University Hall (Dr. Williams' Library), Gordon Square

Page 96

Survey of London: Volume 21, the Parish of St Pancras Part 3: Tottenham Court Road and Neighbourhood. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1949.

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The building on the west side of Gordon Square, adjoining to the north of the Catholic Apostolic Church, was built in 1848 from the designs of Thomas Leverton Donaldson. It was erected as a Hall of Residence for students of University College and from 1853 it also accommodated Manchester New College. When the latter institution moved to Oxford in 1890, the building was purchased by the Trustees of Dr. Williams's Charity to house their well-known Library. Henry Morley, professor of literature at University College and Editor of Morley's Universal Library was principal of University Hall, 1882–1890.

The Rev. Daniel Williams, D.D., the founder of the Library, died at the age of 72 in 1716 and was buried in Bunhill Fields where his tomb, surrounded by iron railings, can still be seen. He was domestic chaplain to the Countess of Meath, 1664–67, and one of the Ministers of the Wood Street Congregation, Dublin, 1667–87. In the latter year he came to London and was appointed Minister to the Presbyterian Congregation, Hand Alley, Bishopsgate, a position which he held until his death in 1716. A doctorate of Divinity was conferred on him in 1709 by the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow in recognition of his outstanding services to nonconformity. He bequeathed his property to Trustees for a number of charitable purposes, amongst which was the founding of a library for (but not exclusively for) nonconformists. The first library, a building of pleasant distinction, was built by the trustees in Red Lion Street and was opened in 1719. A print of the exterior and interior in 1826 is in existence. (fn. 91)

In 1865, owing to the purchase of the building by the Metropolitan Railway Company, the library was moved to Bloomsbury, and its original home was demolished. From 1865 to 1873 it was housed at No. 8 Queen Square and then moved into premises specially designed for it by T. Chatfield Clarke in Grafton Street (now Way), east of Tottenham Court Road, Here it remained until 1890, when it moved again to Gordon Square, the Grafton Street building being purchased by Messrs. Maple & Co., who still retain it in their business premises.

The building in Gordon Square is of stone and brick in the late Gothic style (Plate 45). The complete specification for its erection (dated April, 1848), with plan and elevation, is printed in Donaldson's Handbook of Specifications or Practical Guide to the Architect, pp. 380 et seq., published in 1859.


  • 91. A Short Account of the Charity and Library established under the will of the late Rev. Daniel Williams, D.D. (1917), illustr. facing pp. 58 and 60.