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Religions and Theology: Christian Brethren Collection


The Christian Brethren collection at The University of Manchester is perhaps the world’s foremost collection relating to those often referred to as the Plymouth Brethren. The collection consists of printed books, periodicals and archival material.

Missionary collections

The Library has a particularly rich collection of materials relating to Brethren missionary activity. There are missionary memoirs and histories in the printed book collection and a collection of periodicals, notably a good run of the magazine Echoes of Service going back to the 1880s. Among the archives are the Echoes of Service Papers which includes correspondence between the Echoes staff and missionaries in the field, and an impressive collection of photographs and magic lantern slides.


The collection is rich in archival material, notably the personal papers of prominent Brethren personalities, records of individual congregations, and archives relating to Brethren ‘service organisations’. Fully catalogued collections can be searched on ELGAR and the Archives Hub. The rest of the collection is searchable via an extensive list of additional papers.

John Nelson Darby and Benjamin Wills Newton

Amongst the papers of noted Brethren individuals, are papers concerning the activities of John Nelson Darby and Benjamin Wills Newton. The dispute between these individuals was a defining moment in the history of the Brethren and is well represented in the collection.

Christian Brethren

The Brethren trace their roots back to Ireland in the 1820s where a gathering made up mainly of Church of Ireland clergymen met to read the Bible, discuss theological matters and pray together. Eventually seceding from the Anglican Church, they carried their practices to England, where they flourished in the south west (notably around Plymouth, hence ‘Plymouth Brethren’). Keen not to produce yet another denomination, they eschewed centralised organisation and created independent autonomous Christian congregations networked loosely around ‘Brethren distinctives’. This picture was muddied somewhat in the 1840s by disputation, resulting in division into ‘Exclusive’ and ‘Open’ branches of the movement. The former adopted a more connexional structure with formal bonds, centralised organisation and a leader. Initially, both wings of the movement were associated doctrinally with the dispensationalist reading of the Bible developed by John Nelson Darby. However, the non-hierarchical, independent nature of the Open Brethren meant that this was less the case over time: there was an absence of centralised policing to ensure conformity. The Exclusive Brethren has had numerous internal divisions over the years, the largest extant group being those going under the name of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church. In the twentieth century, the Open Brethren has been more successful at attracting followers. This was a direct result of their focus on missionary activity which has led to the establishment of Brethren type congregations across the globe.

Printed books

The collection contains over 16,000 books, articles and tracts. The aim of the collection is to cover the Brethren tradition in as wide and as varied a manner as possible. It contains books by Brethren authors from various traditions, books and articles about the Brethren, material produced for proselytization, writing critical of the Brethren, and personal testimony (both positive and negative). It is especially rich in works on missionary activity. All of the books are listed in Library Search, the University Library catalogue. There is also a printed books web page with links to further finding aids.


There are around 300 periodical titles present, ranging from early nineteenth century journals, notably the Christian Witness, to current periodicals and popular magazines such as Echoes of Service, Precious Seed, Believer’s Magazine and the Australian missionary magazine Serving Together. The bulk of the collection consists of English language materials, but foreign language journals and magazines are also represented including Uit Het Woord Der Waarheid, Il Christiano Servi r en L’Attendant and Slovo Pravdy. The periodicals are listed in Library Search, the catalogue of the University Library. There is also a complete list of the holdings in alphabetical order.


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