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35, POND STREET, HAMPSTEAD, LONDON, N.W.

1915

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SION COLLEGE LIBRARY, LONDON

By C. EDGAR THOMAS

(Sub-Librarian)

TH

'HE history of Sion College resolves itself naturally into two distinct parts :

the history of the College itself and the history of the library—which latter

formed no part of the founder's original plan--and although we are now solely concerned with the library it is yet essential, from the fact that the two are so indissolubly linked together, that a short account should be given of the foundation of the College itself.

Sion College is “ a corporation or guild of the City clergy,” and was founded in 1630 under the will of Dr. Thomas White. The son of a Gloucestershire tailor, White was born at Bristol in 1550, and received his education at Magdalen Hallnow Hertford College, Oxford-, becoming M.4. in 1573 and D.D. in 1585. Coming to London, his first appointment was as Rector of St. Gregory by St. Paul—a benefice now united with St. Martin, Ludgate--but preferment came to him quickly, and we next find him as Vicar of St. Dunstan-in-the-West, to which church he was instituted in 1575 at the early age of 25 years, chiefly through the good offices of Thomas Sackville, first Earl of Dorset.

Here White's fame as a preacher and reformer quickly developed and spread, while essentially a Puritan in opinion his diatribes anent the vices of the times commanded grave attention. Especially so did his sermon at Paul's Cross against playgoing and the establishment of theatres in the City of London. In 1588 he was created a Prebendary of St. Paul's ; in 1590 Treasurer of Salisbury; in 1591, Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and two years later Canon of Windsor. Among his many noble works was the foundation of a professorship of moral philosophy at Oxford in 1621.

He died in 1624 and was interred in the church of St. Dunstan-in-the-West, of which he had continued Vicar for close upon fifty years. By his will he arranged for the institution of lectureships at his church, at St. Paul's Cathedral, and at Newgate Prison ; while to his native city of Bristol he left a goodly sum of money to be expended in the repair of roads. Provision was also made for the foundation of an almshouse for ten poor men and ten poor women. His chief bequest, however, was one of £3,000®“ ffor the buying of a fair house ... fitt to make a Colledge for a Corporacion of all the Ministers Persons Vicars Lecturers and Curates, within London and suburbs thereof."

His executors began to give effect to the provision of his will with diligence, and soon acquired a site for the Co.'age and Almshouse, in the thoroughfare known as “ London Wall.” The spot chosen was one fraught with historic associations, for on it had formerly stood the hospital of Elsyng or Elsing Spital, founded in 1329 by William Elsing, a rich City mercer, as a refuge for one hundred poor people. This hospital continued to do much good work under the direction of a prior and five Augustinian canons until“ Bluff King Hal” waged war against the monastic establishments of the country, when its dissolution followed as a matter of

course,

On this hallowed ground then the first walls of the old Sion College were reared. It was completed and opened for use in 1630, rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666, and continued to remain the home of the foundation until the present buildings were erected on the Victoria Embankment in 1886.

One of the executors of the will was White's “ kinsman ” John Simpson, Rector of St. Olave, Hart Street, and just as White was the founder of the College so was Simpson the founder of the Library, the inception of which occurred in this wise. One day when Simpson was watching the buildings while they were in course of erection, in fact when they were just at that point when the alınshouse," with its double row of chambers, ten looking one way and ten the other," Tose from the ground, the idea came into his mind that an additional story could

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be erected over the structure and utilised for a library. The suggestion appeared to him as being a good and practicable one, and on his communicating it to his fellow-executors they immediately concurred in this view.

Simpson at once put it into practice, and personally furnished the necessary funds for its maintenance. In all he contributed a sum of no less than £2,000, besides providing a land in vestment which yielded £16 annually. We thus see that the library constituted no part of the College as founded by Thomas White, and in consequence it was at first almost wholly dependent, in the matter of books, upon the liberality of private donors, who it must be admitted were both generous and numerous. It has elsewhere been stated* that the history of the library now falls naturally into three periods, a brief survey of which will serve to show its gradual development and growth. The first period comprises some eighty years, commencing at its foundation and running to 1710, the date of the passing of the first Copyright Act which allowed the Library the privilege of a copy of every work entered at Stationer's Hall. The second epoch is much longer, extending to 1836 when the Act of 6 and 7 William IV. cancelled the privilege allowed by the Act of Anne, and gave in lieu of this an annual grant of money for expenditure on books. The third period naturally runs from 1836 to the present day.

During the first two years of the library's existence donations in money amounted to about £700, besides many valuable contributions of books. it different times the benefactors have included many important personages, among the earliest of whom may be mentioned Elizabeth, l'iscountess Campden, who gave £200 ; Nathaniel Torporley, the mathematician and author of Diclides Cælometricæ," with his gift of 170 volumes ; Walter Travers, the celebrated Puritan divine, who bequeathed some 200 works, and Simeon Ashe, Rector of St. Augustine, who presented many valuable books, among which was a l'ork Breviary, which remains to this day the greatest treasure of the library.

By his will of 1656, Abraham Colfe gave 20s. annually for the purchase of one, two or three divinity books, well bound in folio or great quarto, to be put into the public library for the use of all godly ministers," together with ls. a year to the Librarian !

During the Commonwealth the College, in common with other city institutions, was obliged to provide quarters for a troop of soldiery, and in consequence the library was for the time being converted into a barrack. Although both Cromwell and Fairfax had given explicit orders that no harm was to be done to the library by the soldiers it is to be feared that this mandate was not observed in the way it should have been. The loss of the silver clasps on the vellum Register of Benefactors—which remains without them to this day--is but one of the acts of vandalism laid to their charge. Eventually a judiciously-worded appeal to the Protector from the President and Court of Governors served to reinedr the mischief : the Roundheads were withdrawn and compensation for their misdeeds was promised. This promise, like many another of Cromwell's, never achieved realization. The year 1650 saw the issue of a catalogue of the books in the library, which was published under the title “ Catalogus universalis librorum omnium in Bibliothecâ Collegii Sionii ex officinâ Typographicâ Rob. Leybourn."

With the Restoration, the College, together with practically all other communities, extended a hearty welcome to Charles II., the “ King's most glorious Declaration from Breda being read at a General Court meeting in 1660. It is interesting to record that it was the “ Merry Monarch who, four years later, renewed by Letters Patent the original charter of the College, which had been granted by his father.

Disaster quickly followed the Restoration, for in 1666 came the great Fire, the result of which was the loss of practically one third of the books and manuscripts; those which were fortunate to escape finding a harbourage at the Charterhouse until the re-building of the library was completed. This was principally effected through the generous and untiring efforts of John Lake, the President, whose noble figure stands out prominently in this period of Sion's history. A

* Milman, 'Brief account of the Library of Sion College."

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