Layton’s Library: Discovering a Hidden Book Collection

May 2015

The Thomas Layton Trust is delighted to announce that it has been awarded £55,900 by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Over the next 18 months this will enable the Trust to research and present some of the 17th and 18th century books bequeathed in 1913. A new team of volunteers will be trained to create a free exhibition to be shown at Hogarth’s House in Chiswick in early 2016. A version of the exhibition will move to Boston Manor House in Brentford during the following summer, where the Trust will run a programme of unusual community activities associated with the historic book collection. The team will create a publication and new web pages so that their research continues to be available even after the exhibitions have closed.

The Trust’s Chairman, James Wisdom, expressed his pleasure at receiving the grant: “Over the last 10 years or so we have been working to ensure that people are more aware of Layton and his collections so that they can discover and enjoy them. The historic books we will be able to research and display will surprise and delight visitors to the exhibitions and the website. The new volunteer team will have the opportunity of working with this special collection and developing new skills”.

About the Trust and the collection

Thomas Layton was a leading figure in 19th century Brentford. He bequeathed his collection to the people of Brentford in 1913. He wanted to create a museum at his home beside Kew Bridge, but difficulties with his will thwarted his plan and some of the collection was sold. Because of its importance, and to ensure the collection was well cared for, in 1959 the archaeological and ethnographical material, along with the coins and medals, were placed on long-term loan to what is now the Museum of London. There you can see many of Layton’s finds from the Thames in the gallery called London Before London.

However, the book and print collections stayed in the borough, though stored in conditions which were unsatisfactory. In the 1980s the trustees were planning to move the collection outside London. A campaign led by James Wisdom, Chairman of the Brentford & Chiswick Local History Society, led to the Layton Memorial and Museum Trust being reconstituted and in 1988 a permanent home for the books and prints was provided by the London Borough of Hounslow in the new library in the Treaty Centre, Hounslow.

The Trust has been restoring and conserving the books as some of them had been damaged during the long period of poor storage. After the success of the HLF-funded Layton’s Legacy project in 2007 the Trust developed the idea of recreating Layton’s bequest by bringing it back together as a virtual museum online at

Now with the Layton’s Library project it hopes to reveal part of the extensive book collection through exhibitions. Over 8,000 of Layton’s books survive with important works on almost every subject – natural history, classics, history and archaeology, the decorative arts, art and artists, music, architecture (including church architecture), geography and topography, plays and poetry, philosophy, politics and satire, English and foreign travel, explorers and exploring, as well as works of literature.

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

From the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife, we use National Lottery players’ money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about.

Further information

See for wide-ranging information about Layton and his collection.

Contact James Wisdom, Chairman of the Trust: