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Dr Williams's Library

Address. 14 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0AG
Telephone. (020) 7387-3727
Fax. (020) 7388-1142
e-mail. [101340.2541@compuserve.com]

Governing body or responsible institution. Dr Williams's Trust
Function. Research library.
Subjects. Theology and English nonconformist history.

Access. Open to researchers and bona fide students. - Opening hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday to 6.30 p.m. Those wishing to consult rare books or manuscripts are recommended to write in advance.
Special facilities. Photocopier, microfilm reader.
Printed information. John Creasey: Dr Williams's Library 1729-1979. A brief introduction. London 1977 (gratis)
Travel directions. Nearest underground stations: Euston, Euston Square. On several bus routes.


1.1 The library was originally part of the bequest left by Dr Daniel Williams in 1716. Dr Williams (1643-1716), a Presbyterian minister, left his fortune to education and his library to the public. The library was opened in 1729 in Red Cross Street, Cripplegate, under the direction of Dr Williams's Trust, set up under his will to administer his bequests. It moved to Bloomsbury in 1865, and to the present address in 1890. It is primarily a library of theology and English nonconformist history, but with other subjects represented in the older collections. It is principally financed by the Dr Williams's Trust.

1.2 The original library bequeathed in 1716 contained c. 7,640 books in 6,240 vols and 127 vols of tracts. It was a general and wide-ranging collection comprising two private libraries, that of Dr Williams and that of his friend Dr William Bates. Many of their books are identifiable from their inscriptions. This library was kept separate from later acquisitions until the 19th century when it was merged with the general library. Daniel Williams, a self-taught Welsh pastor and acknowledged leader of the Presbyterians, was a prolific writer against Antinomianism. His library, however, was wide-ranging though mainly theological. William Bates (1629-1699), Rector of St Dunstan-in-the-West and for some time assistant at Sion College, owned an extensive theological collection, and in addition to this, numerous classical, French and English editions. Williams had bought this library in 1699.

1.3 During the 18th century the library was built up by gifts of money and donations of books from trustees and others. The library soon became the headquarters of the Presbyterians, Independents, and Baptists in the London area and was known as the Dissenter's Library. Although books on other subjects were also taken when offered, the library primarily concentrated on current theology for the use of nonconformist ministers. Thus, older books no longer used or older editions were often sold when more recent editions were given to the library. In general, individual donations merged into the post-foundation collections and are no longer to be distinguished.

1.4 Among the 18th-century donors were John Evans DD (1680-1730), Minister at New Broad Street, who left a large number of rare 16th and 17th-century tracts; Samuel Horsman MD (1698?-1751), Treasurer of the Royal College of Physicians, who gave a number of scientific books; Philip Gibbs (d. c. 1760), Independent Minister at Lime Street, who bequeathed c. 730 books on theology, science, and general literature; William Harris (c. 1675-1740) DD, a Trustee, who gave c. 1960 vols; Thomas Hollis (1720-1774) FRS, of Lincoln's Inn, republican and dilettante, who bequeathed a number of finely bound books between 1760 and 1770, recorded in the Book of Benefactors as given ``by an unknown hand'. Further parts of his library, including a fine collection of nonconformist liturgies, were given later in the 18th century by his friends. Another donor was Robert Wastfield (d. 1776), a cultured layman, who bequeathed c. 350 books on various subjects, including science.

1.5 At the beginning of the 19th century the Trust was permitted to buy books for the library for the first time. About the same time the trustees became preponderantly Unitarian; in 1829 the Congregationalists moved elsewhere setting up their own library. Dr Williams's collection became narrower in scope, including fewer works on general subjects. Among the acquisitions (most of which have not been kept separate) were the libraries of John Charlesworth (1742-1821), Rector of Ossington (c. 300 books on various subjects); Christopher Walton (1809-1877), Methodist jeweller in Ludgate Hill (c. 1,000 vols on mysticism, theosophy, and philosophy; kept apart); George Henry Lewes (1817-1878), journalist, and George Eliot (1819-1880), the novelist (c. 2,400 items, mostly 19th century, including a number of continental books, 50 per cent of which on science and medicine, the rest on history, literature, philosophy and theology). This collection, too, remained separate.

