Dr Williams's Library serves as the principal library for the history of English Protestant dissent. It also continues to collect current scholarship in the following categories:
a) Material relating to the study of theology and Patristics
b) Ecclesiastical history with strengths in the Early Church, the Reformation and Modern periods
c) Biblical material - Old Testament and New Testament and Commentaries
d) Material supporting, or stemming from, the study of the historic collection of archives, manuscripts and early printed books in the care of the Library relating to the Puritan tradition and Protestant Dissent
These collections may be borrowed by members.
Early English dissent
Dissenting history is the primary focus of the collections, including approximately 40,000 pre-1801 items. All denominations are included, but there is a strong emphasis on the older groups, especially the English Presbyterians and their successors the Unitarians, with the Separatists and their successors, the Independents and the Congregationalists, now reinforced by the New College and Congregational libraries.
Histories of churches and their ministers
Histories of local churches and their ministers. An unrivalled collection of histories of individual dissenting churches and ministers (mainly Congregational or United Reformed Churches, English Presbyterian, and Unitarian), their historical society transactions, denominational directories or yearbooks, and all the main denominational histories; many of these are privately printed and are not available in other libraries. The index known as the ‘Directory of Congregational biography’ c1640-1956, compiled by Charles Edward Surman (1901-86) to record references to all known ministers of Congregational churches, including those originally Presbyterian which became Unitarian, is now available online. The publication of Nonconformist Congregations in Great Britain: a list of histories and other material in Dr Williams’s Library, 1973, includes analytical entries for periodical articles and parts of books.
The 1727 catalogue which preceded the Library's opening by three years shows the range of subjects of the books in the Collections of Daniel Williams and William Bates. Williams had in 1700 purchased Bates' library for more than £500. In addition to theology, the foundation library included editions of classical, Spanish, French and English literature, including a Shakespeare first folio (now sold), two plays with Ben Jonson autographs, and first editions of Beaumont and Fletcher, and Dryden. Although the 1727 catalogue does not distinguish between the two collections, some are identifiable from inscriptions. Daniel Williams's collection included some books from his first wife, Elizabeth, the sister of the Countess of Meath. Approximately 5,000 volumes form a subsection of continental books of chiefly French seventeenth-century Protestant writers, including Moyse Amyrault (1596-1664), Jean Daillé (1594-1670), Pierre Jurieu (1637-1713), and Blaise Pascal (1623-62).
The Foundation Collection was much enhanced by donors throughout the eighteenth-century. Several donors were also trustees of the library. These included William Harris (c1675-1740) who bequeathed almost 2,000 volumes. Thomas Hollis (1720-74), of Lincoln’s Inn, the republican and dilettante, acquired a library of fine books; many donations from him came 1760-70. His heir Thomas Brand Hollis (d1804) gave several books in 1798 including 16 first editions of Milton. His friend John Disney (1746-1816), a former Anglican who became a Unitarian, gave many books and 87 manuscripts, including a collection of nonconformist liturgies, works relating to the Francis Blackburne Confessional controversy, and many others from his own and from the inherited collection between 1793 and 1805.
A collection of near on 1000 hymnals, mainly English and ranging from the early nineteenth-century to the twentieth century. Part of this collection comprising of hymnals and psalters were donated to the library from Hove Public Library.
Pamphlets and tracts
The library holds a large collection of pamphlets and tracts which include funeral sermons, mostly for nonconformist ministers, Unitarian tracts, and pamphlets on slavery; as well as collections of parliamentary sermons; and on the Bangorian and Trinitarian controversies, and on popery.
With 1,000 titles mainly on religious, historical and philosophical subjects include the Evangelical Magazine, the Monthly Repository, the Arminian Magazine, and also the anti-slavery journals; also many small and obscure papers such as the Bulletin of the Isle of Man Communist Christian Church; a collection of American evangelical magazines of 1820-40; many of the major Victorian review journals such as the Fortnightly, Athenaeum, and the Edinburgh; a collection of French literary reviews and general periodicals 1660-1740; and many other journals.
An alphabetical list follows:
William Bates (1625 -1699)
The books of Dr William Bates 1625-1699 were bought by Dr Williams on his death. They are included in the Catalogue of 1727, but no indication is given there of which were Bates’s and which Williams’s. It is generally thought that the books in Spanish (around 100, including some rare editions and around 30 volumes in typical Spanish hairsheep bindings), Italian and French were Bates’s: his ownership signature appears in some of the Italian books but none of the Spanish. Bates appears to have read widely in all areas of knowledge, and had advanced tastes in the baroque literature of his time. These holdings are not well known to researchers in foreign languages.
He was among the most notable of the ejected ministers of 1662. After metriculating at New Inn Hall in 1641, Bates moved to Cambridge after the occupation of Oxford by the king's forces. He obtained a BA from Queen's in 1645 and an MA in 1648. Moving from his post as vicar of Tottenham, he suceeded William Strong at St-Dunstans-in-the-West, Fleet Street, London. Bates was among the leading men who helped turn opinion in the City of London in favour of the restoration of Charles II. Although in 1660 he was appointed a chaplain-in-ordinary to the king, he never preached at court. After his ejection from St Dunstan's he continued to preach at the house of the Countess of Exeter and elsewhere. Bates founded the Salter's Hall lecture.
Norman Hepburn Baynes (1877-1961)
Norman Baynes was Professor of History at University College London and a well known, much published Byzantanist. On his death, in 1961, he bequeathed his important collection of books and pamphlets to Dr Williams’s Library. The main subject is, of course, Byzantium and its Empire. There are books on Byzantine art and architecture, philosophy, theology and history. One of the most important sections of the Baynes Library is the collection of texts of the Church Fathers, both Greek and Latin, together with commentaries in various languages. The Baynes Collection is also home to many important journals, including Byzantion, Sobornost, Dumbarton Oaks Papers and Byzantionoslavika.
