Partners at the Palace: the story of the wives of the Archbishops of Canterbury

The first Archbishop of Canterbury who lived at Lambeth with his wife was Matthew Parker. Historically, members of the clergy had not been permitted to marry, until the Clergy Marriage Act of 1548. There is evidence that Archbishop Cranmer was married, but his wife did not live with him at Lambeth as far as we know. It was not until the dust began to settle after the Restoration following the English Civil War that marriage of clergy at the level of the Archbishop began to be more socially acceptable. Archbishop Sheldon was the subject of rumours that he had “wenches” according to Samuel Pepys’ cousin Roger.[1] Sheldon never married, and Pepys expressed some surprise at the suggestion of the Archbishop being as promiscuous as his cousin claimed.

Engraving of Matthew Parker
Engraving of Matthew Parker by Remigius Hogenberg, 1573, pasted into the LPL copy of De antiquitate Britannicae ecclesiae… (1572)[2]

From the 1750s onwards, the majority of Archbishops were married prior to their appointment to the role. One of the few exceptions was Cosmo Gordon Lang, who never married, and it has been speculated that he was homosexual. However, evidence for this is scant, and it is more likely that he believed in clergy celibacy. The notion of clergy celibacy was the cause of much debate from the break with Rome onwards. One of the most vocal advocates in favour of clergy marriage was Matthew Parker, who accepted deprivation of his offices in order to remain married to his wife Margaret during the reign of Queen Mary. When Elizabeth I took the throne, some restrictions on clergy marriage remained in place and clergymen were not permitted to live with their wives in cathedral or college premises, although parish clergy were often married and lived with their wives and families. Parker built a house on the Lambeth Palace Estate for Margaret so that they were close but not breaking the rules. Margaret was keenly involved in the hospitality associated with the role of the Archbishop and receiving guests. Margaret seems to have been popular among her husband’s circle, seen as a supportive partner. Indeed, she is described as being “a person accomplished in all good endowments of body and mind, and towards him of great tenderness.”[3] She was however, less popular with the Queen who is alleged to have departed an event at Lambeth Palace with the words “And you, madam I may not call you; mistress I am ashamed to call you: so I know not what to call you, but yet I do thank you.”[4]

All of the Archbishops’ wives had individual personalities, interests and projects, some of which overlapped with the work of the Archbishop. The majority of Archbishops had previously been Bishops elsewhere, so moving with their family into Lambeth Palace must have been both an adventure and an upheaval. Mary Benson, wife of Archbishop Edward White Benson, had moved their growing family from Lincoln to Truro before arriving at Lambeth with their younger children, the London fog a complete world away from the rolling fields and open space of Cornwall. Mary took an interest in some of the collections in the Palace, including the remains of Archbishop Laud’s pet tortoise, which was discovered in the back of a cupboard. She wrote to the Natural History Museum, and there is correspondence about the tortoise between her and William Flower who was the curator at the time, along with some labels from where the shell had been displayed. A sense of mystery remains as to how old the tortoise was when it came into Laud’s care, and how old it was when it died.[5] In later years, Lucy Tait, the daughter of the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, moved in with the Benson family at Lambeth. When Archbishop Benson died in 1896, Mary Benson and Lucy Tait set up home together in Sussex.[6]

Mary Benson and Friends
Mary Benson and Friends at Tremans (later spelled Treemans) in Horsted Keynes[7]

Frances, wife of Archbishop William Temple, incumbent during the height of the Second World War, remained at Lambeth during the conflict and wrote detailed accounts of the war at a local level, including bomb damage sustained at Lambeth Palace and fighting fires in the Canterbury Precincts[8] as well as her plans to restore and refurbish the Palace when she and the Archbishop moved in to use it as the official residence. Her accounts detail spending time together in bomb shelters and observing the damage the following morning, both at Lambeth and in Canterbury. Following the death of her husband in 1944, she wrote a biography of his life and work.

