Dr Williams's Library
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Printed CollectionsThe original Library consisted of the books bequeathed by Dr Daniel Williams on his death in 1716. He left around 7600 books, principally folio and quarto volumes, though with an important collection of 127 volumes of tracts. The original benefaction can be identified from the first catalogue published in 1727 (two years before the Library actually opened). It comprises of the Williams’s own library together with that of Dr. William Bates, which he had purchased on the latter's death in 1700. It was dominated by theology (as might be expected), but the catalogue discloses an unexpectedly wide-ranging collection. It included choice editions of classical, French and English literature, including surprisingly a number of printed plays, including two with Ben Jonson’s autograph, a Shakespeare first folio, and first editions of Beaumont and Fletcher, and Dryden. It is assumed that the divinity is largely Williams's and that the literature, including works in French, Italian, and Spanish, as well as a Shakespeare First Folio, came from Bates. There is also much French Protestant literature, some of it extremely rare.
Daniel Williams made no provision for the purchase of books and it was not until 1805 that any of the income of the Trust was allowed for this purpose. Purchases were however made, being paid for from gifts of money or from the sale of duplicate or unwanted volumes given to the Library. Unfortunately, some books that appear in the catalogue of 1727 were later sold for this reason.
The earliest donations of books or of money were made very soon after the Library opened. Books were purchased from the library of John Evans (1680-1730), a foundation trustee, including rare Elizabethan tracts, and new trustees who were laymen generally gave ten guineas for books upon election. Amongst the early benefactors (all ministers) were Thomas Rowe, Dr William Harris (d. 1740), Edmund Calamy IV, John Archer, Philip Gibbs, William Sheldon, and Dr William Harris (d. 1770). Nathaniel Lardner was amongst those who sent copies of his works as published and Philip Doddridge bequeathed some of his works. In 1776 came the bequest of Robert Wastfield, a layman, and for some years from 1760 volumes ‘By an unknown hand’ which is known to have been Thomas Hollis. To his heir, Thomas Brand Hollis, the Library owes early editions of Milton and other works, and to John Disney, who succeeded to the Hollis estates, eighteenth century liturgies and pamphlets on the Confessional Controversy. Many other volumes of pamphlets were amongst the donations noted above.
Throughout the nineteenth century the Library continued to grow but its great expansion began when it moved into new premises in Grafton Street in 1873 and continued after the move to Gordon Square in 1890. There was adequate (for those days) provision for the purchase of books, and the number of readers grew. Modern theology, English and Continental, was extensively acquired, new editions of Patristic and Reformation writers were added, and many periodicals begun to be taken. What had been largely an historical collection became also a modern library.
In 1876 Christopher Walton deposited his collection of books and manuscripts on mystical subjects, centred around Jacob Boehme and including manuscripts by William Law and Dionysius Andreas Freher. In 1882 Charles Lee Lewes presented what he termed ‘the scientific portion’ of the library collected by his father, George Henry Lewes, and George Eliot. These 2,000 volumes contain many annotations by their owners and their importance is increasingly realised. In 1914 W. K. Marriott presented the remains of a library collected in the eighteenth century by the Fanshawe family, including volumes of pamphlets collected by John Conybeare, sometime Bishop of Bristol. The surviving library of Theophilus Lindsey, bequeathed by his widow to the chapel in Essex Street which he had founded, was deposited at the Library before the Second World War and subsequently formally presented. In 1961 the Library received by bequest, with an endowment for its maintenance, the Byzantine portion of the library of Professor Norman H. Baynes, which he had first suggested as a bequest almost fifty years previously. Like many readers Professor Baynes valued the Library for the assistance it gave to those who had no access to university or college libraries.
The largest single donation the Library has received came in 1976-77 when the Governors of New College, London, upon its closure as a theological college, gave around twelve thousand volumes. These represent the surviving portions of the libraries of the academies and colleges which coalesced into New College in 1850, with many other volumes besides, including some from Hackney College which united with New College in 1924. It includes books from the library of Philip Doddridge, which passed to Northampton Academy, and from the libraries of Isaac Watts, John Pye Smith, and others in the Independent, or Congregational, tradition. Joining the books already here, which came overwhelmingly from the Presbyterian tradition of English Nonconformity, the two streams make an unrivalled collection.
Enter the online catalogue of printed material here.
If there is something you think we should add to the collection, please email the Library with your recommendation.
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