1.6 During the 20th century acquisitions have mostly been limited to theology, church history, philosophy and to those aspects of history closely related to these subjects. Among the benefactors should be noted W. K. Marriott, who in 1915 donated the library of the Fanshawe family (c. 500 vols including 100 vols of pamphlets and including the collection of controversial theology formed by John Conybeare, 1693-1755, Bishop of Bristol); Rayner Storr (1835-1917), compiler of the concordance to the Imitatio Christi (a collection of c. 100 editions by Thomas a Kempis); Theophilus Lindsay (1723-1808), Vicar of Catterick (c. 400 vols and c. 100 pamphlets, mainly Unitarian, with some foreign books, 16th to 19th-century); the library of Norman Baynes (1877-1961), Professor of Byzantine History in the University of London (c. 6,500 vols, nearly all modern, on history, archaeology and a number of related subjects). Special note also deserves the library of Samuel Noble (1779-1853), engraver and founder of the Swedenborg Society (c. 400 vols consisting of English and continental Protestant theology).

1.7 New College and its library, founded in 1850 by the merger of three colleges, Coward, Highbury and Homerton, was acquired in 1976. The three colleges had originated in the 18th century as academies for the education of dissenters for the ministry. In 1900, New College became part of the Theological Faculty of the University of London. In 1976, when the College closed, the incunabula went to the University of London Library, all other pre-1850 books identified as having come to New College from its three constituent colleges in 1850 went to Dr Williams's Library.

1.8 Among the c. 13,000 vols the following collections should be noted: the library of Philip Doddridge (1702-1751), which formed the core of the library of his academy, later Coward College (c. 500 books, mostly Bibles, classics, schoolbooks, Roman Catholic and anti-papal books); Coward College Library, founded in 1729 as an academy, from 1833 resident in London (c. 3,500 books, strong in Hebraica, Bibles, the classics, ecclesiastical history, travel and natural history); Highbury College Library, going back to the library established in 1741 at the Academy at Moorfields, later Hoxton College (c. 3,000 vols); Homerton College Library, having originated as the King's Head Society at Deptford in 1730 and having become affiliated with the University of London in 1840. Homerton College Library contained the library of John Pye Smith (1774-1851; 2,000 vols, including many foreign and rare works). In 1850 it comprised c. 3,000 vols and was strong in Biblical criticism and controversial works. Another past of New College Library was Hackney College Library (originating in 1796).


Chronological outline and analysis by language

2.1 The library contains c. 200,000 vols, about half of which are pre-1850. There are 31 incunabula, over 2,000 STC items, c. 2,500 Wing items and c. 30,000 ESTC items (about half of which are pamphlets). There are at least 12,000 continental pre-1850 items, mostly printed in France, but there are also numerous titles printed in the German-speaking countries.

2.2 No accurate breakdown by language has been undertaken, but of the early printed material by far the majority was published in English or Latin. The percentage of 17th and 18th-century English material is rather high because of the prolific pamphlet literature and the rich theological literature written in English. Latin is the second language (especially prominent in early continental books). There are also substantial holdings in other languages, e.g. French, Hebrew, Greek, German (occuring only in a number of 19th-century books), Dutch and others. As a proportion of the whole, German language holdings would be no more than 0.3 per cent, and German imprint holdings c. 3-4 per cent.

Subject outline

2.3 The primary focus of the collections is Dissenting history (c. 40,000 pre-1801 items, almost all in English). There is an unrivalled collection of histories of individual dissenting congregations and their ministers. Apart from this, the older collections cover Christian theology, ecclesiastical history, other religions and philosophy, and, to a certain extent, other subjects in the humanities as well as science (the latter mostly in Latin). Accordingly, items printed in the German-speaking countries refer to theology, including Bible criticism and Reformation literature, ecclesiastical history, and, to some extent, also to philosophy, history, natural history and science. Apart from some 19th-century books written in German, the holdings are almost completely in Latin (with a number of exceptions in Greek and Hebrew).

2.4 Bibles. Holdings of German or German-Swiss imprint Bibles are considerable, beginning with two Latin incunabula (Nuremberg 1478 and 1485). There are over 30 pre-1900 Bibles printed in the German-speaking countries, e.g. 3 polyglot Bibles (Heidelberg 1599, incomplete; the ``Hutter-Bible', Nuremberg 1599, a made-up copy; and Leipzig 1657). Greek Bibles were printed in Strasbourg (1524-1526, incomplete), Frankfurt a. M. (1597) and Leipzig (1730-1742; 1843; 1845). Apart from the 2 incunabula printed in Nuremberg, Latin Bibles bear imprints from Basel (1554), Hanau (1596; 1624; 1623) and Nuremberg (1714). German translations begin with a Dietenberger Bible (Cologne 1564), and 2 Luther Bibles (Wittenberg 1607, Apocrypha; and Bremen 1694). There are several 18th and 19th-century German Bibles printed at Nuremberg, Halle, Leipzig, Hirschberg, Altona, Schleswig, Frankfurt a. M., Berlin and Munich, but also 4 London Bibles in German (1814, 1815, 1825, 1855), obviously printed for the German-speaking community.