Frances Temple's account of an air raid

Rosamund Fisher was Central President of the Mothers Union, a role which complemented that of her husband. Subsequent spouses have maintained the connection with the Mothers Union and continued the charitable work of the organisation. As well as charitable work, Lady Fisher undertook a central role in the repair and restoration of Lambeth Palace after the Second World War. Her account also details a brief visit from Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip before they were married, on the occasion of Prince Philip’s induction into the Church of England. He quipped about getting married there and then, given that the Archbishop was present.[9]

Rosamund Fisher's account of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip

In more recent years, Rosalind “Lindy” Runcie was a keen gardener and was instrumental in bringing the garden up to date after a period of neglect. It is thanks to her that Lambeth Palace garden looks the way it does today, her careful planning and the continued upkeep by the gardening team has allowed the garden to mature into a beautiful tranquil space .

Archbishop Runcie and Lady Runcie in the garden
Archbishop Runcie and Lady Runcie in the garden on their 25th wedding anniversary[10]

Lady Runcie’s plans included clearing and replanting the rose garden and creating a kitchen garden to grow fruit and vegetables for use in the Palace kitchens. Her work was continued by Mrs Carey, who oversaw the Garden Committee. Lambeth Palace continues to hold garden open days during the summer months when members of the public are welcome to visit and look around. More information about this can be found on the Palace website. Current and recent wives of Archbishops, as well as maintaining their own individual identities, have undertaken roles which support that of the Archbishop and the Church. This includes charity work both in the UK and overseas, academic theological research and organising sessions for the spouses of Bishops at the Lambeth Conference.

Archbishop Justin and Caroline Welby
Archbishop Justin and Caroline Welby at the 2022 Lambeth Conference[11]

[1] [Accessed 01/02/2023]

[2] MS 959, f. 337r

[3] Frere, Catherine Frances (ed.), A proper newe booke of cokerye (1913). Within the Wellcome online collection [Accessed 01/02/2023]

[4] Bent, S.A., Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men: with historical and explanatory notes (1882)

[5] MS 3407, ff. 27-36

[6] [Accessed 01/02/2023]

[7]Image taken from:,_Archbishop_Davidson_(Archbishop_of_Canterbury),_Mrs._Davidson,_Mrs._Benson,_A.C._Benson,_Mrs._Cooper,_1911.jpg [Accessed 01/02/2023]

[8] Fisher 5, ff. 250-74

[9] MS 1726, ff. 64-78

[10] Runcie/PHOTO/335

[11] Image taken from: [Accessed 01/02/2023]

Changing traditions in Archiepiscopal signatures

The papers of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s administrative officers are normally released after around 30 years, and to achieve this, there is a continuous programme of cataloguing by the archives team at Lambeth Palace Library. While cataloguing, it has been noticeable that an Archbishop does not always sign his name in the same way. We might expect a signature to read: + Justin Cantuar

From Debretts:

“When signing their name on official documents, archbishops preface their signature, written in capital letters, with a cross.

The Archbishop of Canterbury usually signs his first name and ‘Cantuar’ (from the Latin for Canterbury), eg + Justin Cantuar:”

Lambeth Conference autograph book 1908
Image 1 & 2 ref: LC 103
In the autograph book for the Lambeth Conference of 1908, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York sign without a cross. Only three bishops sign with a cross before their names, all from the Anglican Communion.Enter a caption

image2lc103.jpgWe know which Archbishop’s signature it is from the use of the personal name. Episcopal and Archiepiscopal signatures are rich in symbolism, and you can tell a great deal about their relationship to a recipient simply from how they signed a letter.

Archbishop George Carey often signed his name with a preceding cross, but sometimes without one, and a more personal note might simply be signed ‘George.’ Rowan Williams signed with a cross before his name in forewards to books published for Lambeth Palace Library. It seems that how an Archbishop chooses to sign their name relates to what capacity they are writing in, and like all of us, the familiarity they have with the recipient.

An Archbishop’s signature is built on the conventions of that of bishops, and we have long received enquiries about episcopal signatures. Sadly, little has been written on the subject, and perhaps the conventions that do exist are a matter of uncodified tradition. An enquiry to Lambeth Palace Library in the 1970s asked about the use by some modern bishops of a Latinised first name, and the use of the cross before the signature. In the response it was noted that there has always been considerable variation, for example in the seventeenth century, in the same document, bishops used both Latinised and English forms of first names, with many using an abbreviated form that would work equally well for both.

