Harry Rose Barrow's library

A History of Giving

A Quaint Little Library

For those that have read our library history blog series, you may recognise the name Revd. Harry Rose Barrow. Barrow’s personal book collection went on to found the library of St. Anne’s College, or the Society of Oxford Home-Students as it was then known. Before the gift of these books, the Home-Students only had access to the shared Nettleship Library, having no book collection exclusively for themselves as the other women’s societies did. The gift thrilled the Society, and built upon the longer tradition of gift-giving that assembled Barrow’s collection.

Shelves with a number of books belonging to Harry Rose Barrow on them.

Harry Rose Barrow collected a wide range of books, from religious writings and poetry to war speeches. He was also interested in early printed books, buying cheaper and more worn items but taking great care in researching them, visiting libraries to see other copies, and assembling complex collations for some works. In a letter about Barrow’s personal library, John Johnson observes: 

‘Obviously I think the old man bought cheaply rather than well. But equally obviously he derived infinite satisfaction from his own rather ingenuous collations. One feels how he enjoyed it all.’

[Letter from John Johnson to Grace Hadow, 24 April 1931. St. Anne’s College Archive]

Barrow’s wife Agnes seems to have given him books at least twice a year for many years of their marriage, taking joy in adding to his ‘quaint little library’. Gifts of books were given at Christmas and on the 11th November, now known as Armistice Day. Barrow refers to this as Martinmas, the feast day of St. Martin, though later inscriptions in his books show that the 11th November was also his birthday. Some of Agnes’s presentation inscriptions to him are still preserved in our collection, like the one below given on 11th November 1887.

A presentation inscription from Agnes Barrow on Harry Rose Barrow's birthday, 1887.

Following his wife’s death in 1899 Barrow continued adding to his library in her memory for the rest of his life. Dedication inscriptions inside books he bought himself for his birthday or Christmas show him continuing with Agnes’s gift-giving tradition. On these occasions he reliably presented himself with a nice book or two, often giving the details of other titles bought as part of the gift if there were more than one. On his birthday in 1917 he even scrupulously notes that he presented one of a multi-volume set bought for the occasion to himself in February of that year.

He also marked other important occasions with the addition of a book to his library. At the beginning of the 20th century he presented an impressively bound bible to himself, not forgetting to add a touching note regretting that his wife was not with him to celebrate. Another dedication inscription from 1917 shows Barrow marking the 18th anniversary of his wife’s passing and fondly remembering her habit of giving him books.

Alice M. Simpson

After Barrow’s death on 31st March 1918, this treasured library of rare and contemporary books passed to Alice M. Simpson, his niece. Simpson’s name in pencil or as an ink stamp can be seen in many items from the collection, suggesting she must have used plenty of the books given by her uncle herself. She married Revd. Canon Arthur Simpson, Rector of St. Mary the Virgin in Fittleworth, West Sussex and had a daughter, Celia Simpson. 

Celia Simpson matriculated as a Home-Student in October 1920, taking her B.A. in French in March 1924. Because of this connection with the Home-Students, in 1930 Alice Simpson donated 553 books from the library of Harry Rose Barrow to the Society, giving them a library of their own at last. 

The donation encouraged other smaller gifts of books and the Society had a bookplate designed by Mr. Leslie Brook for their new library. It shows the garden at 1 Jowett Walk, the home of the Society during that period, as well as a ship and beaver alongside the Home-Students’ Latin title and motto. An additional book label in memory of Barrow is also pasted in to the books that came directly from Alice Simpson’s donation.

The bookplate designed for the Home-Student library can still be found in many of the books at St. Anne's today.

The donation was hugely exciting for the Society as it meant they owned rare books, including three incunabula, for the first time in their history. Unlike the far older all-male colleges the Home-Students did not have a long history of extensive gentlemen’s libraries being given to them, meaning they had not built up a collection of rare books or manuscripts. Grace Hadow wrote of the donation: 

‘I will not refuse fifteenth-century printing […] it is very good for our young to feel they own such things.’

[Butler (1949) p.55]

Thinking it valuable for students to see and have access to rare material, many of the early printed books from Simpson’s donation were proudly displayed in a glass case rather than hidden away out of sight.

An example of an incunabulum (book printed before 1501) from the Simpson donation.
Though the binding is in poor condition, the printing and illustrated capitals inside remain bright.

The collection in the present

From small beginnings, the library of St. Anne’s has grown to be among the largest of any Oxford college. The rare-book collection especially has been greatly enriched by generous donations and bequests. Today the early printed items from Alice Simpson’s gift and others are kept in our special collections storage areas for long-term preservation, but still come out for teaching sessions so students can get hands-on experience handling rare material. Many of the other books from Harry Rose Barrow’s library still remain on the open shelves in both St. Anne’s library buildings, used by students now as they have been since 1930.

This article was written by Lauren Ward, Senior Library Assistant.


Butler, R.F. (1930). The Society of Oxford Home-Students: retrospects and recollections (1879-1921). Oxford: Oxonian Press

Butler, R.F. (1949). A history of Saint Anne’s Society, formerly the Society of Oxford Home-Students. vol II (1921-1946). Oxford: University Press.

Reeves, M. (1979). St Anne’s College Oxford: an informal history 1879-1979. Abingdon:The Abbey Press.


A list of titles from Alice Simpson’s gift can be found by carrying out an ‘Advanced Search’ on SOLO.

Search ‘Copy-specific notes‘ for:

Alice M. Simpson‘ to return a list.

To read Harry Rose Barrow’s dedication inscriptions, carry out an ‘Advanced Search’ on SOLO searching ‘Copy-specific notes‘ for:

Harry Rose Barrow‘ 



The metadata on this collection is being improved all the time, to increase searchability of manuscript annotations in the books.