From the archives – G.D.H. Cole and Nuffield College Library


G.D.H. Cole at work


G.D.H. Cole was born on 25 September 1889 and died on 14 January 1959. He married Margaret Postgate in August 1918. Cole came to prominence in the years shortly before the First World War. Along with S.G. Hobson and A.P. Orage, he was a leading theorist of that form of industrial democracy known as guild socialism and was subsequently prominent in the short-lived guild socialism movement. For the next half century, he was active as an influential academic, leading Fabian, and guiding light of several left-wing groups. Above all, he was a political thinker, whose work in the last decade of his life was described by Richard Crossman as “still the most creative … in the Labour movement”.

[From the preface to the Handlist of the Papers of G.D.H. Cole in Nuffield College Library]

At the meeting of Nuffield College’s Warden & Fellows on the 1st of May 1948, then Warden, Sir Henry Clay brought forward the proposal to purchase Cole’s personal library which consisted of 25,000-30,000 volumes.

Meeting of Warden & Fellows

Meeting of Warden & Fellows 1st of May 1948

The collection was valued at £6,270 by George Wheeler of George Harding’s Bookshop, he also had the following to say:

“…the retention of the library as a whole is a thing to be very strongly advocated. It is, as far as I know, the most complete library of it’s [sic] kind in private hands in the country; being especially rich in source material on the development of the republican, radical, Chartist, socialistic and kindred movements from 1790 to the present time”

George Wheeler's valuation of G.D.H. Cole's library, broken down by subject [click to enlarge]

George Wheeler’s valuation of G.D.H. Cole’s library [click on image to enlarge]

Clay wrote to Cole on the 28th of March to say:

“Your library, if we acquire it, will in my opinion do far more to establish a college devoted to Social Studies than several times the amount of building we are inaugurating on April 21st.”

Read the full letter below:

Sir Henry Clay to G.D.H. Cole [click on image to enlarge]

Sir Henry Clay to G.D.H. Cole [click on image to enlarge]

The letter mentions the conditions that Cole placed upon the sale. He formally laid these out in a letter of the 4th of April 1949:

Cole's conditions of sale [click to read the letter]

Cole’s conditions of sale [click to read the letter]

(Regarding point 1. d) Nuffield College Library did eventually receive much of Cole’s manuscript material and letters as well as those of his wife, Margaret)

The College was able to raise the sum of £2,980 (almost half the total cost) from donors to help purchase Cole’s books:

List of donors [click image to enlarge]

List of donors [click to enlarge]

The purchase of Cole’s library was a great coup for Nuffield College, on the 30th of June 1949 Clay wrote to Cole to say that the collection will form…

“…the foundation of the best library in its field in the country …I think this acquisition which you have made possible has given me more satisfaction than anything else since I became Warden.”

Clay to Cole 30th June 1949

Clay to Cole 30th June 1949 [click on image to enlarge]

All material from College papers, kept in the Librarian’s Office and available to see on request.


About Nuffield College Library

We are a social sciences library serving Nuffield College and the University of Oxford
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