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Browne Willis (1682-1760), antiquary, numismatist, and architectural patron.

Dr Thomas Willis (1621-1675), physician and natural philosopher.

Browne Willis's Library

Introduction and project outline

Bibliotheca Willisiana: the antiquary's library reconstructed.

The project is building a record of the dispersed contents and output of the Library of the antiquary Browne Willis (1682-1760), comprising his collected printed books and manuscripts, his own papers, correspondence, and numismatic collection. Importantly, the Library also contained papers of his grandfather, Dr Thomas Willis (1621-1675), natural philosopher and author.

The Project seeks to build a full description of the former Library (at Whaddon Hall, Buckinghamshire), and also to shed light on the processes of its subsequent dispersal.

Browne Willis was a major scholar and writer, producing and publishing volumes on parliamentary and church history, architecture, coins and tokens, and his native Buckinghamshire, for which he accumulated a mass of source material. "Mr. Willis's collections are very considerable, and much surpass my expectation," wrote Thomas Hearne in 1716, and during the next fifteen years, Willis published Surveys of the English and Welsh Cathedrals, Mitred Abbies, Notitia Parliamentaria, and his own version of The Whole Duty of Man. Willis was one of the first antiquaries to base his work on original records. He travelled widely in England and Wales. He was a founder member of the revived Society of Antiquaries in 1717. He was a keen church builder and restorer. He was also an eccentric. A satirical account describes his Library as "adorned with a fretwork of pendent spiders' webs" with "the most copious register or records of marriages, births and burials, of any library in Europe."