It was noted that the use of the cross before the first name was a recent development and an innovation from the international Anglican Communion. They pointed to the 1908 Lambeth Conference autograph book where just three bishops used a cross before their name, from Quebec, Olympia and Salina. Records in the archive towards the end of the nineteenth century indeed show bishops signing their name without a cross. For example, in a note of 1891 by Randall Thomas Davidson on how he signs as Bishop of Rochester, he writes ‘Randall T. Roffen,’ with Roffen a Latinised form of Rochester. His signature contains no cross before it, and neither does that of his predecessor on the same page, Anthony Wilson Thorold [ref: MS 2028 p.79]. In 1899 William George Peel, Bishop of Mombasa, (later accused of heresy in the Kikuyu controversy of 1913), wrote asking how he should style himself.  His diocese was founded as the diocese of Eastern Equatorial Africa (Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania) in 1884, and here he pointed out that, as there were now multiple bishops in the region, there would be less confusion if he signed his name W. G. Mombasa. At no point does he suggest using a cross before his name [ref: F. Temple 32, f. 251].

The 1970s enquiry tells us that in 1934 Archbishop Lang himself forwarded a letter on the subject of episcopal signatures from Canon Ollard to Bishop Frere, the exchange published in the Alcuin Club’s collection of Frere’s correspondence on Liturgical Revision and Construction, edited by Dr Jasper. Frere points out that bishops added their names to documents before people regularly had surnames, and the origins of the form of episcopal signatures lay before there really were signatures, and when the entire document was in Latin. Even after surnames became more regular, bishops continued to use their first name or an abbreviation with the Latin adjectival form of the see, and sometimes just the initial of their first name; ‘his having a surname tended to reduce the importance of his Christian name; so he signed with an initial instead of a Christian name in full, followed by the adjective of his see instead of a surname.’ He does say that a cross might be used for clarity. He does not indicate a date for this, but it is a tradition in the Roman Catholic Church (the enquirer initially assumed this was the origin) and I have not found examples of Church of England bishops doing so between the reformation and the twentieth century. My search has in no sense been exhaustive, and there may be examples of just such signatures, but it certainly does not seem to have been common.

The use of a single cross preceding the name of the Archbishop of Canterbury seems an even more recent development. I have not yet found an example predating Michael Ramsey, who became Archbishop in 1961. His predecessor was Geoffrey Fisher, who presided at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1947 the secretary of the General Churches Group of the National Council of Social Service wrote with a dilemma. In publishing a pamphlet, they had been advised to place a cross before the name of the Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Bernard Griffin. However, the Archbishop of Canterbury had simply signed ‘Geoffrey Cantuar.’ The secretary of the General Churches Groups gives us his understanding of the situation; “I believe it would be incorrect to print a cross before the signature of the Archbishop of Canterbury: I understand that it contravenes some ecclesiastical regulation (which is not always observed).” He can also see the difficulty in putting a cross before one and not the other. Sadly, the response does not elaborate as much as we would like, but does say the following: “As to whether there should be a cross before the signature of the Archbishop of Canterbury. To that the Archbishop’s answer is ‘no’. His Grace, therefore, considers that there should be no crosses, either before his signature or that of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.” (ref: Fisher 36 ff.233-4).

Image3Fisher330 f.79
Image 3 ref: Fisher 330 f.79
The signature of Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1945 to 1961, without a cross. Fisher asked for a cross not to be put next to his name on a letter co-signed with the Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Bernard Griffin, although Anglican Bishops in England were doing so by now.

Image4Fisher36 ff.236
Image 4 ref: Fisher 36 ff.236
The Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Bernard Griffin did use a cross in this letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, on 25 January 1947.

His successor, Michael Ramsey, was the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, from 1961 to 1974, and he did use the cross regularly in his signature. One record shows the remarkable transformation since the turn of the twentieth century. In 1974, amidst national crisis and the three-day week, Ramsey and other leaders of the church wrote a letter to The Times calling for a peaceful solution and reconciliation, and all had their name preceded by a cross. The records even include a telegram confirming this is the signature of the Archbishop of Canterbury [ref: Ramsey 283, ff. 118-124].


Image 5 ref: Ramsey 283, ff. 118-124
Letter in The Times in 1974, all the Anglican Church leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey, felt it was appropriate to use a cross before their name.

