History of Sion College Library, part I

Thomas White, Vicar of St. Dunstan in the West, left provisions in his will for the founding of Sion College and an almshouse in 1624.  As his executors, Thomas Wood and John Simson, were standing in the newly built attic of the almshouse Wood made the remark that it would be suitable for a library.  Simson seized on the idea and ‘fownded the library at his owne proper cost’.  Meaning, he paid for the room to be fitted with desks and shelves, but not books as he preferred to keep his books for his own use while he was still alive.  However, he used his influence as Rector of St. Olave’s Hart Street to secure donations from wealthy parishioners and by 1650 Sion produced the second printing of the library catalogue.

Old Sion Library (Guildhall MS 33554)
Old Sion Library (Guildhall MS 33554)

Despite the move of many books to Charterhouse, 1/3 of the collection was lost in the Great Fire of London.  This was not as tragic as it could have been; Sion exploited the disaster and turned it into a valuable PR opportunity.  The successful appeal for funds was able to first rebuild the College, then fit out the library and finally replace the books.  Additionally, many of Sion’s early benefactors were remembering the College in their wills.  Some of the larger bequests include 1,100 volumes from Thomas Lawson M.D. in 1705 and 3,000 volumes from Thomas James in 1711.  Edward Waple, a clergyman with a fine taste in books, left another 3,000 books, many of which are still amongst the most valuable items in the collection.

The 1710 Copyright Act further helped to fill the shelves of Sion College Library.  Although the books were free, they arrived in sheet form and the binding had to be paid for by the library.  In 1724, William Reading, Sion’s librarian, complained that while their income was a healthy £118/2/8d, their outgoings were £126/12/2d, a portent of things to come.  With the founding of the British Museum Library in 1754 and redrafting of the copyright law in 1836 Sion College lost its legal deposit right.  Nevertheless, Sion was accorded annual compensation of £363/3/2d which was considered the value of the books (less the cost of binding).  Also in 1836, the Charity Commission investigated the finances of Sion.  The investigators found that the bequest of Thomas White was used for the almspeople, but that surplus money from investments was being spent on books.  This led to the demand that the almshouse and College be made into separate entities.  In 1845 the College was so short of ready cash that the property was mortgaged and fellows were charged membership fees for the first time in order to pay the new librarian’s salary.

In 1849 disquieting rumours reached College Court and an unannounced inspection was called.  It was found that the new librarian, Henry Christmas, although a respected scholar and man of the cloth, was collecting his generous salary while delegating all the work of the library, including book selection with little or no oversight to adolescent boys.  Rather than purchasing scholarly religious tomes, the boys were spending at least 30% of the library’s income on ‘penny dreadfuls’.  The library was filthy, it was impossible to find books except by accident, and most users did not even know that a librarian existed.  Christmas was promptly sacked.

The next librarian, W.H. Milman was appointed in 1856 and was able to change the Library’s situation for the better.  A professor and skilled librarian, he used the library’s funds to purchase early and rare printed material of the highest calibre.  The housing of the almshouse and library within the same building became less favourable and a new site was found on the recently created Victoria Embankment.  By the time Milman died in 1908, the College had repaid all its debts and by 1913, commissioned a history which proudly announced that the College no longer suffered from financial struggles.

Compiled by Anna James, Edited by Talitha Wachtelborn

Early Modern Archbishops’ Papers Project 2

Dr Richard Palmer reports on further work to re-catalogue the early modern Archbishops’ papers. In recent weeks seven volumes of papers of Thomas Secker, Archbishop of Canterbury 1758-68, were catalogued for the first time on an item by item basis. The papers were found to include many papers inherited by Secker from his predecessors, especially Thomas Herring, Archbishop of Canterbury 1747-57.

Secker 1 mainly comprises papers relating to William and Mary College, Virginia, including a long account of the affairs of the College by John Camm following his dismissal as professor of Divinity in 1757. Also included are papers relating to financial provision for the clergy in Virginia in which Camm also played a prominent part. A letter sent in 1760 to Lord Halifax, Commissioner for Trade and Plantations, signed ‘Philanglus Americanus’, with suggestions on the governance of the American colonies and the role of the Church of England, was found to be the work of Samuel Johnson, President of King’s College, New York, one of Secker’s most prominent correspondents in America.

Secker 2 comprises a miscellany of papers, the largest section relating to the project of Benjamin Kennicott to collate all known Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament. Also included are papers relating to Ireland. Amongst these, as well as 16 letters to Secker from the Dean of Killaloe, published by the Church of England Record Society in 2010, was found an important letter to Secker from his friend John Bowes, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, giving a vivid first-hand account of the anti-union riots in Dublin in December 1759.