2.5 Reformation literature. The library holds a number of typical examples either of Lutheran or Swiss Reformed literature, all written in Latin. Luther is represented by several commentaries on the Psalms, e.g. Leipzig 1553 (Psalm 118), Strasbourg 1536, Wittenberg 1535, 1538 and 1546, and Nuremberg 1548. There are, however, only 19th-century editions of his works (the Weimar edition 1883 ff.). Other authors represented are Melanchthon (over 10 items, e.g. Opera, Wittenberg 1562-1564, and Loci communes theologici, Basel 1562), Joachim Camerarius (e.g. De Philippi Melanchthonis ortu, Leipzig 1696) and Martinus Chemnitius (e.g. Examen concilii Tridentini, Frankfurt a. M. 1609, or Theologiae Jesuitarum praecipua capita, Strasbourg 1602), the latter an ardent opponent to the Counter-Reformation. Swiss Reformed theology is also represented, e.g. by Heinrich Bullinger (9 16th-century items, e.g. De origine erroris libri duo, Zürich 1539), or Huldreich Zwingli (more than 12 16th-century items, e.g. De canone missae, Zürich 1523). There are also examples of German Reformed literature, e.g. Conrad Vorstius, De authoritate scripturae (Steinfurt 1611) or Anti-Bellarminus contractus (Hanau 1610). Finally, Roman Catholic literature of the Counter-Reformation deserves mention, especially the writings by Roberto Bellarmino (4 items; e.g. Explanatio in psalmos, Cologne 1611).

2.6 Bible criticism. Another strong field is Bible criticism (partly coming from Homerton College Library, see above 1.8). There are a number of Latin or Greek dictionaries, e.g. Dictionarium Doricum-Graecolatinum (Frankfurt a. M. 1603; Basel 1628). Erasmus is represented e.g. by his Annotationes ad Novum Testamentum (Basel 1535, 1541). In addition to this, there are also several 18th and 19th-century Greek dictionaries and concordances, e.g. Erasmus Schmid, Novi Testamenti Graecae concordantiae (Leipzig 1717). (For Hebrew literature see below 2.8 ).

2.7 Church history. Besides an important collection of the Fathers of the Church printed in France (c. 900 vols), there are also some works printed in Germany, e.g. Johannes Gerhard, Patrologia; sive, de primitivae ecclesiae Christianae doctorum vita (Jena 1653). Church history, on the whole, is rather well represented, with examples by Lutheran, Reformed, and Roman Catholic writers. Typical examples are Veit Ludwig von Seckendorf, Commentarius historicus de Lutheranismo (Frankfurt a. M. 1692), Heinrich Eckard, Fasciculus controversiarum theologicarum inter Lutheranos et Calvinianos (Leipzig 1631; an example of religious controversy), and Roberto Bellarmino, De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis (Cologne 1631).

2.8 Judaica and Hebraica. There is an impressive collection of 16th to 20th-century Judaica and Hebraica (c. 900 vols), first arranged separately by the Unitarian minister Robert Travers Herford (1860-1950), who compiled a catalogue while librarian. Most of these are 16th and 17th-century publications. There is a great number of dictionaries starting with Sebastian Münster's Dictionarium Hebraicum (Basel 1535; Basel 1548) and Johannes Avenarius's Dictionarium Hebraicum (Wittenberg 1589). There are also dictionaries by Johann Forster (Basel 1564), Johannes Buxtorf (Basel 1522, and 4 other editions), Valentin Schindler (Lexicon Pentaglotton, Hanau 1612) and Johannes Coccejus (Frankfurt and Leipzig 1714; Leipzig 1777). Parallel to this, the library holds Bibles (or parts of) in Hebrew, e.g. Sebastian Münster's 1537 Basel edition of St. Matthew's Gospel in Hebrew with his Latin translation and notes, or Bible concordances, e.g. by Johannes Buxtorf the younger (Basel 1632). In addition to this, there is a considerable number of Hebrew grammars, e.g. by Johannes Reuchlin (Pforzheim 1506) or Johannes Buxtorf the elder (Basel 1609 and 1629). Writings on Judaism are also represented, e.g. Moses Maimonides, More nevuchim. Latin, translated by Johannes Buxtorf (Basel 1629), or Buxtorf's Synagoga Iudaica (Hanau 1614). Other Hebrew scholars are Adam Scherzer (Leipzig 1663), Wilhelm Schickard (Strasbourg 1625; Tübingen 1628), Christian Schoettgen (Leipzig 1733) and Conrad Samuel Schurzfleisch (Wittenberg 1744). Finally, a number of Arab studies deserve mention, e.g. by Peter Kirsten (7 items; e.g. Etymologia Arabica, Breslau 1610, or Liber secundus Canonis Avicennae, Breslau 1609).