What the records suggest is the emergence of the use of the cross in episcopal signatures in the Anglican Communion from the turn of the twentieth century, and this innovation was gradually adopted in the Church of England and spread, so that by the second half of the twentieth century it became part of the signature of successive Archbishops of Canterbury. There may have been other influences as well as emerging practice in the Anglican Communion, including Roman Catholic practice. It has parallels to the wearing of mitres, first worn by Anglican bishops in the nineteenth century, and in the twentieth century adopted for the first time since the reformation by an Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Lang. It would be difficult to confirm the exact point at which the cross was first used in Archiepiscopal signatures without a far more thorough examination of the records, which might also trace how the practice spread, but such a search is beyond the scope of this blog post.


Further reading:

Bishop Frere goes into far more depth in his short letter on early episcopal signatures than I have covered here, and is well worth reading:

Walter Howard Frere : his correspondence on liturgical revision and construction edited by Ronald C.D. Jasper, available at Lambeth Palace Library, reference number G170.(A5) [R]

Summer update from the Library and Record Centre

Lambeth Palace Library and the Church of England Record Centre regularly embark on new projects and acquire and catalogue new material, from rare books and manuscripts to modern publications.  These posts provide a brief update on some of our latest acquisitions, projects and upcoming events, to keep you up-to-date with our most recent news.

New books!

Enjoy reading one (or more!) of our recently acquired new books. Highlights include:

Magazines and journals

magazinesLambeth Palace Library also collects a variety of magazines and journals. You are very welcome to visit the Reading Room to consult these too. Some of our recently received titles include:

Anglican and Episcopal History
Church Monuments
English Historical Review
Families First
Historical Research
Modern Believing
New Directions
Parliamentary History
The Prayer Book Society Journal

newspapersWe also receive the following papers and magazines weekly:

The Church of England Newspaper
Church Times
TLS (The Times Literary Supplement)

Upcoming events

Lambeth Palace Garden Open Days with Great Hall entry and exhibition

Every first Friday of the month until September, 12 noon to 3pm
Next Open Day: Friday 2 August 


An opportunity to visit the Palace’s beautiful gardens and see the progress of the new Library building! Refreshments and entertainment are provided in the garden and there will be plants for sale. The 17th century Great Hall will also be open throughout the Open Days, with a chance to view displays of some of the Library’s collections. Do come along and bring your friends and family!

There is an entrance fee of £5, which will go to a chosen charity each month, and there is no need to book.

New Library update

As of July, the Library project remains on time and on budget. The Archbishop topped out the building in May.


The brickwork is nearing completion and is gradually being revealed as the scaffolding comes down.


Over the summer and Autumn most of the work is concentrated on the inside of the building as all the mechanical work progresses inside.


Staff are now heavily involved in planning for the big move of all the archives from the Library and CERC which will be taking place between June to December 2020.

Archive news

Clare Brown awarded The Lanfranc Award for Education and Scholarship

clareThe Library is delighted that Mrs Clare Brown, Archivist, was awarded The Lanfranc Award for Education and Scholarship by Archbishop Welby at the Lambeth Awards 2019, for her work in guiding readers through the archives of the Church of England, and for her exhibitions and scholarly expertise in support of Lambeth Palace Library and three Archbishops of Canterbury. In April, we bid Clare a very long and happy retirement after seventeen years of service at the Library!

Clare’s contribution over the years is too vast to summarise briefly, but we hope to give a sense of her many accomplishments. On joining the Library, Clare completed cataloguing of the papers of Archbishop Ramsey, and then led cataloguing of the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) archive. She led work on the collaborative projects on the Library’s important collection of Greek manuscripts, with an exhibition in 2006 and the launch of the catalogue in 2016. She contributed to understanding of the Canterbury Archbishops’ Registers alongside work undertaken by the Borthwick Institute on the York Registers. Her knowledge of the history of ecumenical relations contributed to displays for visitors to the Archbishop from other churches, and her extensive knowledge of the collections and of Church of England history have benefited many Library readers and NCIs colleagues over the years. This is evidenced, not least, by the amount of enquiries Clare answered during her time at the Library – almost 3,700!

