Special Collections and Archives

The College has a long and fascinating history.  It was founded in 1786 as the Manchester Academy and was one of the final Dissenting Academies to be established.  Like its famous predecessor, the Warrington Academy, the College provided higher education to Nonconformists who were excluded from Oxford and Cambridge due to religious tests.  While closely associated with the Unitarian tradition, the College has always been non-denominational, being open to all.  The College moved several times during its first century before finally settling in Oxford in 1889, and opening its new buildings on Mansfield Road in 1893.  It became a full member of the University in 1996, updating its name from Manchester College to Harris Manchester College in recognition of the generous support received from Lord Harris.

The Library and Archives have always been central to the life of the College, travelling with the staff and students as they moved in their early years.  The libraries of some of the early academies, specifically Warrington and Exeter, were absorbed into the Manchester College collections as the older academies closed.  Consequently, the library and archive collections at College are an important resource for the study of Nonconformity and Dissenting history.  The collections are especially significant in the areas of Unitarianism.  

The special collections and archives are housed seperately from the main Tate Library and are accessible when library staff are on duty.  Some of our holdings in Special Collections appear on SOLO, but others are not yet listed and are in the process of being catalogued. Some of our collections can also be found by searching “Oxford University, Harris Manchester College” under Library Name on the English Short Title Catalogue.  Some of the archive is listed and searchable using the Porter Catalogue.

Please get in touch with staff if you have any questions or queries:

Kate Alderson-Smith: College Librarian 
Sophie Floate: Antiquarian Cataloguer
Julia Donaldson: Archivist