In February 1922 Lord Brotherton bought the rare book of poetry that was to become the first volume in the Brotherton Collection. 

The Brotherton Collection of rare books and manuscripts, now held in Special Collections at the Brotherton Library, is one of the most important and extensive to be established in England during the first half of the twentieth century. This year we are celebrating the man who started it all and his extraordinary legacy. 

A Library and a Legacy: Celebrating 100 Years of the Brotherton Collection is a year-long programme of activity which remembers Lord Brotherton, tells the story of how the collection started and highlights some of its extraordinary treasures.

Special Collections and Galleries will be celebrating the Brotherton Collection and the centenary of its foundation throughout 2022, with key items on display in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery all through the year and an exciting programme of events and activities, including our new online feature telling the Brotherton story.

Lord Brotherton seated, dressed in formal gown and mayoral chain.
A picture from the family album of Lord Brotherton, dressed in his formal gowns and mayoral chain. Image credit University of Leeds.

Born in 1856, Lord Brotherton was the owner of one of the most successful chemical manufacturing businesses of his time. He served as Mayor and Member of Parliament for Wakefield and was also Lord Mayor of Leeds.

Lord Brotherton made sure his library contained fine examples of everything from medieval illuminated manuscripts and early printed books to tiny items handwritten by the Brontës. He even achieved the “holy grail of book collecting” – the four seventeenth-century Shakespeare Folios.

Book in illuminated display case. Page has an illustration of William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare’s First Folio, 1623. Image credit University of Leeds.

Shakespeare’s First Folio

The first collected edition of the plays of William Shakespeare was published in 1623, seven years after his death. It was compiled by his theatrical colleagues John Heminge and Henry Condell. Three more folio editions were published in 1632, 1664 and 1685 and Lord Brotherton acquired a copy of each in his first few years of book collecting. He bought the First Folio in 1924.

Decorated box open to reveal three shelves of tiny books, one of which is laid on the table.
Jacobean Travelling Library, 1617. Image credit University of Leeds.

Jacobean Travelling Library

The Brotherton Collection’s Travelling Library is one of only four known examples in the world. It was probably commissioned by the London lawyer William Hakewill in late 1617 as a New Year’s gift for a friend. A decorated wooden box disguised as a leather-bound volume opens to reveal three shelves and 43 miniature books on theology, philosophy, history and poetry, the latest dated 1616, the year of Shakespeare’s death. Each book is bound in white limp vellum with ties of coloured ribbon.

Book being held open. Watercolour illustration and handwritten poem on right hand page.
The unique copy of “Dale Courtin'” that Fred Lawson created for Dorothy Una Ratcliffe. Image credit University of Leeds.

Dale Courtin’ by Dorothy Una Ratcliffe, illustrated by Fred Lawson

Within the Brotherton Collection is a beautifully illustrated copy of Dale Courtin’, created for Dorothy Una Ratcliffe (D.U.R.) by the artist Fred Lawson. D.U.R. was a poet, playwright and travel writer, and the niece-in-law of Lord Brotherton. She often wrote her verse in the dialect of Wensleydale. D.U.R. met Fred Lawson in the mid-1920s when both were members of the Yorkshire Dialect Society. She chose Lawson’s intimate portrayals of the Dales to illustrate several of her published books. 

All of these treasures and more are currently on display in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery, which is free to visit. There will be a rolling programme of highlights from the Brotherton Collection being showcased during 2022, so be sure to pop in throughout the year. Visit our website to plan your visit.

You can also discover the Brotherton Story from home through our new online feature showcasing highlights from the collection and our upcoming series of talks, events and blogs exploring the collection’s significance.

To find out more about online and in-person events to mark the centenary, search #Brotherton100 on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or TikTok, or join our mailing list.