We will all greatly miss Clare’s incredible knowledge, helpfulness, her willingness to share her expertise with Library readers and colleagues alike, and especially her sense of humour.

Archival collections news

Papers from 1988 have been released for research, including some 500 files from the papers of Archbishop Runcie and further material on Anglican-Roman Catholic relations from the records of ARCIC II. Descriptions can be searched on the Library’s online archives catalogue.

Further newly-catalogued material includes records of the Lambeth Diploma and Vacation Term for Biblical Study, two initiatives founded in the early 20th century to provide theological and scriptural training for women. Library staff are also adding detail to descriptions of various series of news cuttings and photographs relating to Archbishops Benson (cartoon pictured below), Davidson, Lang and Fisher, which complement correspondence and other papers in the main series. Photographs of Lambeth Palace and garden by Sue Snell are also now catalogued.


An annotated Bible belonging to John Taylor Smith, Bishop of Sierra Leone, was donated to the Library. The Library also received a set of playing cards produced by the Mothers’ Union.

Watercolours from the Library collections can now been seen on the new Watercolour World website.


Recent blog posts have covered a printed work on music from the Sion College collection; a further report on records of the Court of Arches; and a conference on Anglo-Saxon manuscripts.

A digitised version of Herbert Bosham’s life of Thomas Becket incorporating folios from the Library’s MS 5048 detached from the parent manuscript held in Arras is now available.


The 100th anniversary of the Church Assembly, predecessor of General Synod, occurs in 2019. Aside from the main archive held at the Church of England Record Centre, there are further voluminous sources in the Library collections.

An edition of the household accounts of Archbishop Laud has been published; the original document is held at the National Archives, but complements sources relating to Laud in the Library collections. Readers may be interested in a Salvation Army blog post on the history of Christianity in China; the Library also holds material on the church in China.

In the Conservation Studio

Earlier in the year, a group of students from the Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts South-East England (CHASE) visited the Library as part of their ‘Material Witness‘ training programme, which examines physical objects in the digital age. The visit was organised by Teresa Lane, PhD student at the Courtauld Institute of Art, who recently completed a six-month CHASE internship working on the Library’s illuminated manuscripts. It gave participants a behind-the-scenes look in the conservation studio and an opportunity to learn about the different approaches and techniques involved in preserving fragile books.


Lara Artemis, Senior Conservator at the Library, led the sessions on medieval manuscripts, examining their materiality and chemistry, as well as their history and provenance. The group were shown the stunningly illuminated 13th-century Lambeth Apocalypse (MS 209) – one of the Library’s treasures – and looked at the kinds of pigments used by the artists. The students even had a go at mixing pigments and painting their own illuminations on vellum afterwards!


The photographs above are taken from the Material Witness blog about the student’s visit to Lambeth Palace Library, which gives plenty more fascinating insights into manuscripts and their conservation.

In other news, we continue to make strides in our boxing and preparing the collections for the move. We’ve now completed around 25,000 boxes for vulnerable items in the collection, including completing the job of cleaning, measuring, boxing and organising the vulnerable Sion College Library collections stored in the Blore, one of our Library storerooms.


Sion College Founder’s Day at Lambeth Palace

Fellows and members of Sion College celebrated its Founder’s Day at Lambeth Palace on Tuesday 9 July. This year’s event included a lecture by Baroness Manningham-Buller, former Director General of MI5, who spoke on the topic of “Intelligence and Ethics”. Evening prayer in the Chapel was followed by a drinks reception in the Great Hall where attendees were able to view an exhibition of some of the newly catalogued items from the Sion College collection, now housed in Lambeth Palace Library. Also on display were books and manuscripts relating to the lecture’s theme, including Reginald Scot’s Discovery of witchcraft (1654) in which the author denounced the prosecution and torture of those accused of witchcraft as un-Christian and irrational, and a 1584 caricature of Thomas Norton, whose ruthless and enthusiastic punishment of English Catholics led to his being nicknamed the “Rackmaster-General”.


