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University of Leeds

Leeds University Library Special Collections

The University of Leeds was founded in its modern form in 1904, with the granting of its Charter. In its first three decades of existence, Leeds University Library was already collecting manuscripts, archives and rare printed books to support its research, teaching and learning activities, but the Library's identity and standing were transformed in the 1930s by the bequests and gifts of Lord Brotherton of Wakefield (1856-1930) and his family. Lord Brotherton's outstanding private library of books and manuscripts, named the Brotherton Collection, was presented to the University with substantial funds for its development in a magnificent new library building, also his gift, which opened in 1936.

The Brotherton Collection is wide-ranging and still growing, with contents as varied as medieval manuscript books of hours, papers of the regicide Henry Marten and of the transvestite adventurer the Chevalier d'Eon, and local historical documents relating to Yorkshire, but by far its greatest strength is in English literature from the 17th century to the present. However, in quantity, the contents now represent less than a third of the Library's Special Collections, which have been assembled through numerous other gifts, purchases and deposits. The University of Leeds is an unusually large university by UK standards with very comprehensive subject interests: the Library's Special Collections contain and collect resources, including manuscripts and archives, to support the historical study of almost any of them.

Leeds has contributed 1700 records to the Archives Hub, of which some 900 relate, in equal proportion, to one or other of two large collections, the Leeds Russian Archive and the Liddle Collection. The former consists partly of papers of Russian émigrés to the West since the Revolution and partly of papers relating to British people living and working in Russia before the Revolution. The latter is a First World War personal experience archive, in total containing over 4,000 separate archives, of which only about one-tenth have so far been selected for submission to the Hub. Leeds's other contributions comprise records for its main numbered sequence of miscellaneous manuscripts and archives, including especially materials of historical, scientific, medical, religious, social, and educational interest; for its West Riding textile industry and Quaker archives; for the Dean and Chapter archives of Ripon Cathedral, on long-term deposit at Leeds; and for selected highlights from the Brotherton Collection itself, notably its important collection of 17th- and 18th-century verse miscellanies and commonplace books.

Special features: The Great War, Coughs and Sneezes, Romanies and Gypsiologists


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