Bodleian Libraries joins consortium to save literary treasure trove for the nation

Friends of the National Libraries (FNL) has announced that it is leading a bid to save one of the most important private collections of manuscripts and printed books associated with some of the greatest writers in the United Kingdom. The Bodleian Libraries is proud to play a key part in this vital effort to preserve this collection for the benefit of the public. 

FNL is today launching an appeal to raise £15 million and is in discussion with private philanthropists and sources of public funds to raise the purchase price. 

The Honresfield Library collection has been largely inaccessible for the last 100 years, its contents rarely examined. It was formed at the end of the 19th century, by William Law (1836-1901), a Rochdale mill-owner living at Honresfield, a few miles from Haworth, West Yorkshire, the home of the Brontë family. The bulk of the Library has remained in family ownership in the Channel Islands, and has remained largely intact. 

A private library of English literature of such significance has not been placed on the open market for many decades nor is ever likely to appear again.

FNL is the only UK charity that focuses on saving our written and printed heritage, by giving acquisition grants to regional, national and specialist archives and libraries throughout the UK. 

Taking a UK-wide approach to acquiring the Honresfield Library, FNL, working with a consortium of libraries and museums, including the Bodleian Libraries, will work to raise the substantial funds needed to acquire the Honresfield Library and will then pass ownership of every individual item to the appropriate national, regional and specialist institution across the UK that will benefit the widest possible public. The consortium has agreed the allocation of the Honresfield library between its members. The collection includes works by Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and, at the heart, an astonishing set of manuscripts in the hands of the Brontë siblings, much of which has been unseen for 100 years and never properly examined.  

The Bodleian Libraries would work with Jane Austen's House on the Austen material, represented by a hugely significant early letter in her own hand (only three early such early autograph letters are held in any UK national collection, the bulk being in the Morgan Library & Museum, New York) signed to her sister Cassandra, written on the eve of a ball where she anticipated the end of a love affair; as well as first editions of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in their original condition.

A major and co-ordinated effort is needed to save this astonishingly important collection. The consortium of institutions including the Bodleian Libraries that has come together to realise this vision includes:

Taking an innovative approach, FNL will ensure that the Honresfield collection will be cared for and made available in institutions across the UK, enabling the widest possible audience to see, study and enjoy this pre-eminent material.

Richard Ovenden OBE, Trustee of the FNL and Bodley’s Librarian at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford said:

Literature and the creative use of the English language and its dialects have been among the great contributions made by the people of these islands. Now is a time to act together, to preserve and share some of the greatest examples of this heritage.