The first Lambeth Conference

2020 was scheduled to be the year of the 15th Lambeth Conference, the assembly of bishops from across the Anglican Communion which has been convened by Archbishops of Canterbury roughly every ten years since 1867. This blog reflects on how the conference began.

There had been earlier suggestions that such a gathering might be worthwhile, but momentum increased in the 1860s in the context of the conflict between High Church bishops in South Africa, headed by Robert Gray (the first Anglican Bishop of Cape Town) and John Colenso, Bishop of Natal. Colenso’s liberal biblical interpretations and theology led Gray to announce Colenso’s removal from office in December 1863. However Colenso, who had refused to attend the tribunal at which his position had been considered, successfully appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, which ruled that Gray had acted beyond his authority.

This generated concern elsewhere in the Anglican Communion, and in 1865 the Anglican Church in Canada wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Longley, asking him to convene a meeting of bishops to discuss this and other matters. After a committee of Convocation, the ruling body for the province of Canterbury, had considered the request, in February 1867 Longley wrote to 144 bishops from across the world inviting them to convene at Lambeth Palace for four days in September.

There was widespread scepticism about the need for the conference, and only around half of those invited came. Some declined to take part out of support of Colenso. Archibald Tait, Bishop of London, who was to succeed Longley at Canterbury in 1868 and preside over the second Lambeth Conference, is believed to have attended only on condition that the Colenso affair would not be discussed. In the end, it was to dominate the bishops’ discussions.

Archbishop Charles Longley, portrait held at Lambeth Palace
Archbishop Charles Longley, portrait held at Lambeth Palace

However there was no resolution or formal declaration in relation to the events in Southern Africa. Given the level of attendance, the ‘Pan-Anglican Synod’ as it was termed was widely perceived to have been a failure. But it had demonstrated that staging such an event was not impossible, and important connections had been made.

Bishops attending the 1867 conference, outside Lambeth Palace. Archbishop Longley is standing in the centre, with Robert Gray, Bishop of Cape Town, sitting on the step below him (ref: Longley 9, f2)
Bishops attending the 1867 conference, outside Lambeth Palace. Archbishop Longley is standing in the centre, with Robert Gray, Bishop of Cape Town, sitting on the step below (ref: Longley 9, f2)

Although there was no certainty at the time that the occasion would be repeated, subsequent requests to Archbishop Tait from the Canadian church again in 1872, and American bishops in 1874, led to Tait agreeing to stage a second conference in 1878. The 1878 conference was significantly longer, attendance was greater, and much had been learned from 1867. The conference ended with an indication that a third conference should be held in 1888, and the rough pattern had been set.







Dr Richard Palmer reports that during August and September the Project focused on the librarianship of Samuel Wayland Kershaw from 1868 to the beginning of 1910. Kershaw owed his appointment to the limited funding available for the Librarian’s salary which made it impossible to appoint a more qualified person. He endured throughout his librarianship the assistance, or perhaps supervision, of a succession of Honorary Curators and Honorary Librarians who were intended to make up for  his supposed deficiencies or lack of standing. Nevertheless Kershaw proved to be a diligent Librarian who enhanced and extended the role of the Library during the primacies of the five Archbishops of Canterbury whom he served.

Archbishop Longley (MS 1680 f 23)


The project has catalogued the extensive records which he generated through his work. Kershaw took forward the intention of Archbishop Longley, who appointed him, to make the Library more widely available for public use. Initially Kershaw attended the Library on only three days a week, with long breaks at Christmas and Easter and in the Autumn, but from 1880 the Library’s opening hours were extended and the result may be seen in the registers of readers which Kershaw maintained. He also opened the Library extensively to visiting groups, as well as to royal and other distinguished visitors, and installed an exhibition case in the Great Hall to display treasures of the Library, many of which he also publicised through his Art Treasures of the Lambeth Library (London, 1873). Correspondence on the loan of manuscripts for publication or transcription, each requiring the Archbishop’s approval, show another aspect of his work. He also introduced regular loans of printed books to readers and enlisted public support to form special collections on the local history of Kent and on monasteries in England and Wales.

Kershaw was also responsible for a new catalogue of printed books, based on an interleaved copy of the Bodleian Library catalogue, and compiled additional catalogues of ‘modern books’ and of pamphlets, including an extensive collection of pamphlets given by Archbishop Howley. The project has also catalogued a large number of indexes which he compiled to manuscript and archives in the Library. It also fell to Kershaw to oversee a major programme of conservation, resulting from an exceptional grant made by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1869, which is recorded in his bookbinding accounts.

Despite these achievements, which were set against a background of acute financial stringency, Kershaw does not seem to have won appreciation. His long reign as Librarian (his ‘amusing despotism’ as one reader put it) was finally terminated at the beginning of 1910 when Archbishop Davidson winkled him out of office. Davidson’s draft letter to Kershaw which brought this about is a masterpiece of tact and persuasion.

Library Records Project 1785-1953 Update 2

Recent work on the project has focused on the active librarianship of Samuel Roffey Maitland from 1838 to 1848 and the work of his successors in the Victorian era. New descriptions of Maitland’s unpublished work have been added to the catalogue, revealing the extent of his bibliographical labours which went far beyond his two printed catalogues of early printed books in the Library.

S R Maitland, Lambeth Librarian (ref: LIB12)


Unfortunately when John Bird Sumner became Archbishop in 1848 he chose not to re-appoint Maitland and gave the post to his own son-in-law John Thomas who appears to have regarded it as a sinecure. Little was done in the Library until the translation to Canterbury of Charles Thomas Longley in 1862. Longley appointed as Librarian William Stubbs, a distinguished historian and later Bishop of Oxford, whose efforts to render the Library more accessible may be seen in the registers of readers and of loans of manuscripts which he initiated. However Stubbs’ departure in 1867 to become Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford initiated a crisis. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners declined to fund the post of Librarian and Archbishop Longley closed the Library in protest. A compromise was reached but the salary provided by the Commissioners was, in Longley’s view, insufficient to attract a candidate of appropriate standing. In 1868 he reluctantly appointed Samuel Wayland Kershaw who remained Librarian until the end of 1909, aided or supervised by a succession of honorary librarians and honorary curators. The Project has recorded for the first time the nine churchmen and scholars who held these honorary appointments.

During the Victorian period the records of the Library expand to document many aspects of its work. Special attention has been paid to a register of visitors from 1870 to 1940 (LR/D/4). Amongst distinguished visitors who signed the book were Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, George V and Queen Mary, Frederick III, Emperor of Germany, Maria Feodorovna, Empress of Russia, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Octavia Hill, Field Marshal Viscount Allenby, Admiral Louis Mountbatten, Sir Robert Borden, Prime Minister of Canada, Prince Lichtowski, German Ambassador in London in 1914, Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, and eminent church leaders from around the world. A newscutting pasted into the register describes the exhibition in the Library prepared by Kershaw for the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1874.

In addition to current work on the project, selected 17th-century catalogues of the Library collection under Archbishop Sheldon are now available online in the image management system: LR/F/6; LR/F/8 pages 1-50, pages 51-100, pages 101-180; LR/F/9; MS 1047.