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Senate House Library

Lady Welby Library

The Collection 

Subject: Philosophy; Theology; Linguistics 

Approximately 1,247 books and one thousand pamphlets and cuttings from the library of the Hon. Victoria A.M.L. Stuart-Wortley, afterwards Lady Welby-Gregory (1837-1912; see ODNB). Lady Welby was a philosopher of language. She stands out for having developed ‘significs’, which she defined as ‘the science of meaning or the study of significance’, and which is now understood as a forerunner of semiology. While the books are standard imprints in themselves, Lady Welby’s copies are important for her extensive annotations within them.

The books cover theology, philosophy, psychology, economics, education, sociology, science (biology, physics, botany) and philology. Subsets within these subject areas include logic, metaphysics, ethics, theism, the philosophy of religion, religion and science, and comparative religions. There are also some journal sets. Most items from the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. The language is overwhelmingly English, with a few items in French. The occasional title is in German, although Lady Welby preferred to read German works in English translation where possible. 

Lady Welby’s son, Sir Charles Welby-Gregory, gave the collection to the University of London in 1912 to enable students to see her annotations. It was transferred to Senate House Library in 1913.


The collection is dispersed among the Library’s holdings. A project to improve access to the collection has traced the current location of titles from the original printed catalogue: see this  searchable handlist

Books with a classmark beginning [L.W.L.] are held off-site and material requires 48 hours (excluding weekends) to be fetched. 

54 books have been digitised and are available on British Online Archives in the section ‘19th and 20th Century Philosophy in Perspective’.

Related materials 

  • UoL/UL/1/1/1, Library Committee minutes and reports, 1902-1913 
  • Philosophy and linguistics in the research collections 

Further reading 

  • Baker, P.M., ‘The Lady Welby Library at the University of London’, in: Essays on Significs: Papers Presented on the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Victoria Lady Welby, 1837-1912, ed. H. Walter Schmitz, Foundation of Semiotics, 23 (Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1990), pp. 279-287. 
  • Gazette (University of London), Aug. 1913 (lists the books in the Lady Welby Library) 
  • William Andrew Myers, ‘Victoria, Lady Welby (1837-1912)’ in: A History of Women Philosophers, vol. 4, ed. Mary Ellen Waithe (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 1995), pp. 1-24 (for Lady Welby herself)