Level of description
Dr Williams's Library
Scope and content
Dr Williams's Library is a research library and archive which specializes in the history of Protestant nonconformity. Its collections include about 300,000 titles from the earliest years of printing to the present, and many thousands of manuscripts from the thirteenth to the twenty-first century. Although the Library’s strengths are in Protestant nonconformity, its collections include printed works and manuscripts covering a range of literary, scientific and religious subjects.
The archive collections include the original minutes of the Westminster Assembly (1643-1652); the historical collections made by Roger Morrice, including the late sixteenth century manuscript The Second parte of a register and Morrice's own Entring Book, an invaluable political account covering the years 1677-1691; the lives of English and Continental divines compiled by John Quick; the list of Dissenting congregations in England and Wales, 1715-1729, compiled by John Evans; the similar lists compiled in the 1770s by Josiah Thompson; the early minute books of the Three Denominations; and the papers and correspondence of Richard Baxter.
Other collections of letters include correspondence of Joseph Priestley (together with a large collection of his published works), Theophilus Lindsey, Francis Blackburne, Thomas Belsham, and others associated with them; of John Seddon (1725-1770); and of the Jennings family.
Parts of the collection of Henry papers are here, and a collection from the Blackmore family with which came the minutes of the Fourth London Classis (1646-1659). From New College, London, has come the correspondence of Philip Doddridge and much material relating to that institution and its predecessors. A listing of this collection can now be viewed on the National Register of Archives.
The King's Weigh House Church and Lyndhurst Road Church, Hampstead, presented their archives when they closed. The manuscript of George Herbert's English and Latin poems, partly in his own hand, is the most important item in the miscellaneous collection of manuscripts bequeathed by the Rev. John Jones in 1770.
Thomas Brand Hollis presented one of the manuscripts of Civil War colours made by Jonathan Turmile in 1803.
Henry Crabb Robinson was both a trustee of Dr. Williams's Charity and a subscriber to the building of University Hall, its present home. His extensive archive, which came in 1877 includes his diary (1811-1867), reminiscences, correspondence and other papers, and is of great literary significance along with the letters of his friends, amongst them Coleridge, Lamb and Wordsworth.
The Library also holds a number of manuscripts on deposit. Chief amongst these are the records of the Presbyterian Fund, the Congregational Fund, the General Baptist Assembly, the Widows Fund, and the later minutes of the Three Denominations.
The Library actively seeks the deposit of material relating to the history of nonconformity and has a number of arrangments with external bodies regarding the ongoing deposit of their records.
System of arrangement
Various systems of arrangment obtain for the archive collections. While the development of a modern archive catalogue in 2015 delivered a consistency in structure and teminology to DWL archives the long history of scholarly citation of records has limited the possibilities for renaming and reordering materials without introducing serious inconvenience for the scholar. Existing references have been retained in most cases as the principal archive reference code excepting that they are preceeded by the institution (e.g. DWL; CL), fonds (e.g. RB; HCR) and other structural codes. Where reference numbers have changed (e.g. Richard Baxter's Treatises) justification for the change is included in the scope and content notes for those collection and their former reference numbers are included with each record. The arrangment of items and collections within the DWL core collection (DWL/1) is largely determined by the volume of material held and the information available on their provenance. Larger collections of clear provenance have been assigned their own fonds level.
Conditions governing access
An appointment must be made at least one week in advance of a visit. Permission for access to the manuscript collections is at the discretion of the Director and is usually reserved for appropriatly qualified scholars. Post-graduate students are expected to produce a letter from their supervisor regarding their experience in handling and interpreting rare books and manuscripts.
Conditions governing reproduction
Orders for reprographics and licencing of images of materials from the collection are assessed on a case by case basis. Self-service photography in the research rooms is not permitted.
Language/scripts of material
English is the majority language of the manuscript collections. Ancient languages (Latin, Hebrew, Greek) are represented by a range of documents, mostly of theological nature, and are often present in primarily English language material. Of modern European languages French is most widely repesented. Smtterings of other modern European languages are found throughout later collections and Welsh and Hungarian are present in collections relating to the parent countries of those languages.
Physical characteristics and technical requirements
The collections are largely paper based. Parchement and vellum records are held too.
A range of finding aids exist for the collections at Dr Williams's Library. The 2015 development of a modern archive catlaogue was designed to offer a fresh, structured representation of the collections and smooth out many of the inconsistencies of earlier finding aids. While this process is underway researchers are directed to use the exisiting finding aids (card catalgoues; MS lists; published calendars...) for materials not yet transfered to the new catalogue