One of the most important collections at Lambeth Palace Library are the books and manuscripts from the library of Sion College. Founded only 20 years later than Lambeth Palace Library, Sion College library was established to support the City of London clergy. It rapidly became a resource used by the citizens of London as a whole and its fame as a learned collection spread far and wide. By the 1650s it was attracting visitors from as far afield as New England and eastern Europe. In 1710 its importance was recognised by its inclusion in the Act for the Encouragement of Learning as one of the libraries which was legally entitled to claim a copy of every publication registered at Stationers’ Hall.
In 1996, Sion College’s library closed and its collections were divided between Lambeth Palace Library and King’s College London. Lambeth Palace Library gained some 30,000 early printed books and 30,000 pamphlets printed before 1851, as well as the Sion College manuscripts and library records. Although these complement the existing collections extraordinarily well, they came with no endowment, either for cataloguing or conservation. With support from the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library, much work has gone on to preserve the Sion College collections and to create detailed records for the Library’s online catalogue. This continues to represent a very considerable challenge, albeit a rewarding one – as Sion College books appear online for the first time, readers are arriving to consult them.
The original manuscript benefactors’ book of Sion College library was so important that it was chained in the College’s entrance hall, in a very public place of honour. Beginning in 1629, it is a roll-call of the merchants and professionals of seventeenth-century London, including officials, clergy, lawyers, diplomats, doctors, members of City livery companies, and City businessmen and tradesmen of all kinds. Samuel Pepys, who gave £20 in 1670 (the equivalent of a year’s salary for the College Librarian), is just one of many famous names to be found in the list of benefactors to what must surely be the least known of London’s great historic libraries.
Lambeth Palace Library proposes to establish a new Benefactors’ Book for the Sion College collection, in which the names of individual benefactors will be inscribed by the distinguished calligrapher Patricia Lovett MBE. You are now invited to help us unlock the potential of this important collection and to take your place in the library’s history.
A donation of £5,000 or more (preferably by Gift Aid), which can be spread over a period of three years, will ensure that your name will be inscribed in the new Sion College Collection Benefactors’ Book.
For further information and a personal tour of the Sion College collections, you are warmly invited to contact Giles Mandelbrot, Librarian and Archivist of Lambeth Palace Library (firstname.lastname@example.org; tel: 020 7898 1266).
The Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library are a registered charity (no. 1083137).