Institute of Historical Research


The acquisition of books for the IHR’s research library occupied a great deal of time and energy, both before and after its foundation. When the Institute opened in July 1921, according to its annual report, ‘the Library consisted of about 3,500 volumes and pamphlets, all gifts, more than half of them being the collection on military history'.

By the end of this first year, however, the figure had risen to more than 10,000, over 8,000 of which had been presented to the IHR by individuals, libraries and archives and publishers. The generosity of these donors is marked by the range of bookplates that can still be seen in the library today.

Plan of the IHR library, 1934 

Support from publishers   

‘A number of publishers followed the example of Messrs. Longmans, who at the instance of Mr. C.J. Longman (a member of the original Appeal Committee) gave 108 vols., including a set of the ‘Annual Register’ from 1863. ‘The Times’ Publishing Company gave a bound file of that journal from 1900-1914, ‘Notes and Queries’ from Jan. 1920, and its ‘Handlist of Newspapers’. Messrs. Bell (Mr. Edw. Bell) gave 26 vols.; the Manchester (Professors Tout and Johnstone) and Cambridge (Mr. Temperley) University Presses 26 and 13 vols. respectively and Messrs. Methuen (Dr. Trevelyan) 7 vols. The gift of the ‘Dictionary of National Biography’ by the Clarendon Press has already been noticed'.

Annual Report, 1921–2

The work of populating the library’s shelves often required sending what were effectively begging letters, and the IHR’s archives contain many examples of the lengths to which the Institute would go in the pursuit of books. As the IHR’s former librarian, Robert Lyons, noted ‘This policy proved very effective … by 1924 the Library already held 18,000 volumes’, or more than 10% of its current holdings (approximately 167,000 volumes).

Letter dated 14 February 1929

Letter 14 February 1929...

Response dated 5 March 1929

...and response 5 March 1929.

Letter dated 14 June 1929

Letter 14 June 1929...

Response dated 20 June 1929

...and response 20 June 1929.

Letter dated 14 November 1928

Letter 14 November 1928...

Response dated 7 December 1928

...and response 7 December 1928

Letter dated 20 August 1928

Letter 20 August 1928...

Response dated 7 September 1928

....and response 7 September 1928


There was considerable controversy over the donation of books from the German government in 1937...






The Bookseller, 17 March 1937

Some images from the IHR library taken earlier this year, before the temporary relocation to the south block of Senate House.

 Original Pollard chairReading room of IHR libraryReading room of IHR library with readersReading room and old card catalogue