G.K.  Chesterton Library in Oxford

The G.K. Chesterton Library is a registered charity (Charity No. 1134101).


G.K. Chesterton was one of the best-known and best-loved British writers and personalities of the first half of the twentieth century. A close friend of James Barrie, George Bernard Shaw, and Hilaire Belloc, he was prominent as a poet and literary biographer from around 1900, and died in 1936. He is probably best known today for his “Father Brown” detective stories, but he was also an accomplished cartoonist. In Christian circles he is known to have been an influence on C.S. Lewis, and his 1908 book Orthodoxy is a perennially popular forerunner to Lewis’s Mere Christianity. A great lover of children, having a childlike personality himself, though his wife was not able to bear children of her own, he entertained the local children in Beaconsfield with shows improvised for the large Toy Theatre he constructed for the purpose. Scholarly interest in Chesterton is increasing, judging by the publication of an increasing quantity of new biographies, literary studies, and reprints of his own works.


The important collection of books and Chestertoniana held in Oxford – including a vast number of original artworks, many of them characters drawn for the Toy Theatre – 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 these materials at a study centre that might have been located in Chesterton’s home in Beaconsfield. Unfortunately “Top Meadow” passed into private hands. Instead, from 1994 the Library was held at a Methodist college in Oxford where Stratford Caldecott was directing a Centre for Faith & Culture and was able to act as curator. The Library moved with Stratford to Plater College in Oxford (formerly known as the Catholic Workers’ College) when the Centre transferred there in 1998, and after the closure of Plater College in 2002 eventually to King Street in Oxford’s Jericho district, near to the city centre, initially with the support of the G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture in New Jersey. From 2007 to 2011 the space necessary to house it in King Street was provided by the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The Library itself is now owned and managed by the G.K. Chesterton Library Trust (Charity No. 1134101), to which Mr Mackey acts as adviser. The collection does not include Chesterton’s letters and manuscripts, which are held in the British Library. The materials in the Oxford collection are mostly delicate, and many in a very fragile state (now preserved in archive boxes, which have been catalogued.) Access is by arrangement only, and for the time being very restricted. An in principle agreement has been reached for the Library to be housed eventually – probably from 2013 – by the Oxford Oratory, once it completes its own library building programme. For details see http://campaign.oxfordoratory.org.uk/p/library.html.


More detail on the Chesterton Library here.