History

G.K. Chesterton was one of the best-known and best-loved Christian writers of the Catholic Literary Revival in the first half of the twentieth century. The collection held in Oxford was mainly built up by Mr Aidan Mackey, a friend of Chesterton’s secretary and adopted daughter Dorothy Collins. Mr Mackey's original hope was to house it at a study centre that might have been located in Chesterton's home in Beaconsfield. Unfortunately, Top Meadow passed into private hands.

For a while, the Library was held at Westminster College, a Methodist college in Oxford where Stratford Caldecott was directing the Centre for Faith & Culture from 1994 and was able to act as curator. The Library moved with the Centre to Plater College in Oxford (formerly known as the Catholic Workers' College) when Stratford transferred there in 1998, and thence (in 2002, after the closure of Plater College) to King Street in Oxford’s Jericho district, near to the city centre, with the generous support of the G.K. Chesterton Institute at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. From 2007 it was maintained with the help of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, NH, as part of their collaboration with the Centre for Faith & Culture.

In 2013 the collection moved to its new home in the new library building of the Oxford Oratory on the Woodstock Road, which is be dedicated to the English Catholic Revival. It is now owned and managed by an independent charitable trust.

Though relatively small, the collection is highly significant. It includes:

  • Assorted memorabilia including hat, typewriter, 2 walking sticks, some souvenirs of GKC's various trips abroad, a plaster bust, study chair and barber’s chair, GKC's writing table, rosary beads, pen, a pair of pince-nez, a letter from Pope Pius XI making him a Knight of St Gregory, his personalized travelling suitcase, various portraits and photos of GKC, ugly madonnas, D.Litt gown, homburg hat, toy theatre materials…
  • A complete run of Chesterton's own annotated and illustrated copies of 'GK's Weekly' (starting as 'The Eye Witness') in somewhat ragged bindings in 52 large volumes, containing some annotations by GKC (bookmarked).
  • An extensive background library built up by Aidan Mackey of books by contemporary and related writers, including Belloc, McNabb, and two fine editions of engravings by Eric Gill. Approx. 400 volumes.
  • 50 box files of Aidan Mackey’s newspaper cuttings, newsletters and ephemera from the various literary societies around the world, including some related to the Inklings, plus cassette tapes and some microfiche material. Unclear how much if any of this relates directly to GKC.
  • Toy theatres: (a) one small theatre GKC bought in Spain in the 1930s complete with printed scripts in English (box somewhat damaged), plus (b) a collection of scenery and figures that he made for a much larger one of his own (the frame constructed by his father has been misplaced by the British Library along with Chesterton’s cloak, but these may still turn up), and some wooden pieces also made for a toy theatre.
  • A few other drawings by GKC, including his earliest known drawing done at the age of seven and showing considerable talent, and the heads of three finger-puppets that Chesterton made and painted.
  • Assorted books by GKC, including some first editions and many duplicates, a complete run of 'The Chesterton Review', and 20 volumes of the Ignatius Press Collected Works.
  • Bound runs of other newspapers that GKC occasionally wrote for, such as the London 'Mercury'.
  • Appointment diaries and box-file notes kept by Chesterton's secretary, listing the people he met and letters he wrote at various times.
  • A fragile collection of newspaper cuttings concerning the Marconi case of 1911-12 made at the time by H.D.C. Pepler.
  • The original of a famous photo of GKC by Howard Coster on high-quality card and designed by Coster. An original autograph of GKC, mounted.
  • Just over 100 volumes from GKC's own book collection (taken with permission from Top Meadow after the death of Dorothy Collins), with numerous scribbles and cartoons by him in the margins, never catalogued or documented in detail, but bookmarked by Aidan Mackey. Also GKC’s annotated edition of Sir Oliver Lodge's Catechism Substance of Faith referred to in Orthodoxy, plus other items bought by Aidan from Peter Cassidy and listed separately, including two issues of The Debater from St Paul’s School. GKC’s school copy of Arnold’s Latin Prose Composition, Part 2, extensively doodled upon and within.
  • Foreign-language books by and about GKC: Russian, Japanese, Spanish, French, etc. Approx. 350 volumes.
  • A small library of books and papers connected with Distributism and the history of the Distributist League, with related material on alternative economics and Catholic and Anglican social thinking. Approx. 100 volumes plus a shelf of pamphlets, newsletters, journals. Includes the Distributist League papers.
It does not include Chesterton’s letters and manuscripts, which are held in the British Library. St Paul’s School in London and the church of St Teresa in Beaconsfield also possess collections of "Chestertoniana". Nevertheless, it has a remarkable range of material (it also contains small holdings related to other writers, including Dawson, Newman, and Tolkien). Some of the contents are on permanent loan from either the British Library or the Homeland Foundation in the United States. Other materials owned by Mr Mackey are still held at his private home.


Please note

Viewings are strictly by appointment with the Trustees. Email chestertonlibrarytrust@gmail.com, or write to Fr Jerome Bertram at the Oratory.