Don’t forget – you can also keep up-to-date with our news and events, and enjoy glimpses of some of the treasures in our collections, by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

April update from the Library and Record Centre

Lambeth Palace Library and the Church of England Record Centre regularly embark on new projects and acquire and catalogue new material, from rare books and manuscripts to modern publications.  Every two months, we post here a brief update on some of our latest acquisitions, projects and upcoming events, to keep you up-to-date with our most recent news.

billyNew books!

Enjoy reading one (or more!) of our recently acquired new books.  Highlights include:

Magazines and journals

Lambeth Palace Library also collects a variety of magazines and journals.  You are very welcome to visit the Reading Room to consult these too.  Journal rackA few titles for which we have recently received new issues are:

Upcoming events

Lambeth Palace Garden Open Days with Great Hall entry and exhibition

Every first Friday of the month until September, 12 noon to 3pm

An opportunity to visit the Palace’s beautiful 11-acre gardens, enjoy a cup of tea and slice of cake, and purchase plants and honey from the gardens.  The 17th century Great Hall will also be open throughout the Open Days, with a chance to view a display of highlights from the Library’s collections.  Do come along and bring your friends and family.

There is an entrance fee of £5, which will go to a chosen charity each month, and there is no need to book.

Watercolour of Lambeth Palace

“Mysteries” Demystified: The Making and Meaning of the Lambeth Articles (1595)

A talk by Professor Nicholas Tyacke (University College London)

Tuesday 8 May, 5.15pm (admittance not before 4.45pm)  

Nicholas Tyacke’s books include Altars Restored: the changing face of English religious worship, 1547-c.1700.  The event is run in association with the University of London seminar on the Religious History of Britain 1500-1800.

All are welcome, but those wishing to attend should book a free ticket at, or email not later than Friday 4 May. 


Reformation on the Record: the legacy of libraries

Monday 4 June, 2 – 4pm

The dissolution of monastic and pre-Reformation libraries destroyed the established structures of learning, but also provided opportunities for other institutions and individuals to form collections during the following decades. This workshop will explore the development of new libraries (such as Lambeth Palace Library, founded in 1610) and their role in preserving pre-Reformation books and manuscripts.

Led by period specialists, this workshop will offer you the chance to learn about the aftermath of the Reformation, looking in particular at some original examples of the books and manuscripts which survived the dissolution of the monasteries.

Please come to the Library entrance on Lambeth Palace Road.

This is a joint workshop with The National Archives.

All are welcome, but those wishing to attend should book a free ticket at, or email 


New Perspectives on Seventeenth-Century Libraries

Robyn Adams (Centre for Editing Lives & Letters, UCL):
Donations to the Bodleian Library in the Early Seventeenth Century,
Katie Birkwood (Royal College of Physicians Library):
Digging Deeper into the Marquess of Dorchester’s Library,
Jacqueline Glomski (Centre for Editing Lives & Letters, UCL):
Religion and Libraries in the Seventeenth Century

Tuesday 5 June, 5.30pm (admittance not before 5pm) 

This event will showcase some recent research on library formation, both public and private, in the seventeenth century. Three short talks will deal with patterns of book selection and acquisition as revealed by individual practice and in seventeenth-century theoretical writing on bibliography. The presentations will discuss the potential for research on seventeenth century libraries and the application of digital methods to this research.

In association with the University of London research seminar on the History of Libraries.

All are welcome, but those wishing to attend should book a free ticket at, or email not later than Friday 25 May.

Great Hall

Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library, followed by a lecture and afternoon tea

Dr Peter Blayney: Printing the 1559 Book of Common Prayer: events without precedent

Thursday 5 July, 2.30pm (admittance not before 2pm)

An authority on the history of the early modern book trade, Peter Blayney’s most recent book is The Stationers’ Company and the Printers of London, 1501–1557 (2013).

This meeting, open to Friends of Lambeth Palace Library, will be followed by tea. Friends should book in advance with Juliette Boyd, Lambeth Palace Library,  or telephone 020 7898 1400, not later than Friday 22 June.  Please join the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library

xxH5145 A4 1559 sig2A1r

Recently catalogued in the Sion College Library Collection

More and more of the Sion College collection is now available through our online catalogue for you to search – with almost 15,000 items to browse, many of which can be requested in the Reading Room.

