Friends of Dr Williams’s Trust and Library


Friends of Dr Williams's Trust and Library

AGM   27 October 2022

Director’s Report.


Friends, from previous communications, will be aware of the challenges facing the Dr Williams’s Trust & Library at this time.   On reading the Minutes from the last AGM (2021) I am conscious of the  rapidly evolving scenario.  This time last year the Trust was still aspiring to refurbish its historic 1840s building, here in Gordon Square.  After a prolonged process and following an exhaustive, detailed, and costly, revision of plans, the Trust received full planning permission from the Council.   However, despite this positive development the Trust was not positioned to obtain loans to support the work.   There was no culture of fundraising adequate to the task (or sums involved).   Nor indeed were anticipated rental incomes adequate to the repayment rates advised.   In the light of the national economic upheaval, it is now clear that the interest rates too would also have been debilitating.  The departure of the Congregational Library in April further highlighted the operational vulnerability facing the Trust.  There are now definite changes underway, many of which cannot now be altered


This building itself, 14 Gordon Square, is to be disposed of and the process for that will be confirmed in the coming weeks with an anticipated departure from this site by June 2023.  It is not decided whether this disposal will be by sale or long-term lease.   It is likely that will be determined by the market.   Negotiations and discussions are ongoing to identify, among other things: 


  • Ongoing access to research material.
  • Storage of material and collections in a safe and secure manner.
  • The future management, ownership, and location of these collections.


The first two tasks, while complex, are somewhat clinical and can be addressed with time and resources.   The future management of the collections is undoubtedly the most complex issue in these tasks and is being considered slowly and with wide consultation.   It forces the Trust to consider what collections are core to purpose and historic legacy.  The abiding aspiration is to preserve for future generations while encouraging more proactive and wider use.  There is absolutely no consideration of the material being taken outside the jurisdiction.    And despite unhelpful rumours there has been no question of the Trust disposing of its collections for commercial gain.   Such rumours are mendacious in origin, undermining in intent, and reputationally damaging for the organisation as a whole.  They serve no useful purpose.


If not involved in the day-to-day management of the Library the Trust is likely to retain ownership of the material and will, it is hoped at this stage, continue to have a role in its conservation, and promotion and utilisation by scholars and new and emerging scholars.   It is not just an aspiration to protect the collection but a wish to encourage the wider study of the book and print culture.  It is hoped that established and developing links with programmes such as that on the History of the Book, run by the School of Advance Studies, here in London can be strengthened.   Such a course, and the links therewith, will also help grow an awareness of the conservation needs of the wider and diverse Dr Williams’ collections.   These developments will build on links already established by the Trust, and its conservator Jane Giscombe.    Indeed there remains an aspiration that the Trust might continue to supervise and support the conservation needs of its collection, even if managed elsewhere, and a proactive conservation programme would be one support area a Friends organisation could be actively engaged in as the Trust looks forward.


Anxious to ensure its own renewal the Trust has embarked on considering its own governance structures and operational model.  It has appointed, for the first time, a Chair, Derek McAuley, for an initial three-year term.  It has introduced Standing Orders to reflect the needs of modern charities and appropriate to any future fund raising may be embarked on – most probably with an educational and conservation focus.   There will be an organisational review, new Trustees will be appointed in time, and a consideration on the Trust’s core structure especially issues of legal structure and liabilities will be considered.


While at the right time, and subject to national professional guidelines, the Trust will divest itself of published material surplus to requirements (initially recent runs of journals and so forth).  The collection has nonetheless grown.    The Friends themselves were among a body of supporters, including my predecessor Dr David Wykes, that facilitated the purchases of manuscripts associated with Edward Calamy.  The most substantive support for this purchase came from the Friends of National Libraries.   There have been subsequent discussions with the same body, the Friends of National Libraries, on how projects and indeed purchases for the Trust could be continued into the future, despite the evolving management scenario referred to above.


With limitations there has been ongoing access to research material and the Library has facilitated a range of scholars, some from USA and New Zealand, both at Gordon Square and Trinity Chapel, Brixton.  Material has continued to be conserved, as time and resources have allowed, and conscious of operational priorities.  This has been carried out by Jane Giscombe.  The preparation and boxing of materials for off-site is by necessity slow and laborious – and in this task Jane has been supported by Lisa Cheetham, Angela Wootton, Jane Pimlott, Kumiko Matsuoka, among others


The Trust funded and supported the publication of Dr Alan Argent’s History…   and hosted a successful launch event for this during the summer.   A series of ZOOM lectures on themes complementary to this book has just concluded and the Trust is thankful to Dr Argent for his contributions.   The use of this space (Lecture Hall) for lectures has, ironically, resumed and the Royal Institute of Philosophy is hosting lectures here on various Fridays through autumn into the spring of 2023.   In recent weeks too and over a nine-day period the Bloomsbury Arts Festival utilised this space for a series of theatre performances and workshops introducing a stream of locals and activities to the building as never before.   Hopefully, such wider community access may continue, regardless of how this building is to be managed or controlled in the future.


The Trust has commitments to its historic links with the University of Glasgow and its ministry training programme.   Following discussions and ongoing meetings changes to these programmes are anticipated.  The developments are currently being assessed by the University itself with outside consultation with the Dr Williams’s Trust, among other interested parties.    Even though there has been a parting of the ways, for now, with the Congregational Memorial Hall Trust relations are positive and there has been open and frank discussion about the challenges facing both collections.   It remains an aspiration that a shared solution for the long-term management of collections can be arranged.     The Trust has similarly engaged positively with other collections, notably the staff of the Harris Manchester College, the Angus Library, Quaker Library, among many others.   Relations with our near neighbours, UCL, are now very positive and open.  And the Trust has been represented at meetings of the Institute of Conservation, the Independent Library Association, the Chapels Trust, the Baxter Association, the Christian Heritage Symposium (Nottingham) and the Association of Denominational Historical Societies and Cognate Libraries. As Director I have initiated discussions with other denominational-specific collections, the Angus Library and the Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History, to see how we might better collaborate.


Thanks, as ever, are due to the Chair and the Trustees who give of their time voluntarily and do so much to support the overall aims of the Trust, while acknowledging and addressing the challenges now faced by the Trust.   Of course, thanks to the staff who have patiently accommodated the turmoil of change in recent years and the operational uncertainty.  Thanks too to the Friends for the support of the Special Collections Cataloguer.   And thanks to Anne Page, who not only speaks to us later this evening but has shown such warm and scholarly support and investment in the publication of these lectures over recent years.  Her contribution will be missed but will be long appreciated.

Hugh Maguire




6:39pm, 20/01/23

There will be no further access to research material (primary or secondary)  belonging to the Dr Williams’s Trust from 1st February 2023.   This is to facilitate the Trust’s disposal of 14 Gordon Square.   Nonetheless, arrangements are being finalised to provide access to material from autumn 2023 onwards and these will be announced in due course. read more …

DWL: December Lecture

12:04pm, 15/11/22

Dr Williams’s Trust & Library, London   Assoc. Professor Derval Conroy (University College Dublin:  School of Languages, Culture and Linguistics)   Changing places: paratexts and gender in translations of Le Moyne's “La Gallerie de Femmes Fortes” (1647)     Mary Queen of Scots from Mary Queen of Scots from Pierre Le Moyne, La Gallerie des Femmes Fortes (Paris, 1647), 136.   DATE:   Wednesday 7th December 2022     TIME:   5. read more …