skip to content

The archive and library of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) were presented to Cambridge University Library on the occasion of the Society's 300th anniversary in 1998. The Society's archives are now held in the Manuscripts Department; only the publications and library are held in Rare Books. Many of the books published by the SPCK were received by the Library under legal deposit at the time of publication, and - with some exceptions - it was agreed that the Library would retain only books for which copies were not already held in Cambridge. Duplicates were returned to SPCK in London for retention or disposal. Records for SPCK publications from the archive and from the Library's existing collections have been added to the online catalogue, but some entries for SPCK material will still be found only in the paper catalogues (general & supplementary). 

The book collection is divided into five main sections:

1. General publishing archive: 19th to 20th centuries.

The earlier volumes in this section are predominantly liturgical works and books on Christian theology, but as the 19th century progressed, the SPCK published many popular works on a wide variety of other subjects, including botany, zoology, engineering, health, education, travel and exploration, & history. A substantial part of this section (particularly 20th century books) remains unprocessed and uncatalogued, and readers are therefore advised to consult the catalogues to find copies in the Library's other collections. 

2. Children's book collection: 1840s-1960s.

This section was retained in its entirety and duplicates were not returned to London; records for all material in this section have been added to the online catalogue. The children's book collection is mainly fiction, with some drama & poetry. Authors include Juliana Horatia Ewing, Mrs Alexander, Bessie Marchant & G.A. Henty; illustrators such as Randolph Caldecott, Gordon Browne & Elsie Anna Wood are also represented. Many of these books were intended as reward books to be issued by schools, Sunday schools etc., and comparison with Cambridge's existing copies of otherwise identical editions has shown that these were sometimes issued in variant gift bindings: such binding variants have been noted in the catalogue record.

3. Tract collection: 1700s-1910s.

This special collection was retained in its entirety and duplicates were not returned to London; the collection does not, however, contain a complete run of the tracts - which, from the mid-1800s, were issued in a numbered series - and many will only be found elsewhere in the Library's collections. Records for the majority of the tract collection are now in the online catalogue.

The tracts are slim pamphlets, generally of around 8-16 pages, on improving & moral subjects, which were intended to be bought in bulk by members of the Society - often clergy, teachers or lay visitors - for distribution to parishioners etc. Many are fictional or anecdotal accounts illustrating moral problems, but the series also includes catechisms, prayer books & other devotional literature. The majority of the tracts are in English, but there are also translations into Welsh, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Norwegian, Danish & Swedish. The majority of the 18th-century items received as part of this collection were apparently not published by SPCK, but they have been kept with the tract collection nonetheless to maintain the integrity of the collection as it was received.

4. Non-SPCK publications from the Library: 17th-19th centuries.

The SPCK library contained some publications not issued by the Society - mainly Bibles, sermons and general theological literature - often donated by members or sister organisations. Pre-1800 items were retained in Cambridge, but the majority of the 19th & early 20th century items were returned to the Society.

5. Foreign language material: 18th to 20th centuries.

This section contains material in approximately 190 languages: around 20 European, 30 Near Eastern & Indian, 10 Far Eastern, 100 African, 25 American, & 5 Papuan/Australasian. Many of the publications are Bibles, Books of common prayer or other liturgical works, but this section also includes educational & popular works on general topics, frequently translations of works from the general collection. [Note: numbered tracts in European languages are classified in section 3 and not in this section.] This part of the collection is currently uncatalogued, but has been arranged by language; items can therefore usually be made available to readers interested in a particular language or area. Please ask at the Staff Desk if you are interested in this section of the collection.


  • W.K. Lowther Clarke. A history of the S.P.C.K. London, 1959. 129:5.c.95.3