Opposition to break-up of Mendham Collection grows

Online petition protests at Law Society’s decision to sell 300 rare volumes
Profile image for Gareth Harris
Gareth Harris
More than 3,000 people have signed an online petition in protest at plans to sell more than 300 volumes from the Mendham Collection of manuscripts and rare books.

The collection is owned by the Law Society but has been held under the custodianship of Canterbury Cathedral and the University of Kent for almost 30 years; the agreement lasts until 31 December 2013.

The collection was bequeathed to the Law Society by a relative of Joseph Mendham, a 19th-century Anglican clergyman.

But about 300 items were removed from the 5,000-strong collection on 18 July for auction at Sotheby’s in November.

It is understood that the society’s proposal to sell part of the collection did not breach the terms of the bequest.

But the University of Oxford’s professor of the history of the church, Diarmaid MacCulloch, called the break-up “an act of vandalism”.

“While we appreciate the need for the Law Society to raise funds, we ask that it works with us to find a way to preserve this invaluable collection,” said Alixe Bovey of the University of Kent, who set up the petition.

A spokeswoman for the Law Society said: “[We] initially raised the idea of the University of Kent and Canterbury [Cathedral] purchasing the collection in a meeting on 24 April. We have repeated the invitation to purchase in correspondence in May, June and July, inviting them to submit proposals.”

She added that it had become increasingly difficult to justify the cost of maintaining the collection.

Museums Journal understands that the Law Society first invited the university to make an offer on the collection on 29 May, with a deadline of 1 June, giving the institution only 72 hours to organise a valuation, which can cost up to £20,000.

A full catalogue of the collection was published in 1994 with funding from the British Library, on condition that the collection should not be dispersed.

“The Law Society was not a party to the agreement, so it is not legally binding on us,” added the spokeswoman.

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