Cataloguing continues to reveal not only interesting volumes, but also bibliographic insights into the history of the collection. Recent additions to the catalogue include this 1824 edition of Peter Schmidtmeyer’s Travels into Chile, over the Andes (B17.10/Sch5), which added colour to the cataloguer’s desk with the multiple hand-coloured lithographs which feature in the volume. From scenes of everyday life and cultural activities, to curious wildlife the book is one of a number of works to be found in Sion which examines travel and exploration.


One of the many lithographs to be found in B17.10/Sch5

An elusive armorial ink stamp was found in an early 18th century work called Jus canonicum universum which was written by Anaklet Reiffenstuel (A95.5/R27). Printed in black and featuring a coronet and fleurs-de-lis at its centre, the image is surrounded by text reading: “Scipio prior de Guglielmis”. Do you know anything about this former owner or do you have any ideas about their identity?


Unidentified armorial ink stamp, A95.5/R27

If you’re interested in helping us to identify former owners or interpret inscriptions, you’ll be pleased to hear that there are now over 300 images which have been uploaded to the Sion Provenance Project so far. We’ve already received contributions and suggestions from people across the globe, but there are still plenty of pieces of detective work to be done and you can help. Why not go to the Project page and see what you can do? More images are being regularly added, so keep your eyes peeled.

The Sion Team will be heading to Crieff in May to give a presentation on the Sion Provenance Project at the Annual Meeting of the Independent Libraries Association. The talk will focus on the efforts that have been made to publicise the Sion College collection and engage the wider community through our crowdsourcing initiative. We want to inspire other libraries to engage with crowdsourcing and provenance research and we’re hoping that the Sion Provenance Project might be of especial interest to independent libraries who are seeking a novel means of capturing new audiences and expanding their reach.

Archive news

New acquisitions

The Friends of the Library have acquired a manuscript relating to the family of Daniel Wilson (1778-1858), Bishop of Calcutta, and a diary of Sir Henry Longley (1833-1899), son of Archbishop Longley.


Collections in focus

We continue to mark the centenary of the First World War with a blog post concerning Dick Sheppard, who ministered to soldiers at St Martin-in-the-Fields, and another relating to post-war clergy training. The archive collections document subjects which continue to be topical: the World Council of Churches, which celebrates its 70th anniversary, features in the papers of the prominent ecumenist Oliver Tomkins (1908-92), Bishop of Bristol. The evangelist Billy Graham features in the papers of several 20th-century Archbishops and other collections. Literary associations include the marriage record of the poet John Milton, whose Paradise Lost recently featured on Radio 4, and the writer Henry James, the origin of whose story The Turn of the Screw was told to him by Archbishop Benson at the Archbishops’ country residence, Addington Palace.


The collection continues to support the Archbishop’s ministry, with an image from the Macdurnan Gospels forming a gift during a visit to Ireland. Both the Library and Record Centre feature in a new database recording collections relating to crime and punishment, including records of the National Police Court Mission, a forerunner of today’s probation service.


Archives in print and the media

The 200th anniversary of the Incorporated Church Building Society, whose archive the Library holds including numerous church plans and other images, is marked by a new book. Other publications relating to the collections include an article on a portrait of Martin Luther formerly held in Lambeth Palace (Steffen Weisshaupt, “Anglican (Re-) Presentation? Two Paintings of Luther at Lambeth Palace”, Anglican and Episcopal History, vol 86, no 4, Dec 2017, pp. 396-418).

Free seats

In the Conservation studio…

Conservation StudioThis year in the conservation studio, conservator Alex Wade has been working on a funded project to clean and box 590 books in the early manuscript series. Here’s Alex to give an insight into what is involved in her work:

“These volumes contain some of our most precious and oldest pieces and are filthy. Dirt can penetrate the surface of the text and stain the material.

“I am completing anywhere between two to four books per day, the books get smaller in size as I progress through the series, meaning that I will be aiming to complete up to six books per day in the future. I am boxing one bay ahead of where I am cleaning to ensure that the material is transported safely from the store to the conservation studio. To do this I measure the book height, width, and depth and input those measurements into the Zund cutting machine and create a custom-made box. This protects the material from handling and storage damage, as well as defending it against the fire defence, water misting system we will have in place in the new library.


