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Bloomsbury Institutions


Dr Williams’s Library

Also known as Dr Williams’s Theological Library


It was established under the will of Daniel Williams (d. 1716), who left his collection of about 7600 books as a library to be consulted by his fellow nonconformists (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

When funds had been raised to build a library for the purpose, it opened in Red Cross Street (now Golden Lane), Cripplegate, in 1729)

It was forced to move in 1865 because of the coming of railways, and began its long association with Bloomsbury

It is a major research library with more than a quarter of a million books

In 2004 it also set up a Centre for Dissenting Studies in collaboration with the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary, University of London, to work, among other things, on a proper edition of Henry Crabb Robinson’s papers in the Library

In 2006 it sold a Shakespeare First Folio (1623) it had owned since 1716 for a massive £2.8 million; the sale was “to secure the finances of the library and safeguard our important historical collections of manuscripts and printed books for future generations” (David Wykes, Director of the Library)

What was reforming about it?

It became the major collection of nonconformist literature in the country

It was also one of the first libraries to be open to the public

Where in Bloomsbury

In 1865 it was forced to move from its original East London base to 8 Queen Square, where it remained until 1873

In 1873 it moved to a new purpose-built location in Bloomsbury, in Grafton Street East, designed by T. Chatfield Clarke; when the Library left in 1890, this was taken over by Maple & Co (Survey of London, vol. 21, 1949)

In 1890 the Library moved to 14–15 Gordon Square, the former University Hall and home since 1853 of Manchester New College, which had moved to Oxford in 1889

It is still there

Website of current institution

The Library’s website is www.dwlib.co.uk (opens in new window)

The Centre for Dissenting Studies is at www.english.qmul.ac.uk/drwilliams (opens in new window)


Front elevation of Dr Williams’s Library, Gordon Square

By kind permission of Dr Williams’s Library

Books about it

A Short Account of the Charity and Library Established under the Will of the Late Rev. Daniel Williams, DD (1917)

Stephen K. Jones, Dr Williams and his Library (1948) (Inaugural Friends of Dr Williams’s Library lecture)

Ernest A. Payne, A Venerable Dissenting Institution: Dr Williams’s Library, 1729–1929 (1979) (33rd Friends of Dr Williams’s Library lecture)

John Creasey, Dr Williams’s Library: The Last Fifty Years (2000) (53rd Friends of Dr Williams’s Library lecture)


Its extensive and uncatalogued archives are held on site

This page last modified 19 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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