Secker 2 f. 232
Letter to Archbishop Secker from William Henry, Dean of Killaloe, 1764 (Secker 2 f. 232)

Secker 3 comprises Canterbury diocesan papers. These were already arranged and listed by the names of parishes, and it was initially assumed that no additional cataloguing was needed. However the papers proved to be more important for their subject matter than their location, and were so disparate in nature (including a report by the architect Robert Mylne on the fabric of Canterbury Cathedal, a catalogue of the parochial library at Detling, and letters on the baptism of a ‘negro’ and an Anabaptist), that a completely new catalogue was necessary. Also included are visitation papers, including an interesting series of 6 letters to Secker from his chaplain, Charles Hall, providing reports on the progress of the visitation in 1762.

Secker 4 comprises metropolitical papers, including correspondence on Secker’s exercise of the ‘Archbishop’s option’, his right to nominate to a benefice of his choice in the diocese of a newly consecrated bishop on its first becoming vacant. Secker’s choice of St George’s Hanover Square, a plum in the diocese of London, caused a rift with Thomas Sherlock, Bishop of London, which is a major theme of the correspondence.

Secker 5 comprises Latin exercises (short dissertations on theological topics) written by candidates for institution to benefices or, more typically, dispensations to hold benefices in plurality. These were already catalogued by the names of their authors. However various inaccuracies suggested the need for a new catalogue correlating each exercise with the institution or dispensation which resulted.

Secker 6 mainly comprises papers of Secker as Visitor of various institutions (especially All Souls College, Oxford). Included are letters from Stephen Niblett, Warden of All Souls, and the jurist William Blackstone. The new catalogue allows these papers to be studied alongside other papers of the Archbishop as Visitor of All Souls in the manuscripts series and Vicar General records.

Secker 7 is miscellaneous in character and the new item by item catalogue reveals many significant items which were previously inaccessible. Included is Secker’s letter to Archbishop Herring in 1755 responding to Herring’s proposal to nominate him to be Bishop of London; original declarations and oaths taken by converts from Roman Catholicism; a letter from Jacob Duche in 1765 giving an account of his life, spiritual development and ministry in Philadelphia; and legal opinions by Lord Hardwicke and others. Also present are papers relating to foreign Protestants, the Faculty Office, Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act, and the case of Henry Perfect, a clergyman who failed in every respect to match up to his surname.

The Papers of the Archbishops of Canterbury

One of Lambeth Palace Library’s core roles is as the official archive of the Archbishops of Canterbury, managing the preservation of, and access to, records created by the administration based at Lambeth Palace over many centuries.

The Archbishops’ Papers are rich and varied, and include correspondence, reports, memoranda, speeches, photographs and a range of other material created in the course of the work of Archbishops and their staff. The collections constitute an invaluable resource for research into a large array of topics, be they ecclesiastical, social, political, national or local, and their popularity is shown by the high number of research visits and enquiries relating to them which the Library receives.

From 1279 to 1642, the Library’s series of Archbishops’ registers are the principal record of the Archbishop’s activities, and include material relating to institutions and appointments, visitations and other correspondence. After the Restoration the registers were superseded in importance by the Archbishops’ Act Books, part of the Vicar General archive.

Whilst these sources provide valuable insights into the activities of early Archbishops, it is likely that many office holders may well have considered the papers they created to have been their own personal property, so sadly material does not survive in great quantities for seventeenth and eighteenth century Archbishops. One notable exception is Archbishop William Wake (1716-1737) who gave his papers to Christ Church College, Oxford (Lambeth holds microfilm copies).

But by the time of Archbishop Charles Longley (1862-1868) there had clearly been a change of approach, and series of papers survive in large quantities from then on. In the cases of Archbishops Archibald Tait (1868-1882) and Randall Davidson (1903-1925), the amount of material is vast; the Davidson papers for example, run to over 800 individual volumes.

Archbishop Tait (1811-1882)
Archbishop Tait (1811-1882). This portrait hangs in Lambeth Palace.

A major part of the Library’s ongoing work consists of the appraisal of recent Archbishops’ papers, where material worthy of permanent preservation is identified, and subsequently catalogued so that it can be made accessible. Current work focuses on the papers of Archbishop Robert Runcie (1980-1991) with papers from the early years of his time in office now available following a 30 year closure period, and covering such topics as the Falklands War and the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1982. Preparatory work is also being carried out on the papers of subsequent Archbishops, such as capturing information which will be of use in cataloguing, or dealing with the increasing prevalence of digital formats and alternative media.

The Library is also cataloguing the papers of the Council on Foreign Relations (CfFR), the body responsible for the Archbishop’s ecumenical relations with overseas churches for the period 1933-1982, which form a distinct subset of the Archbishop’s papers.

