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Lord Brotherton of Wakefield (1856–1930)

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.").

The story of Brotherton’s collection is told in a special exhibition which celebrates 100 years since this first purchase: A Library and a Legacy: celebrating 100 years of the Brotherton Collection

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 Brontës, 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.

Fay and Geoffrey Elliott

Fay and Geoffrey Elliott shared a passion for books – not only for their contents, but for their physical presence – and began collecting some 40 years ago. They decided early on that book collecting would not dominate their lives, but that they would acquire at times that suited them, with the aim of quality over quantity.

They began collecting the work of Oscar Wilde in the late 1970s with the intention of acquiring items worthy of any collection in the world, in the knowledge that they could not rival longer-established Wilde collections in size. In the 1980s and 1990s, collecting Wilde was a central theme for the Elliotts, the most striking purchase being the autograph manuscript of his second play The Duchess of Padua in 1993.

Of 20th-century authors, Evelyn Waugh appealed to Fay and Geoffrey most and his work came to have an equivalent weight to Wilde's in the collection. Exceptional copies of the rarities The Life to Come, P.R.B. and Waugh's precocious childhood typescript Pistol Troop Magazine were acquired in 1988, to be joined triumphantly by the autograph manuscript of Vile Bodies in 1990.

The Elliots were always eager for others to enjoy their collection. They offered access to scholars, sometimes at personal inconvenience, and were delighted to lend items for the great Wilde exhibition mounted jointly by the British Library and the Pierpont Morgan Library in 2001. In this spirit, they began to think of making the collection permanently accessible by presenting it to a public institution. Most of the collection originated in England, leading them to consider an English university library. By chance, two acquisitions made at this time were connected with the collections of Leeds University Library.

The first was the splendid Foley copy of Andrew Marvell's Miscellaneous Poems, 1681. Fay and Geoffrey were not to know until much later that another copy of the work had been the first rare book acquired by Lord Brotherton.

The second was two inscribed Russian copies of Kim Philby's My Secret War and Philby's 1930s passport. Geoffrey, a published historian, came to the Leeds Russian Archive when researching Anglo-Russian Cold War relations. The positive experience of his visit convinced the Elliotts that Leeds University Library should be the home of their collection. The gift was made in 2002.

The collection continues to develop in the Library's care. Fay and Geoffrey Elliott were ideal benefactors – generous, supportive, and expertly knowledgeable.

Laidlaw Library donors

The development of the Laidlaw Library was generously supported by Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay, after whom the building is named, funding from the Wolfson Foundation and the Garfield Weston Foundation and many individual donations from alumni of the University.

Within the Laidlaw Library, a commemorative wall lists all of the individuals who made donations.

Find a name on the commemorative wall

Use the searchable PDF version of the commemorative wall artwork to locate the name of a particular donor.

  1. Download and open the Laidlaw Library donor list (PDF)
  2. Click on Edit
  3. Select Find from the list that appears
  4. Type the name into the search box and press enter.

The name will be highlighted in the document, so you can easily locate it on the wall.

View the Laidlaw Library donor list (PDF)