History of Sion College Library, part III

Recession and inflation in the 1970s hastened Sion’s long standing financial problems.  In May 1975 Sion decided to sell books again in order to raise capital.  This sale was not mentioned in the minutes until 1977, after dozens of the library’s most valuable books had been sold.  The sale raised £450,000, which was thought to be sufficient to last until 1990 when the lease could be renegotiated.  However, due to the recession the true value of the books was not realised, again.  Despite the sale, in just two years Sion was again finding outgoings exceeding income.  Other books were offered for sale, but declined.

In 1986, the Greater London Council was disbanded and the Inner London Education Authority took over the remainder of the lease.  In 1990 the ILEA was also disbanded, leaving no tenant with which to renegotiate the lease.  Another recession made it impossible to find a new tenant, despite refurbishment of the building, and the building was sold for an amount that did not clear the College’s debts.  Sion was now left with an empty bank account, its books and its building.  In one of the last meeting minutes it was suggested that it might be preferable for the College to be handed over to another institution rather than to see the library dismembered piece by piece ‘like orphans being lined up and some selected to be shot’.  It was ultimately decided that the ‘historic core’ of the library, an estimated 50,000 volumes, were sent to Lambeth Palace Library, as ‘Lambeth believed it could attract funding for this and build more library accommodation’.

In the end, Lambeth Palace Library accepted the pre-1850 Sion collection books, manuscripts and the entire pamphlet collection.  The administrative archives of Sion College were sent to London Metropolitan Archives and King’s College London accepted the post-1850 books for use by the theology department.

Lambeth Palace Library has hired a conservator and two cataloguers to work solely on Sion Collection books.  Their posts are funded by the Headly Trust and the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library.  Work has started on the ARC sequence, the books which Sion classified as most rare and valuable.

A proposal has been developed to house both the Lambeth Palace Library and Church of England Record Centre archives in a new library building within the grounds of Lambeth Palace, thereby retaining the historic links with Lambeth Palace and the Archbishops of Canterbury.

New library model

The Church Commissioners Board of Governors have now agreed in principle to funding a new building for Lambeth Palace Library, subject to approval of final costs  and have established a small group of Commissioners and senior staff to take forward the project. The next phase will be to select and appoint architects. A project Manager has been appointed to lead this task with the aim of appointing architects in mid-2015.

The current draft timetable envisages that the building will be designed and costed by the end of 2015.  Achieving planning permission and constructing the new library will take up to three years. The likely date for opening a new library is therefore 2019.

In these ways Lambeth Palace Library is fulfilling its promise to ‘attract funding for (the collection) and build more library accommodation’.  Future blog posts will look at individual volumes in the Sion collection in more detail and from a conservation and cataloguing point of view.

Compiled by Anna James, Edited by Talitha Wachtelborn

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