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Brian Alderson donates rare children’s book collection

Newcastle University and Seven Stories welcome the collection of a renowned children's literature scholar

Brian Wouldhave Alderson, a Freeman of the City of Newcastle and a renowned children’s literature scholar, is donating his extraordinary collection of children's books to Newcastle University and Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books. Believed to be the largest privately-owned children’s literature collection in the UK, it is made up of more than 20,000 books, dating from the 17th century to the present day. Works come from the United States, France, Germany and Britain, and the collection includes original illustrations and papers related to Brian’s diverse career.

Brian is a respected author, editor, critic, and scholar who has curated many exhibitions. Brian's interest in children's books began in 1954. He was aided and abetted by his wife Valerie whose own collection of Victorian women writers and of the works of Louisa May Alcott is incorporated in the Alderson Collection and given a separate bookplate. He went on to teach Children's Literature in London for many years and is the former children’s books editor of The Times (1967 – 1996) and winner of the Eleanor Farjeon Award (1969) for his outstanding contribution to children’s literature. He founded the Children’s Books History Society in 1969 and is the current President of the Beatrix Potter Society. As well as writing, editing and translating a number of children’s books, Brian has written several critical works on the history of children’s books in Britain and beyond. 

The donation is a mark of Brian’s long-standing and ongoing support for both Newcastle University and Seven Stories. He was awarded an honorary degree by the University in 2016. He said: ‘With the University’s scholarly interests in children’s literature and historic children’s book collections, and with Seven Stories being the national home of contemporary children’s books, I am delighted to be able to augment the City's prominence in fostering interest in what is an unduly neglected subject.”

Jill Taylor-Roe, Acting University Librarian at Newcastle University, said: “The Alderson Collection enhances and extends the University Library’s unique and distinctive holdings in Children’s Literature, and together with Seven Stories’ holdings, will create an incredibly rich resource for anyone interested in the history and further development of children’s literature.”

Sarah Lawrance, Collections and Exhibitions Director at Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books, said: “We are immensely grateful to Brian Alderson for the generous gift of his collection, which includes many rare and unique books – now to be made publicly accessible for the first time – and complements the holdings of Seven Stories and the Philip Robinson Library perfectly.”

The books will enhance the research of the Children’s Literature Unit, a research group within Newcastle University’s School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics. Kim Reynolds, Professor of Children’s Literature at Newcastle University, said: ‘We are all excited by this splendid donation. Thanks to Brian’s unique expertise, this collection is full of rare and unusual items, and it will be an invaluable contribution to the work of establishing Newcastle as a world-class centre for the study of children’s books.”

The transfer of the Alderson Collection to Newcastle has already begun and, in the future, it is expected that the whole collection will be available for research and teaching, and by members of the public. The material that has already been catalogued is available to view on Newcastle University’s Library Search. Notable holdings include early nursery rhyme books, including a rare Mother Goose's Melody, with illustrations by the Newcastle wood engraver Thomas Bewick, and a little Gammer Gurton's Garland, published in Stockton circa 1790. Brian notes an interest in garnering a number of comparative collections within the collection: the works of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, for example (both of whom he has translated), or illustrated editions of The Water-Babies, whose text he has edited. His work on the history of publishing has led to specialist holdings of the Victorian publisher, James Burns, and books published by the London office of the Oxford University Press between 1906 and 1939, such as the very rare Baby Bunting's Box of Books and a halfpenny edition of Little Miss Muffet.

The donation of the Collection jointly to the two organisations is a key outcome of Seven Stories’ and Newcastle University’s Vital North Partnership, funded by Arts Council England. The two organisations are marking Brian’s generous donation with a free exhibition of some of the highlights from the Collection at Newcastle University’s Philip Robinson Library, opening in June 2017 and running throughout the summer. 


Brian with his collection
Brian with his collection

published on: 20 July 2017