A co-ordinated effort by charities, funders and philanthropists has secured a unique collection of literary artefacts, including letters written by Jane Austen and manuscripts and paintings by the Brontës, for the nation.
The Friends of the National Libraries, a charity that works to save the UK’s written and printed heritage, has purchased the Honresfield Library collection, which also includes personal documents and original manuscripts by Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. It secured the collection for £15m with help from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the billionaire Sir Leonard Blavatnik and a range of other funders.
The collection, which was assembled by the Rochdale mill owner William Law in the late 1800s and has been inaccessible to researchers or the public for most of the past 80 years, includes a collection of Emily Brontë’s poems with edits by her sister Charlotte, a letter from Jane Austen in which she jokes about turning down a marriage proposal, and a letter from Robert Burns asking a friend for money.
It was announced for sale by auctioneers Sotheby’s in May, but FNL persuaded the owners to postpone the sale to give the charity time to purchase the collection on behalf of a range of libraries in the UK.
The charity has now announced it had raised the £15.3m needed to buy the entire collection, with Blavatnik, thought to be the UK’s richest man, contributing half of the funding and the NHMF providing a further £4m.
In a statement, FNL said the purchase had “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”.
The collection, which has been renamed the Blavatnik Honresfield Library in recognition of the billionaire’s donation, will be distributed to a range of relevant museums and libraries, including the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, the University of Leeds, the British Library, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire, The National Library of Scotland and the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.
In a statement, the Prince of Wales, who is a patron of FNL, said it was “tremendous news” that the charity had managed to raise the money.
“Our literary heritage is our cultural DNA and this preserves it for students, teachers, academics and ordinary readers in perpetuity," he said.