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Senate House Library

Porteus Library

The Collection 

Subject: Theology 

Approximately 4,000 volumes, including 300 volumes of pamphlets, mostly published between 1750 and 1809. The collection is primarily the working library of Beilby Porteus (1731-1809), Bishop of London (see ODNB). Its emphasis is theological (ecclesiastical affairs; sermons) and Anglican, but the collection covers a wide range of subjects, including the French Revolution, travel and topography, history, classics, and English literature (especially contemporary). Porteus was a leading advocate for the abolition of the slave trade, and items relating to slavery and the slave trade, the subject of a separate manuscript catalogue compiled by or for Porteus himself, are especially significant. Pamphlet coverage further includes the American Revolution, India, the Union with Ireland, and the Regency.  

Most items are in English, with some in French and a few in Latin. Many books retain their contemporary calf bindings. Some are presentation copies: for example, from the clergymen Thomas Rennell and William Van Mildert and the poet and divine William Mason. 

Porteus’s books are supplemented by those of William Howley (1766-1848), who followed Porteus as Bishop of London before becoming archbishop of Canterbury (see ODNB). Later volumes of sermons, charges and other pamphlets are also present, with discussion of the various controversies in the Georgian and Victorian churches. The Church of England deposited the whole in 1958.


Pamphlets and some books have been catalogued online. For an overview of this material, do a mixed classmark search on [Porteus]. Material has been catalogued from cards and the records may not reflect copy-specific detail. Most pre-1801 English material can be found by searching “Porteus” in the ESTC. There is also a card catalogue, arranged by subject; ask Special Collections staff if you are interested. 

Except for material with a classmark beginning “[Porteus] B.P.”, the collection is held off-site and material requires 48 hours (excluding weekends) to be fetched.  

Related material 

  • Manuscript catalogues of the Porteus Library (MS1118) 
  • Graveley Parish Library
  • Theology in the general special collection sequences 

Further reading 

Richnell, D.T., ‘The Library of Bishop Porteus’, Library Association Record, 61 (1959), 156-8