Rare Books holds two parish libraries, both formed during the 17th-century when increased production of printed books and increased levels of literacy encouraged the creation of individual libraries.

The third theological library is from the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, West Yorkshire, an Anglican religious community.

Halifax Parish Collection

This library was founded by Robert Clay, vicar of Halifax from 1624 to 1628, who presented some of his own books, and solicited gifts from other people.

Over the next two hundred years, many other books were added, notably a large collection belonging to Simon Sterne. This included some books which had belonged to his father, Richard Sterne, Archbishop of York, 1664-1683.

Not all of the earlier books survived. The Collection now contains about 239 works, all but one pre-1700, including four incunabula. Many are inscribed by the original owners.

Theology and biblical studies form the bulk of the collection, with some more general works.  Highlights include

  • the first edition of Israel Spach's Gynaeciorum (1597), a collection of gynaecological writings
  • the first Latin edition of Galileo's Systema cosmicum (1635)

Slaithwaite Parish Collection

A parish library from the church of Slaithwaite, near Huddersfield. It was founded by the Rev. Robert Meeke, vicar from 1685 until his death in 1724, who, in his will, provided that part of his own library should be kept for the use of his successors.

It was placed here on permanent loan in 1967. It consists of around 250 books, mainly of 17th- and 18th-century theology, with a few rather surprising exceptions, such as a 17th-century edition of the Gesta Romanorum, considered to be a source text for writers such as Chaucer and Shakespeare. There are also some manuscripts of local interest.

Other items of interest:

  • Mikrocosmographia (1616), the first complete treatise on anatomy in English, illustrated with numerous woodcuts.
  • four manuscripts of local interest written by schoolmasters at the Slaithwaite school.

These collections would be of interest to researchers studying the nature and history of English parish libraries.

Mirfield Collection

The Library's largest rare books collection is the Mirfield Collection. This collection comprises 2259 books, most printed before 1800, many on the continent.

The books are mainly pre-1800, and formed part of the library of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, West Yorkshire. This Anglican religious community for men was founded in Oxford in 1892, and moved to Mirfield in 1898.

The library was built up mainly by gifts from members and friends and includes books from the Wilberforce family including the abolitionist William.

All the pre-1800 books, plus a few sets of the publications of historical record societies, such as the Royal Historical Society, and the Surtees Society, were deposited here on permanent loan in 1973. 

There are several incunabula, including an edition of St. Augustine's De civitate Dei, printed by Nicolas Jenson in Venice, 1475.

Although the books are predominantly theological, there are many interesting works in other subjects: for example, the first collected edition of the works of Sir Philip Sidney (1598); the second edition of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan (1651); and the first edition of 1775 of A journey to the western islands of Scotland, by Samuel Johnson.

The Borthwick Institute for Archives holds the Mirfield archive.