Brontë treasures to be saved for the nation following successful fundraising campaign

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Charlotte Brontë, 'Characters of the Great Men of the Present Time', 12-17 December 1829. Image courtesy of Sotheby's

Thanks to a successful fundraising campaign led by Friends of the National Libraries (FNL) and an exceptional donation by Sir Leonard Blavatnik, an astonishing set of manuscripts and printed books by the Brontës has been saved for the nation.

Entrusted to the British Library, the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, the Brotherton Library and the University of Leeds, the new partnership will now make the collection of works accessible to audiences across the UK.

The works form part of the Honresfield Library, created by 19th-century industrialist William Law. This exceptional collection of manuscripts and printed books  has been in private hands since 1939, largely unexamined by scholars, and has now been saved in its entirety for the nation as a result of the FNL campaign. 

HRH The Prince of Wales, Patron of FNL, said: 

“It is tremendous news for our country that Friends of the National Libraries, a charity of which I am proud to be Patron, has raised £15 million in just five months to save one of the most significant collections, including manuscripts by Charlotte Brontë, Walter Scott and Robert Burns.  I can only congratulate the Chairman, Geordie Greig, and his team for saving the Blavatnik Honresfield Library for the nation, with its treasures now to be owned by some of our greatest national libraries across the U.K.  Our literary heritage is our cultural D.N.A. and this preserves it for students, teachers, academics and ordinary readers in perpetuity.”

The collection contains manuscripts in the hands of Jane Austen, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott as well as a remarkable set of items relating to the Brontës, including:

  • Emily Brontë’s holograph notebook of 31 poems, believed by many scholars to have been lost and containing annotations in Charlotte’s hand. One of the most significant and valuable items within the collection, the notebook will be reunited for the first time with the manuscript of Emily Brontë’s Gondal poetry which is also cared for by the British Library
  • the final little book to complete the second series of the Young Men’s Magazine. This little book, written by Charlotte in 1830, will now join the other five issues which are currently held at the Brontë Parsonage Museum
  • six additional miniature manuscripts filled with Charlotte’s tiny writing
  • fine presentation copies of first editions of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Shirley, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in their original cloth bindings
  • manuscript collection of poems by Anne Brontë
  • illustrated diary papers written by Emily and Anne in 1841
  • printed treasures including Emily Brontë’s own annotated copy of the Brontës’ first publication, the exceptionally rare Poems of 1846
  • manuscript letters by Branwell Brontë, complementing the Brotherton Library’s substantial holdings of Branwell Brontë materials which give a unique insight into the mind of the often forgotten brother as he battled with addiction and a failed relationship with a married woman.

When the sale of the library in three tranches was announced in May 2021, Friends of National Libraries successfully encouraged Sotheby’s, the agents for the vendors, to postpone the sale of the first tranche planned for July 2021 in order to give FNL the opportunity to purchase the entire collection outright on behalf of appropriate recipient libraries within the UK.

FNL successfully raised £15 million and has ensured that the collection will remain permanently in the public domain and will never be lost to overseas institutions or to private collections that are not accessible to the public.

Charlotte Brontë manuscripts. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

Along with the other beneficiary libraries, the British Library, the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, and the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, say they are immensely grateful to FNL for their leadership of the fundraising campaign, and in particular to lead donor Sir Leonard Blavatnik whose contribution is the largest ever donation given in the UK by an individual for a literary treasure.

In recognition of his generosity, the collection will henceforth be known as the Blavatnik Honresfield Library. In addition, the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) has contributed a grant of £4 million, the largest it has ever awarded towards the acquisition of literary manuscripts.

The British Library is delighted to have been able to contribute £1.2 million to the campaign. We are extremely grateful to The American Trust for the British Library and The Bernard H. Breslauer Fund of the American Trust for the British Library, The British Library Collections Trust, The Ardeola Charitable Trust, the Vogel-Denebeim Family and many individuals for their generous support of this appeal.

As well as transforming access to the Brontë manuscripts, the British Library, the Brontë Parsonage Museum and the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, will be providing a permanent home to numerous items from the Blavatnik Honresfield Library’s large collection of printed books, which date from the 16th to the 19th century and cover a wide range of subjects. Together, the partnership will also deliver an exciting programme of engagement activities to make this outstanding collection accessible to everyone.

Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries, said: 

“I am so delighted by the astonishing fundraising by Friends of the National Libraries and the great match funding donation by Sir Leonard Blavatnik to save this literary treasure trove for Britain.   £15m raised in five months is incredible. What makes it significant and remarkable is that these manuscripts by Walter Scott, Charlotte Brontë, Robert Burns and Jane Austen will now be returned to the places where they were written.   It is a testament to the generosity of so many thousands of people giving small and large amounts that we have retained these literary Crown Jewels for all the UK.”

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library added:

 “The British Library is thrilled that this rare opportunity to save such an exceptional collection of literary treasures for the nation has been successful.  Friends of the National Libraries has brokered a remarkable and unprecedented collaboration between diverse institutions across the UK, and we are proud to have been a part of it. We very much look forward to working with our partners at The Brontë Parsonage Museum and the Brotherton Library to care for the extraordinary works entrusted to us and help make them available for everyone to enjoy.”

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