A Tale of Two Churches

St Paul’s Church, Bow Common, has recently won an architectural award for best modern church, awarded by the National Churches Trust.

Reading this while thinking about a subject for a blog post that would illustrate the variety of material held at the Church of England Record Centre, I thought how wonderful it would be if we had some information about St Paul’s to further illuminate the history of this unique church building.

As I made my way through the files in the Record Centre holdings for St Paul’s, I began to notice that the material was leading me in a slightly different direction to the one that  I had expected.

Files at CERC
Files at the Church of England Record Centre, before work began

Starting at the beginning, the first file on St Paul’s opens with a letter dated 1855 from a Mr William Cotton who writes to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners that he has a plot of ‘about 70 acres of land situated in the large and populous parishes of Limehouse and Stepney which I am about to offer for building purposes.’

At this point, St Paul’s did not yet exist and Cotton does not want to just build a new church, but to create a whole new parish.

While the area at that point had a very small population of  around 100-200 people, Cotton was offering sites for 1300-1400 houses, the rents of which would support the incumbent. The population was largely made up of working people and Cotton was keen that this new parish church be ‘like our ancient parish churches, free to all the inhabitants of the proposed parish.’

It is tempting to speculate about the motivation behind this generous bequest. Cotton proposes that the church will be built at a cost of £5000 and that he will endow it with a parsonage and a stipend for the first clergyman of £150 per annum. There is a clue in one of his letters where he mentions that two of his sons are in Holy Orders, but the material in the files gives us precious few insights into the man himself – that would be a different archive and a different story.

Map showing the land bequeathed by Mr. William Cotton, edged in green
Map showing the land bequeathed by Mr. William Cotton, edged in green

The BBC News website explained that the award-winning church was built around 1960. This made me think that the original church must have been heavily damaged in the Second World War, but the only mention of the church in the files is in the form of an Order in Council of 6th January 1944, deferring restoration of the church of St Paul’s for 5 years until 10th May 1948. This Order was then extended ‘until the Commissioners otherwise direct.’

It was surprising then, to find this note on file dated 8th June 1961:

The new church of St Paul was built to an entirely new design almost entirely on the site of the old church. I do not know whether this can properly be classed as restoration (not needing the Commissioners’ approval) or whether it should be regarded as a new church (requiring the Commissioners’ approval). However, I am inclined to think the former and in any case the church has now been built without the Commissioners’ approval and I imagine it is unnecessary at this stage to seek it.  

Turning the page, I then found this somewhat sheepish letter from the London Diocesan Fund dated 20th July 1961:

I am very sorry that inadvertently the Reorganization Committee did not notice that the Order on the 6th January, 1944, had not been rescinded.

These two finds were very suggestive of the chaos of post war Britain, a wonderful piece of pragmatism on the part of the Commissioners and point to the success of Cotton’s new parish in that the strength of the community necessitated a new church to be built. Exploring the files, it was interesting to be led by the material and to see a story begin to emerge that could only be fully completed by exploring other archives with complementary material. From the glimpses of its history that the Church of England Record Centre holds, it seems that St Paul’s has some more interesting stories to be told.

Amy Finn, Archivist, Church of England Record Centre

Records cited:

ECE/7/1/8947 Part 1

Recently Catalogued Archives

Lambeth Palace Library staff have catalogued a range of archive material in recent months. Descriptions of this material are now available in the online archives catalogue. They include:

  • Over 1,100 speeches and addresses of Archbishop Carey, 1991-2002
  • Files of the Council on Foreign Relations relating to the Religious Affairs Branch of the British Army of the Rhine, 1946-1950
  • Letters of H E J Bevan, Archdeacon of Middlesex, 1900-1928, on subjects including the Round Table Conference on ritual of 1900
  • Notes by Andrew Coltée Ducarel (Lambeth Librarian from 1757) relating to marriage licensing, 1754
  • Letters of the clergyman Roger Dalison from his tour round the world in 1902-3, which included Australia, New Zealand and the USA
  • A humorous volume compiled by E F Benson (son of the Archbishop) and his friend Philip Burne-Jones supposedly pertaining to the activities of Lord Desborough, c.1908

Our colleagues at at the Church of England Record Centre (CERC) have recently catalogued the archive of the Church of England Advisory Board for Moral Welfare Work and its predecessor bodies.  The archive comprises the papers of the variously named advisory boards concerned with questions of moral welfare, specifically those affecting Christian standards of sexual morality, 1915-1948.

You can search for all the archives mentioned here on our online archives catalogue http://archives.lambethpalacelibrary.org.uk/archives/
For details on accessing the Library, see our website: http://lambethpalacelibrary.org/content/access and for access to CERC please see http://www.lambethpalacelibrary.org/content/cerc