“To do the cleaning I use a smoke sponge which is a natural material, soft sponge to wipe and dab away surface dirt. It is quite heavy duty and can remove a wide variety of surface debris. Once this has been done I go along the surface with a soft brush called a hake brush to make sure that there is no residue left behind.”


Don’t forget you can also keep up-to-date with our news and events, and enjoy glimpses of some of the treasures in our collections, by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, as well as on our blog

Item of Interest: Crisis at Christmas – 50th Anniversary

This poignant Christmas-themed Item of Interest comes from Emily Rumble (Archives Assistant at Lambeth Palace Library), who is exploring the historic link between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the charity Crisis.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the charity Crisis.

In 1967, in response to heightened public awareness about homelessness, the Crisis charity was founded by William Shearman and Iain Macleod. The charity is well-known for its campaigns to aid homeless people in finding shelter and employment. At the time, it was estimated that 13,000 single people were homeless, 1,000 of whom were sleeping rough.

Their most famous campaign is the Crisis at Christmas campaign, which began in the early 1970s. Its aim was to provide one day a year, on Christmas Day, when single homeless people could have access to food, shelter, clothes and companionship. The campaign has run every year since 1972.

The Archbishops of Canterbury’s involvement began in 1969 when, to raise funds, Crisis organised a ‘reverse pilgrimage’ from Canterbury to London. At 9:30am on Sunday 14 December, the walkers were joined by Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1961 to 1974, who saw them off at the beginning of their 65 mile trek to raise money for the charity.

This began the traditional ‘Bishops’ Walk’ which has taken place every year thereafter. Following Ramsey’s resignation from the role of Archbishop of Canterbury, his successor, Donald Coggan (in office from 1974 to 1980), continued to be involved in the annual pilgrimages. Even when he was unable to attend the event himself, the Archbishop would send a message to the walkers at the start of the pilgrimage. By 1977, the event had grown in size and 340 walkers set out from Canterbury Cathedral. At this time, the Gatehouse at Lambeth Palace was also being used as part of the campaign to house donations of food and clothing for Open Christmas, ready for use in the parish church of St Mary’s next door. A letter from the charity’s chair, Casper Wherly, indicates that Morton’s Tower became quite busy around Christmas time with the amount of donations they received on behalf of the charity.

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Lambeth Palace Library: Coggan 51, f.130

By 1979, the campaign to raise funds and collect resources for Open Christmas had reached further heights as homelessness continued to increase. The launch was an interdenominational affair, with not only the Archbishop pledging his support and making an appearance, but also the Archbishop of Southwark, the Rev. Richard Hamper of the Free Church Federal Council, and the Rev. Lord Soper, representing the Methodist Church. It was believed that the uniting of the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist and Free Churches would raise awareness of the campaign, and the event was attended by the press, television and radio services. The Archbishop gave a short statement at the launch event, in which he highlighted in particular the problem of homelessness amongst young people and those in their 60s and 70s who found themselves without a fixed abode and unable to find work because of it.

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Lambeth Palace Library: Coggan 80, f.61

On 6th December 1980, nine months after being installed, Archbishop Robert Runcie walked the first mile with the walkers from Canterbury, continuing the tradition of involvement by his office. In 1981 Runcie made particular reference in his message about the effects of the recession on young people, and the three million unemployed people in the UK, commenting on how he hoped the walkers felt the momentary discomfort of blisters on their feet was worth it to help fund “a little comfort and good cheer to others” (Runcie/MAIN/1981/182).

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Lambeth Palace Library: Runcie/MAIN/1981/182

By 1982, the Archbishop was asked to be vice-president of the charity. In 1985, 530 people had made the pilgrimage, and the last we see of the annual tradition is Archbishop Runcie agreeing again to start the walk in 1986, but at this point, unfortunately, our collections of the Archbishops’ Papers are closed under our 30 year closure policy, so we are unable to track the Archbishop’s role in the campaigns any further for the time being.

We do, however, know that Archbishop Runcie’s wife, Lindy Runcie, entered into the spirit of Christmas to help fund the campaign. Amongst our photograph collections we find this image of Mrs Runcie clearly enjoying the opportunity to dress up as Father Christmas!

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Lambeth Palace Library: Runcie/Photo/80