2.9 Other subjects. Although the library is mainly concerned with theology and related subjects, the early collection included nearly all subjects in the humanities and a number of scientific books. Classics are mostly represented by Dutch editions, but there are works on philosophy (e.g. Johannes Jonsius, De scriptoribus historiae philosophicae, Frankfurt a. M. 1659) and ancient history printed in Germany (e.g. Flavius Josephus, Opera, Frankfurt a. M. 1617; Marcus Junius Justinus, Historia, cum notis ..., Oberursel 1610, and Johannes Kirchmannus, De funeribus Romanorum, Lübeck 1625). The oldest history book is Hartmann Schedel's Chronicon (Nuremberg 1493, 2 copies) while Polish history is represented by Stanisaw Kobierzycki, Historia Uladislai Poloniae et Secciae Principis (Gdansk [Danzig] 1655). Works printed in German date only from the 19th century, referring to the history of religion or to philosophy, such as Arthur Schopenhauer's or Friedrich Schleiermacher's Werke (Leipzig 1873 and Berlin 1836-1850).

2.10 The collection includes a number of early works on natural history, such as Nicolaus Copernicus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (Nuremberg 1543), Johannes Kepler, De proportione orbium coelestium (Tübingen 1596), Conrad Gesner's Tabulae de stirpium collectione (Zürich 1586) and his Historia animalium (Frankfurt 1620). Among early works on medicine Galenus's De usu partium corporis humani. Graece (Frankfurt a. M. 1625) and Johannes Schenck's Observationes medicae (Basel 1594) should be mentioned. Although the library was not built up systematically, it reflects the wide-ranging interests of the nonconformists and their institutions throughout the centuries.


3.1 Modern catalogues

General catalogues:

General author card catalogue

[includes all collections (New College and Baynes still being added) with some minor exceptions]

Early Nonconformity 1566-1800. A catalogue of books in Dr Williams's Library. 12 vols. Boston (Mass.) 1968

Special catalogues:

Catalogue of Judaica and Hebraica

[in MS, compiled by Robert Travers Hertford]

New College Library

[author card catalogue; with provenances]

The incunables are recorded in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC).

3.2 Historic catalogues

Old subject catalogue

[in MS, compiled by Thomas Hunter]

Bibliothecae, quam ...Daniel Williams ...bono publico legavit Catalogus. London 1727; 2nd edition. London 1801

Bibliotheca rarissima: or a catalogue of the Library of the late ...Dr John Evans ...sold by auction ...17 Dec 1730. By Thomas Ballard. London 1730


4.1 Archival sources

The archives of the Trust include:

Book of benefactors 1729-1788 (MS 12.65) and transcript with continuation to 1881 (MS 12.66) lists most gifts.

4.2 Publications

Herford, R. T.; Jones, S. K.: A short account of the charity and library established under the will of the late Rev. Daniel Williams ...London 1917

Jones, S. K.: Dr Williams and his library. London 1948 (Friends of Dr Williams's Library, Lecture 1947)

Creasy, John: Dr Williams's Library 1729-1979. A brief introduction. London 1977

Nutall, G. F.: New College and its library. London 1977 (Friends of Dr Williams's Library, Lecture 1976)

Payne, Ernest A.: A venerable dissenting institution: Dr Williams's Library 1729-1979. London 1980 (Friends of Dr Williams's Library, Lecture 1979)


Baker, William: The George Eliot - George Henry Lewes Library. New York 1977 [contains history, analysis and catalogue]

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ... 2nd ed. London 1997, pp. 426-433 [Chapter 1 of the

 present  entry  is based on this article.]

August 1999

Karen Kloth

Quelle: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Digitalisiert von Günter Kükenshöner.
Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien 2003.