Archives Hub feature for April 2023
The Christian Brethren Archive (CBA) is part of the John Rylands Research Institute and Library Special Collections at The University of Manchester, England. The CBA is a world-class collection relating to the Brethren Movement and to congregations which have their roots in the Brethren tradition. This huge resource spans over 250 years and contains literature and records in many different languages in addition to English. The archive grew organically from a small collection of papers donated to the University in 1979 by the influential, evangelical scholar, F.F. Bruce (1910-90), Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at The University of Manchester. The CBA is a living archive, and today we receive communications, enquiries and gifts of material from all around the world.
The collection is managed by a full-time archivist whose work is overseen by an Advisory Group made up of historians and library professionals with Brethren interests and concerns.
Many of the Archive costs are funded through the kindness of private and charitable donations, the remainder are met by The University of Manchester.
Who Are The Christian Brethren?
The Brethren movement was formed by a group of independent Christian congregations who emerged out of Protestant Ireland in the 1820’s. Notable early members were John Nelson Darby (1800-82), Benjamin Wills Newton (1807-99) and George Müller (1805-98). Doctrinal differences caused a split in 1848 which led to the establishment of two distinct Brethren streams, the Exclusive Brethren who were led by John Nelson Darby and the Open Brethren who were led by George Müller. The Exclusive Brethren initially established themselves in Plymouth, Devon, England, giving rise to the group being known as the Plymouth Brethren. Both Brethren streams continue to flourish around the globe today.
What’s In The Archive?
Over 7,000 manuscripts, 18,000 rare books, pamphlets, and tracts, and some 400 series of periodicals, dating from the early nineteenth century to the present. As well as photographs, films, and audio recordings.
There are personal papers relating to personalities among the Brethren, such as founding members John Nelson Darby and Benjamin Wills Newton, as well as records relating to assemblies across the United Kingdom, such as the Church of God in Belfast, Northern Ireland (1897-2018). Important organisations and events are also represented, for example Echoes International (formerly Echoes of Service, missionary support agency) est. 1872, the Devonshire Conferences of 1906 and 1907 (which discussed the terms of fellowship between gatherings of Open and Exclusive Brethren), the Christian Brethren Research Fellowship for 1962–81, and the Swanwick conferences of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.
We regularly collect born digital records, many of which are newsletters and periodicals. These are stored in our digital preservation system, Preservica and made accessible via University of Manchester Collections
All our catalogued Christian Brethren archives, some 60 collections are available via the Archives Hub, The University of Manchester’s Special Collections. All catalogued CBA holdings can be searched via The University’s Library Search.
What is the Archive’s Research Potential?
The collection provides a rich resource for many disciplines including religion and theology, human geography, culture, history, politics and gender, as well as humanitarian studies and post colonialism.
Recent research has focussed on topics such as women and the Brethren, for example the writer and evangelist Grace Grattan Guinness (1877-1967). Grace documented her travels as she accompanied her husband, Henry Grattan Guinness, a well known orator, on a five-year preaching tour of the world whilst on their honeymoon!
We regularly hold events which aim to show the amazing breadth of material within the CBA. For example, using items from the George Müller archive we participated in the Histories of Care (March 2023). A collections encounter and public roundtable which reflected on the social care and experience of children throughout history and sought to understand how these histories might inform the shape of future childcare. George Müller was the founder and director of the Ashley Down Orphan Homes in Bristol, England. In his lifetime, he cared for 10,000 orphaned children.
Signs of the Times. Maps and Charts of History and Prophecy was a public talk and collections encounter (March 2023) which looked at Brethren thinking about ‘End Times’ or the end of the world and discussed texts and images of apocalyptic imagery from the 8th century to the present day. Led by historians Professor Crawford Gribben, Queen’s University, Belfast, and Dr Andrew Crome, Manchester Metropolitan University, the event provided a unique opportunity to see first-hand some of the CBA’s mysterious maps and charts of prophecy and to get an overview of their history and purpose. A selection of the maps and charts is on display in the Rylands Gallery at The John Rylands Research Institute and Library until 11 November 2023.
Jane Speller, Curator, Christian Brethren Archive
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The Christian Brethren Archive is located at The University of Manchester Library.
Library Search – search all Christian Brethren Archive resources
University of Manchester Collections – view digitised Brethren collections
Rylands Blog – read about Brethren collections
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