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Senate House Library

Eliot-Phelips Collection

Described by The Times as the best collection of its type outside Spain

The Collection 

Subject: History 

The collection comprises approximately 3,500 items printed in or relating to Spain between the early sixteenth and the early twentieth centuries, relating especially to the social and economic history and urban development of Madrid. Alongside street directories, guides and histories, these include proclamations, laws, early newsletters, city ordinances, regulations of guilds and financial and other institutions, proposals for public works, plans, maps, and prints. Detailed proposals for improving the water supply to Madrid constitute a special sub-category. 

Well over half of the printed material dates from before 1830. It indicates both early Spanish book production and books printed abroad for the Spanish market, primarily in Antwerp, Venice, and Amsterdam. Subjects range from treatises on accounting, astronomy, handwriting, and cookery, to books of chivalric romances and love poetry, dictionaries of the Castilian language, almanacs, collections of emblems, riddles, and humorous anecdotes, chapbooks, and popular tracts.  

The collection was formed by William Robert Phelips (1846-1919), Deputy Lieutenant, and his son Edward Frederick Phelips (1882-1928) of Montacute, Somerset and bequeathed to the Guildhall Library, Corporation of London. It was placed in Senate House Library as a permanent loan in 1950 and converted to a gift in 2019. Previous owners of specific books include the Spanish statesman, Canovas del Castillo, Queen María Cristina of Spain, the Duke of Medina de las Torres, José Antonio Conde (Royal Librarian under Joseph Bonaparte), Lord Clarendon (British minister in Spain, 1833-39), and the noted collectors and bibliophiles William Fuller Maitland, Alfred and Henry Huth, Vicente Salvá, and Ricardo Heredia y Livermore.

Collection highlights


For an overview of the library, do a mixed classmark search on [E.P.]. Most material is held off-site and requires 48 hours (excluding weekends) to be fetched. 

Related materials 

  • MSS326-79, manuscripts from the Eliot-Phelips library 
  • Eliot-Phelips Collection accession register (UoL/UL/5/7/1
  • exhibition catalogue, 1998 (UoL/UL/13/9) 

Further reading 

  • Escrig-Gimenez, Mercedes, ‘An Approach to the Eliot-Phelips Collection: The Significance of the 16th and 17th Century Scientific Books for the History of Printing in Spain’ (unpublished master’s thesis, University of London, 1998) 
  • Noble, P.E., ‘Edward Phelips and the Eliot-Phelips Collection’, in Grandeurs of Spain: the Eliot-Phelips Collection in the University of London Library. Journal of the Institute of Romance Studies (1999), 13–20 
  • Entry 17 in Senate House Library, University of London, ed. by Christopher Pressler and Karen Attar (London: Scala, 2012)