Dissenting Academies Online: Virtual Library System – Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies

Peter Nockles writes:

The Virtual Library System (VLS) is a groundbreaking union catalogue of the holdings and loans of selected dissenting academies in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: Baptist, Congregational, and Presbyterian/Unitarian. It forms part of the ongoing AHRC-funded Dissenting Academies Project.

The VLS has recently been relaunched with the addition of the Catalogue of the Library of the Lancashire Independent College, Manchester (1885) and details of the 2,500 surviving books from the Northern Congregational College, formed in 1958 from the amalgamation of Lancashire Independent College and Yorkshire United Independent College, and acquired by The John Rylands Library in 1975/6.

The books, dating from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, are unusually rich in provenance and evidence of use, both institutional and private, the latter including fascinating examples of the everyday reader – men and women who owned only a handful of books and whose annotations are the only evidence of their interaction with them. The VLS for the first time includes high resolution images of the title pages and marks of ownership for these books, which are held at The John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester. The details of the previous owners, both private and institutional, are included in the fully searchable database.

This Northern Congregational College copy (R217058) of a sermon of the Puritan divine Richard Sibbes’s Light from heaven, 1638, (VLS record 35118, item 45082), contains extensive 17th-century annotations and pen trials throughout.

The project ‘Private Books for Educational Use – the Formation of the Northern Congregational College Library’, funded by the AHRC, was directed by Professor Isabel Rivers (Queen Mary University of London) and Dr David Wykes (Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies, London), and implemented by Dr Benjamin Bankhurst and Dr Rachel Eckersley, research assistants, and Dr Dmitri Iourinski, technical assistant, with the advice of Ed Potten (Cambridge University Library), principal consultant. The John Rylands Library has been an active collaborator in this exciting project from the start, supplying the images from the original Northern Congregational College books and we will be receiving the catalogue records back in return.

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