Leeds University Library

Lord Brotherton of Wakefield (1856-1930)

Entrance to the Brotherton Collection

Lord Brotherton is Leeds University Library's greatest benefactor. His most public gift was the Brotherton Library building (1936), built at his expense. However, the presentation of his own magnificent collection of rare books and manuscripts to the University after his death, in accordance with his wishes, was equally generous. Add to that the Brotherton endowment, independent funding provided by Lord Brotherton and his family to support his collection's expansion, and he can be seen to be the greatest individual benefactor in the University's history.

Lord Brotherton was a Leeds industrialist, creating the largest chemical manufacturing empire of his time. His first encounter with the world of books and manuscripts was in February 1922, when he attempted to buy the Towneley manuscript of the Wakefield mystery plays to present to the city, where he had been Mayor. Inexperienced, he failed to buy the manuscript at auction, but was inspired to buy a copy of Andrew Marvell's Miscellaneous Poems, 1681, for his disappointed niece-in-law Dorothy Una Ratcliffe ("D.U.R.").

Brotherton and D.U.R. started collecting seriously, engaging the professional guidance of J A Symington as their librarian. They rapidly assembled a hugely varied collection, although English literature was always the first priority. Following the example of other collectors, Brotherton acquired ready-made collections and individual books with equal fervour.

In 1926 he published an account of the highlights of his collection as it then stood. In four years he had acquired the four 17th century Shakespeare folios and many other rare works of English literature, a dozen superb medieval manuscript books of hours, numerous choice incunabula, manuscripts by the Bront√ęs, and many more rarities. All still feature in the Brotherton Collection.

Brotherton welcomed visitors to his private library and when he offered to build the Brotherton Library for the University later in the 1920s, he undoubtedly saw it as the future public home for his ever-growing collection. Together these gifts transformed the Library's standing as a centre for research and learning.

Funding from the Brotherton endowment is uniquely generous for an academic library in the UK and the Brotherton Collection has more than doubled in size in the University Library's care. The highest priority is still given to English literary resources, particularly now the archives of recent and contemporary authors. The advice and support unfailingly provided by current members of the Brotherton family would surely delight Lord Brotherton.