive Topographical and Historical Description of Suffolk, but unfortunately he here again received too little encouragement to warrant him in pursuing his elaborate plan. Subsequently he contributed several memoirs to Archæologia, the journal of the Society of Antiquaries, which were highly valued at the time. On 25 Feb. 1763 he communicated an interesting Copy of a Proclamation (1563) relating to Persons making Portraits of Queen Elizabeth (ii. 169-170). In 1773 and 1774 there appeared in Archæologia (iii. 185-229, 239-272, 376-413) three papers by Ayloffe, describing (1) a picture at Windsor of the famous interview in 1520 between Henry VIII and Francis I; (2) four pictures at Cowdray near Midhurst, the property of Lord Montague, illustrating Henry VIII's wars in France in the latter part of his reign; and (3) the opening of the tomb of Edward I at Westminster in 1774, an exhumation that Ayloffe with Daines Barrington superintended. Another paper prepared for the Society of Antiquaries, On Five Monuments in Westminster Abbey, was published separately, with engravings, in 1780. An account of the chapel on London Bridge, by Ayloffe, was published with a drawing by George Vertue in 1777.
In 1772 Ayloffe published the work by which he is still known to historical students. It is entitled Calendars of the Antient Charters — and of the Welch and Scottish Rolls now remaining in the Tower. In a lengthy introduction the author impresses on historians the necessity of scholarly research among the state papers. The book was begun by the Rev. Philip Morant, who was at one time employed at the State Paper Office, and was published at first anonymously. But in 1774 a new issue gave Sir Joseph Ayloffe's name on the title-page. Ayloffe also revised for the press new editions of Leland's Collectanea (1771) and of the Liber Niger Scaccarii (1771), and added valuable appendices of original illustrative documents. He saw through the press John Thorpe's Registrum Roffense, which was published in 1769 by the compiler's son. Ayloffe's Collections relative to Saxon and English Laws and Antiquities remain in manuscript at the British Museum (Addit. MS. 9051). We have been unable to trace the whereabouts of his other manuscript collections, which were clearly very numerous, and are stated by contemporaries to have been invaluable so far as they related to the abbey and city of Westminster. His library was sold by Leigh and Sotheby soon after his death.
Annual Register for 1781
Gent. Mag. for 1781
Nichols's Literary Anecdotes and Illustrations of Literature
Burke's Extinct Peerage, p. 30
Morant's History of Essex
Brit. Mus. Cat.
Contributor: S. L. [Sidney Lee]