Professor Baynes was interested in many other subjects beside Byzantium. He collected books on Ancient Rome, Russian orthodox theology, numismatics, Islam and the Islamic Empire, Ethiopia, Ancient Greece and Eastern Europe. Where else in London could one find books on Syrian curses in the same room of books on Moorish Spain?
George Henry Lewes and George Eliot Library
George Henry Lewes (1817-78) the journalist, bequeathed his library to his partner Marian Evans (1819-80), (George Eliot the novelist); it passed with the addition of her own books to his son Charles Lee Lewes (1842-91) who, in 1882, gave two-thirds of the combined collection on condition that it should remain a separate collection bearing his father’s name. The strength of this collection is the nineteenth-century imprints, mostly between 1801-81, but the Lewis/Eliot Library includes some sixteenth-century volumes and there are approximately forty seventeenth-century and over one hundred eighteenth-century volumes. While almost half of these volumes have English imprints, the remainder are German, French, Italian and Dutch. Lewes collected science and medicine, and these subjects accounts for half of the collection. The remaider are history, literature, philosophy and theology, with a few on other subjects. There are many annotated copies and many are in their contemporary bindings.
Mostly the library of Theophilus Lindsey (1723-1808) Vicar of Catterick, then Unitarian Minister at Essex Street, friend and son-in-law of Archdeacon Francis Blackburne (1705-87); given in 1810 by his widow Hannah Elsworth (d1812, Blackburne’s stepdaughter) to the chapel for the use of the resident minister, where it attracted some additional donations (the Lindsey items have his bookplate). Lindsey’s library was moved from Essex Church at Kensington in 1928, and given to Dr Williams’s about 1977. The Lindsey collection also includes Lindsey’s manuscript sermons, and annotated copies of the Theological Repository of the Unitarian minister and scientist Joseph Priestley (1753-1804). The books and pamphlets, are mainly Unitarian or on a variety of subjects in nonconformist theology. Also a collection of the works of Priestley's works.
The Walton Collection: Christopher Walton (1809-1877)
Walton was a collector of theosophical works. He began business as a silk mercer and then made his wealth as a jeweller and goldsmith; he spent a great deal on his Theosophical Library at 8 Ludgate Hill. Walton’s primary interests, and the energetic if chaotic style in which he gathered materials, are suggested by the title of an octavo volume he published in a limited edition in 1856: Notes and materials for an adequate biography of the celebrated divine and theosopher William Law. Comprising an elucidation of the scope and contents of the writings of Jacob Bohme, and of his great commentator, Dionysius Andreas Freher…. He gave his collection to Dr Williams’s Library near the end of his life (1876), stipulating that it should continue to be freely available to all those interested in the subject. The Walton Collection has suffered much wear and tear over the years and due to poor storage is now in need of extensive conservation work.
Walton's Theosophical Library includes approximately 1,000 books on mysticism, theosophy, philosophy, these range from the sixteenth to the nineteenth-century. Half of the collection are foreign imprints from France, Germany, Amsterdam. Many books although now fragile are in contemporary bindings. Many works contain annotations by Christopher Walton.
Judaica and Hebraica
This collection ranges from the sixteenth to thwe twentieth-century, first seperated by the Unitarian minister Robert Travers Herford (1860-1950) who compiled a manuscript catalogue. The collection is strong in Hebrew language concerning the scriptures, the Talmud and the Kabbalah. While there are a number of sixteenth-centenury books the strength of this collection lies in seventeenth-century works. Mostly foreign imprints, with many of these books in their contemporary bindings.
New College Library, London
New College was founded in the Congregational tradition in 1850 by the merger of three colleges, Coward, Highbury and Homerton, which had originated in the eightheenth-century as academies for the higher education of dissenters who were excluded from the two universities. In 1900 New College became part of the Theological Faculty of the University of London. Hackney College was merged with it in 1924, and from then until 1936 it was called Hackney and New College. In 1976 the College was closed, and its library was divided (the incunabula went to the University of London Library). The library contains around 13,000 books, kept separately, apart from the Doddridge collection (described below).
A collection of books identified as having come from the personal library of Philip Doddridge (1702-51). His books formed the core of the library of his academy (later Coward College). ca 500 books, mostly Bibles, classics, editions of Richard Baxter (1615-91), school books, Roman Catholic and anti-papal books. They include books acquired from his uncle Philip Doddridge (d1715), and others bought from the widow of John Jennings (c1686/7-1723), founder of Kibworth Academy; gifts mainly of classical literature and philosophy from his brother-in-law John Nettleton, a minister in Essex, and from Samuel Clark (1684-1750), minister at St Albans.
Western College, Bristol collection
This college, which originated from various academies from 1752 onwards in the West of England, closed in 1969. Most of its library was then sold (some at Sotheby 13 Feb 1922), but some books with the bookplates of Taunton Academy’ (1780-94) and Axminster Academy (1796-1828) were transferred to New College Library.
A collection of ca 1900 sermons 1577-1866 preached at the funerals of nonconformist ministers and others, bound in ca 120 v. It was begun as a private collection by Roger Flexman (1708-95), Dr Williams’s librarian, and later came into the possession of Walter Wilson (1781-1847) who used it in his History... of dissenting churches. From him it is thought to have passed to Charles Godwin, a bookseller in Bath where Wilson died, who added to it considerably. It is not known when or how it reached New College.