At the original opening of the Congregational Library in 1831, the principal donor of books was Joshua Wilson (1795-1874), son of the great chapel-builder Thomas Wilson (1764-1843). Other important benefactors were the erstwhile pamphleteer Robert Mackenzie Beverley (1798?-1868), who contributed some choice examples of early printing, including a few pieces of incunabula, and Sir John Bickerton Williams (1792-1855), the great expert on the Henry family. When the Library was re-launched in 1875, Joshua Wilson having died the previous year, his widow presented to it the rest of the books which he had spent his life collecting. Compared with Dr Williams’s, the Congregational Library covers a narrower field with a more intense concentration. Nevertheless, its 70,000 books, pamphlets and periodicals deal not only with Congregationalism, but also with Puritanism and Dissent in general. Being mainly the creation of nineteenth-century collectors, the Library necessarily reflects both what was available for them to acquire affordably, and what they from the perspective of the time thought it worth while to seek out. The Library is strongest in the seventeenth century, still very strong in the eighteenth, fairly good for the nineteenth, and patchy for the twentieth. But even here there are compensations, especially in the field of biography, and also in very impressive holdings of denominational pamphlets and of the productions of the Independent Press, the Congregational publishing house founded in 1926 and active until the 1960s.
The most wide-ranging and ecumenical part of the Library’s holdings is its collection of Hymns and Sacred Music, originally assembled by Thomas George Crippen (1841-1929), a librarian with a passion for hymnology, and greatly augmented by the bookseller Harold Reeves (d. 1961), who in 1930 donated to the Library the unsold residue of a massive collection formed by the Aylesbury organist Alfred H. Payne (fl. 1855-1920).
The Library holds complete or almost complete runs of the Congregational Year Book 1846-1972, the United Reformed Church Year Book 1973 to date, the Congregational Yearbook(Congregational Federation) 1973 to date, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches Yearbook. For the Unaffiliated Congregational Churches there is a loose-leaf binder of information, updated periodically. For the old Congregational County Unions there are good runs of Year Books for most counties, 1920-72; but very few earlier ones, except for Kent, 1835-1929.
The Library holds runs of the Transactions of the Congregational Historical Society 1901-72, the Journal of the United Reformed Church History Society 1973 to date, theCongregational History Circle Magazine 1979 to date, and the E.F.C.C. Studies Conference Papers, 1981 onwards. Copies of the original series of Congregational Lectures, 1833-60, are held, as well as later series (1873 onwards, 1909, 1960s). The current series began in 1987. Among the many periodicals held by the Library, the Christian World 1857-1961 and theCongregational Quarterly 1923-58 may be mentioned.
Access to the Congregational Library is via Dr Williams’s Library. A card catalogue of the main collection of printed books can be consulted, complemented by an electronic catalogue. Enter the online catalogue of printed material here.
You can download a list of the material we have recently catalogued [PDF 56KB].