Preserving the History of British Congregationalism: Dr Williams’s Library and the Congregational Library, London

Preserving the History of British Congregationalism: Dr Williams’s Library and the Congregational Library, London
An event organised by The Congregational Library and Archives, Boston USA
Alan Argent and David Powell
Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The founders of the Congregational Library in Boston in 1853 drew inspiration not only from the creation of historical societies in the United States, but also from earlier efforts across the Atlantic.

The Congregational Library and the Congregational Union of England and Wales (the body which it was designed to serve) are coeval, the Library having been opened and the Union founded on successive days in May 1831. Joshua Wilson (1795-1874), the son and biographer of Thomas Wilson, chapel builder and major benefactor of Congregationalism, first proposed the idea for a library and made a founding donation of 4,000 volumes. After his death, his widow gave the Library his entire remaining collection of printed books and manuscripts (a far greater number), which for a century and a half have been the core of the Library’s holdings.

Dr Williams’s Library, the leading library of English Dissent, traces its origins back a century earlier. It was established by the will of Dr Daniel Williams, a leading London nonconformist minister of his day, who died in January 1716. He left instructions for his trustees to house his collection as a public library and to make it available to nonconformist ministers, tutors, and students in the City of London. However, the opening of the Library in 1730 was largely due to the selfless efforts of his trustees who contributed and raised the necessary funds to build and equip a separate library building. Among the original 56 books owned by the Congregational Library, Boston, at its founding were two volumes of an 1841 catalog of the Dr Williams’s Library collection.

Learn more about the histories of the Congregational Library’s sister institutions – from what motivated their formation and early collections to how they have developed over time – in this virtual program with scholars who know their histories intimately.

A recording of the event can be found at


Alan Argent is the former Research Fellow at Dr Williams’s Library, London and minister of Trinity Congregational Church, Brixton, is the author of Dr Williams’s Trust and Library (Boydell & Brewer, 2022). He has edited The Angels’ Voice for the London Record Society and is the author of The Richard Baxter Treatises (Boydell, 2018) and The Transformation of Congregationalism 1900-2000 (Congregational Federation, 2013).

David Powell is the former Senior Cataloguer and Archivist of the Congregational Library. He came to the library just after it moved to Gordon Square in 1982, and (now that the link with Dr Williams’s Library has been severed) is looking forward to overseeing its transfer to new lodgings. He is a Trustee of Pollock’s Toy Museum (another institution currently without a permanent home) and the author of several books on the toy theatre.

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