The Blavatnik Honresfield Library

Open book showing title page of "Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell"

The Blavatnik Honresfield Library is a collection of printed books and manuscripts originally collected by William Law (1836–1901) and now distributed between several institutions, including the British Library.

About the collection

The library takes its name from Honresfield House near Rochdale where the 19th-century mill owner William Law (1836–1901) amassed a collection of exceptional literary and historical importance. The collection includes manuscripts and rare editions of the work of Jane Austen, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, the Brontë siblings, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Law employed the services of many leading book and manuscript dealers to acquire a collection which became known as one of the most significant in the country.

Highlights from the collection at the British Library include:

  • Highly important manuscripts by Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, and Walter Scott
  • A collection of approximately 800 late 18th and early 19th-century chapbooks collected by liturgical scholar William Maskell
  • First editions of Brontë printed works, with ownership markings and manuscript insertions from Emily, Charlotte and Patrick Brontë
  • The novels David Copperfield and Vanity Fair as they were originally published, in monthly parts
  • An extensive collection of books featuring prints by George Cruikshank.

Following Law’s death, the collection passed to a nephew, the Conservative MP Sir Alfred Law (1860–1939). Selected scholars were granted access during the 20th century and transcriptions of several of the manuscripts were made. The collection was broadly inaccessible after the death of Alfred Law in 1939. It remained in private hands and largely unknown to the public until 2021, when Sotheby’s Auctioneers announced it would be sold at auction.

The historic Honresfield Library, now called The Blavatnik-Honresfield Library, was purchased for the nation in 2022 by the Friends of the National Libraries with significant support from the Blavatnik Family Foundation, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and many other generous supporters. The collection was shared between a number of UK cultural institutions committed to making the books and manuscripts in their care publically accessible. The British Library was one of the beneficiaries, receiving 102 printed books, four manuscripts, and the William Maskell chapbook collection.

What is available online?

The manuscripts have been digitised in full and images can be accessed via the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue. The manuscripts comprise:

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The printed book collection has been given the shelfmark prefix ‘Hon.’ and can be identified in the catalogue by searching for the phrase ‘Honresfield’. Registered readers can request most printed items to the Rare Books and Music Reading Room using the Explore the British Library online catalogue. A small number of items are restricted for conservation reasons. Please contact for further information.

The manuscript items can be found on the Explore Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue by using the search term ‘Blavatnik Honresfield’. Due to the fragile nature of these items, we ask that you view them online in the first instance. If you require further access to our manuscripts and archives, you will need to complete a form and submit a letter of recommendation. Please contact for support.

What is available in other organisations?

The Blavatnik Honresfield Library manuscript collection has been distributed across a consortium of eight national, university and specialist collection institutions (including the British Library) which are listed below.

  • The Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth
  • The Brotherton Library, University of Leeds
  • The Bodleian Library, Oxford
  • Jane Austen’s House, Chawton
  • The National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow
  • Abbotsford: The Home of Walter Scott, Melrose, Scotland.
  • The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Alloway (National Trust for Scotland)

The c.1400 printed books have been distributed to a large number of institutions across the United Kingdom, including those listed above and further institutions listed below. It will be possible to view the complete collection, across all institutions, via a union catalogued database in the near future.

  • Littleborough History Society
  • Manchester Archives and Library
  • Manx National Heritage
  • Mitchell Library, Glasgow
  • Museum of English Rural Life, Reading University
  • National Library of Scotland
  • National Library of Wales
  • Natural History Society of Northumbria
  • Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society
  • Newcastle University Children’s Literature Centre
  • Norfolk Record Office
  • Nottingham University
  • Oldham Archives
  • Pembroke College, Cambridge
  • Portico Library Manchester
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • Reading University
  • RIBA
  • Royal College of Music
  • Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
  • The Royal Library
  • Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
  • Sheffield University Library
  • Southampton University
  • St Andrews University
  • Strawberry Hill
  • Sussex University
  • The Leeds Library
  • Touchstones (Rochdale Archives)
  • V&A National Art Library
  • West Sussex Record Office
  • Winchester College

Further information

See the British Library Blavatnik Honresfield List (MS Excel) for a complete listing of all the printed materials from the Blavatnik Honresfield collection at the British Library.