Home > Library home > Search our collections > Rare books and special collections
More in this section Search our collections

Rare books and special collections

Rare books collection

This collection has been largely built up by gifts since the foundation of the College and represents the interests of generations of scholars and benefactors.

They include titles dating from the sixteenth century (the earliest printed book being Sannazaro’s Archadia de Dignissimo..., 1513) to the twenty-first century.

The College has significant holdings in Classics, English literature, British history, religion, science and philosophy. A 1622 Shakespeare second folio, Ficino’s Theologica Platonica (1559), a rare Lawrence Sterne work, a signed Evelyn Waugh, rare Bibles (a Luther New Testament from 1575 amongst them) and the splendidly illustrated Captain Lyon’s A Narrative of Travels in Northern Africa (1821) are a few examples.

One prominent benefactor was Sophie Picher (1853-1937), governor of Bedford College. She ensured that such works as Woman as Good as the Man (1677), Woman's Rights and Duties (1740), Mary Astell's An Essay in the Defence of the Female Sex (1696), were made available to future generations of students. The pages of The Suffragette report the death of the suffragist and Royal Holloway student Emily Davison.

These items, due to their rarity or value, may only be viewed by prior appointment under supervision in the Archives reading room, which is open Wednesday to Friday, 9.30-1 and 2-4.30. To make an appointment please email archives@rhul.ac.uk or call 01784 443814.

Special collections

These include the following:

Busk history of science collection

This has been created through the generosity of generations of individual donors such as Henrietta Busk (1845-1936) and her relative Elinor. Works from the early years of the Royal Society are well represented, with titles such as Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (1665), Robert Boyle’s Tracts and Newton’s Opticks and Principia. Edward Topsel’s History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents (1658) contains fascinating plates.

Dawson collection

There are surprisingly few libraries of New Zealand literature accessible in the United Kingdom. The Dawson collection comprises around a hundred titles of poetry and fiction with the work of Frank Sargeson being particularly well represented. Elizabeth Dawson (b.1894) was a Royal Holloway student.

Dom Anselm Hughes collection

For more information on this collection, please refer to the Archives webpages: www.rhul.ac.uk/archives/collections/specialcollections.aspx

Herringham collection

Christiana Herringham (1852-1929) was a notable Edwardian figure, an extremely talented copyist of Italian masters and a founder of the Society of Painters in Tempera. She provided the funds to enable the establishment of the National Arts Collections Fund. Her interest in Indian art led her to copy the Buddhist wall paintings in the Ajanta caves near Hyderabad. She was interested in the education of women and it was through her that her husband, Sir Wilmot Herringham (1855-1936), the Consulting Physician to the British Forces in France and Vice- Chancellor of the University of London (1914-1919) became chairman of Council, Bedford College from 1920-1936. On the death of Sir Wilmot many of her books, paintings and artefacts passed into the College collection.


Kenny, Charlotte. The Herringham collection. Royal Holloway: M. A. thesis, 1998

Lago, Mary. Christiana Herringham and the Edwardian art scene. London: Lund Humphries, 1996

Oliver collection

The Oliver collection is housed in the University of London Library Depository at Royal Holloway. It originally belonged to the late Sydney Oliver who bequeathed it in trust to the S. A. Oliver Charitable Settlement. For further information please refer to: personal.rhul.ac.uk/uhyl/007/olint.htm

Private press titles collection

Private benefaction and literary research interest have resulted in a small, but significant collection of private press material. The Kelmscott Press is represented by a fine edition of Caxton’s Reynard the Foxe and The History of Troy.

Titles from the Cuala Press (previously the Dun Emer), which produced books by the Yeats family and Frank O’Connor, may be found in the collection, as well as the striking Broadsides. Among others there are titles from the Ashendene Press, Chiswick Press, Golden Cockerel, Nonesuch Press and Vale.


Sargant Benson botanical collection

When Miss Alice Sargant, Bedford College Councillor and Reid Trustee, died in 1909 she bequeathed to the College £1,000 to be devoted to the subject of Botany. A part of this money was used to establish a departmental library. At Royal Holloway College Professor Margaret Benson, Head of the Department of Botany enlisted the assistance of Sir Joseph Hooker, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, in the development of the Department. The strength of these departments led to the creation of an impressive collection of rare and beautiful botanical works including an extensive range of herbals, including Cullpepper, Gerard, Blackwell. Particularly beautiful works of scholarship were acquired such as Antonio Leeuwenhoek’s Arcana Naturae (1696), Elizabeth Twining’s Illustrations of the Natural Order of Plants (1849) and Nehemiah Grew’s Anatomy of Plants (1682). More modern scholarship and illustration are represented by the stunning twentieth century publication Cape Flowers by Ethel Dixie.

South-East Asia geology collection

This collection, compiled by the University of London South-East Asia Research Group and the Library, covers the tectonics, stratigraphy and biogeography of South-East Asia.  It includes geological maps and a substantial amount of material from the colonial period, some of it in Dutch. It is housed in the Earth Sciences department, Queens Building. The majority of the material is on the Library catalogue.  Anyone wishing to use the Collection should initially contact the Administrator of the Research Group, telephone  44 (0) 1784-443592, email: searg@gl.rhul.ac.uk

T.E. Lawrence collection

Katherine Elliott, a Royal Holloway student (1907-1919), later Principal of the Board of Education, assembled a collection of material on Lawrence of Arabia, including a signed copy of his letters.

Other special collections are held in the Archives. Please visit the Archives website for further details: www.rhul.ac.uk/archives/collections/specialcollections.aspx

Contact us

Email library@rhul.ac.uk
Telephone 01784 443823
Facebook Visit us
Web Feedback form



Comment on this page

Did you find the information you were looking for? Is there a broken link or content that needs updating? Let us know so we can improve the page.

Note: If you need further information or have a question that cannot be satisfied by this page, please call our switchboard on +44 (0)1784 434455.

This window will close when you submit your comment.

Add Your Feedback