Henry Martyn Trust

CCCW Library history

'The Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide, Westminster College, Cambridge', Bulletin of the Association of British Theological and Philosophical Libraries Volume 22, Number 2, June 2015, 11-14.



By Ruth MacLean


The last twenty years has seen the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide (CCCW Library) develop into one of the UK’s foremost missiological libraries, and one of the few which is actively expanding instead of retracting. From its modest beginnings as a collection of books chosen to inspire university students with mission overseas and located in the Henry Martyn Hall adjacent to Holy Trinity Church in the centre of Cambridge, it has grown into a specialised mission studies and global Christianity library with over 9000 books and 113 runs of journals (34 active) and recently relocated to a newly built and purpose-designed premises in Westminster College, Cambridge.

Under the dynamic leadership of its successive directors and long-term Librarian, Jane Gregory (1996-2014), the formerly named Henry Martyn Library has experienced rapid growth in its collections of printed monographs and periodicals from around the world, modern manuscripts and also archival holdings donated by former missionaries and their families. The collections are interdenominational, and not only are the archives unique but many of the books and periodicals are also unique within the UK. An extensive pamphlet collection, currently being catalogued by the former Librarian, is certain to be yet another of the library’s assets.

The library serves University of Cambridge undergraduates, doctoral and research students and staff from a range of disciplines, notably history, theology, anthropology, and social sciences; doctoral and research students from elsewhere in Cambridge and further afield; university alumni; Cambridge Theological Federation members; visiting scholars, bursary recipients of the Intercultural Encounter scheme run by the CCCW and funded by the Henry Martyn Trust, as well as members of the general public, including missionaries and Church leaders.

Associated with the University of Cambridge, the library has the advantage of having all of its resources catalogued alongside the rest of the University of Cambridge libraries’ collections, searchable online through LibrarySearch. This opens up the scope of its readership university-wide and beyond, with readers being able to use all the facilities this provides, including access to eJournals and eBooks purchased by the university, as well as the online renewal of loans. The current Voyager Library Management System is due to be replaced with a new one ‘with a new modern capability that meets the future needs of the University and the users of its libraries’ so that it will be, it is hoped, a world-class system that will put it alongside other major library catalogues.

The highly-qualified and experienced, part-time staff know the collection extremely well and assist enquirers in person or by email, and keep readers updated with news and acquisitions through its website and social media presence on Facebook and Twitter.

The library has benefited over the years from kind and generous donations of specialised books and other material, and it most recently became the recipient of a valuable collection of 1,300 missiology books from the St Augustine Foundation Library, Canterbury Cathedral, dating mostly from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. Their Trustees entrusted the collection to us on condition that the books would remain accessible to readers. With this in mind, the Librarian will be seeking a professional cataloguer to catalogue the collection to full RDA/Cambridge University standards, so that each item can be located by searching the catalogue online.

A long history, in brief

The CCCW Library has a long history of more than one hundred years. Previously known as ‘The Henry Martyn Library’, it was named after Henry Martyn (18 February 1781 - 16 October 1812), Anglican minister and missionary to the peoples of Persia and India.

Henry Martyn was extremely gifted and hard-working. He was noticeably talented at languages but his greatest honour was in gaining the title of Senior Wrangler at St John’s College, an award given to the top mathematics undergraduate at the University of Cambridge. This was then regarded as "the greatest intellectual achievement attainable in Britain,” according to David Forfar in Mathematical Spectrum 29 (1), 1996. He went on to become Fellow of the same College.

Yet it was his conversion in 1800 during these university years that made the biggest impact on his life. Charles Simeon was vicar of Holy Trinity in Cambridge at the time and also Fellow of King’s College and he exerted a remarkable influence on the lives of many undergraduates. One of these was Henry Martyn. Through Simeon, Martyn began to rethink his original intention to go into law. As one of the Founders of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in 1799, Simeon supported and encouraged Henry Martyn’s sense of call and desire to go into missionary service.

Abandoning an easy life in England, Martyn instead took up the Chaplaincy for the British East Indian Company, arriving in India in April 1806. He was to have only six more years of life, and in these years he accomplished more than most could do in a whole lifetime. He began by doing much foreign language study, studying linguistics and preaching to the beggars in Cawnpore. It was this that brought Abdul Masih (1776-1827) to the city, in the hope of hearing him preach. It is thought that Masih was Martyn’s first convert from Islam to Christianity. He went on to be baptised in 1811 by Revd David Brown and he later became the first Indian Muslim to be admitted into Holy Orders in the Church of England in 1825. When Henry Martyn returned in 1812 after five months away from India, he rejoiced at the change in Abdul Masih. He gave him a copy of the newly completed translation of the New Testament in Persian with the inscription “There is joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth. Henry Martyn”.

Abdul Masih and another man, Sabat, helped him as he sought to translate the New Testament into Urdu. Martyn went on to translate the New Testament into Persian and Judaeo-Persic and revised an Arabic translation of the New Testament. He also translated the Psalms into Persian and the Book of Common Prayer into Urdu. In 1811 he left India for Persia, hoping to do further translations and to improve his existing ones, there and in Arabia. But he became ill on his travels and eventually died at Tokat, Armenia (modern day Turkey) on 16 October, 1812, aged only 31.

In a letter dated 5 September 1822, Abdul Masih wrote of Martyn, “[his] labours in the Cause of Religion are so published abroad, that profit will extend far and wide; for this translation is intelligible to all”.

At the opening of the Henry Martyn Hall in 1887, the first speaker in his opening address described the desire that had begun in 1881, the 100th anniversary of Henry Martyn’s birth, for ‘a suitable Hall in which to hold missionary and other religious meetings’ hoping that ‘greater interest would be taken in the work of our Societies especially this connected with the University if they had a settled and central place of meeting’. And so the Henry Martyn Hall was opened with the purpose of it becoming the weekly meeting place of the University Church Mission Union.

A few days later, at another of the addresses organised to commemorate the opening of the Hall, another spoke of the significance of Henry Martyn. He acknowledged the efforts of Carey before him, but saw Henry Martyn as the turning point, “I would not for a moment conceal the fact that Carey went out to India in 1793 … but it was Martyn who at length woke up the English Church to her responsibilities towards the heathen.”

Ten years after the opening of the Henry Martyn Hall, in 1897, an appeal was launched for a ‘Proposed Missionary Library for Cambridge University’ to be housed within the Hall. The ambitious purpose of the library was to “give students access to the best material” and to “help build up a true sense of the importance of Missions in those who will afterwards hold the highest offices both in Church and State.” And so the Henry Martyn Library was started with a few books, mainly missionary biographies and evangelistic material.

Nearly one hundred and twenty years later, the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide has not forgotten these two original purposes, nor the legacy of Henry Martyn. On its opening page, the Centre’s website states that “The Centre encourages a deeper understanding of the worldwide and missionary nature of the Christian Church. It maintains a distinctive balance between study and engagement.”

Indeed, the Henry Martyn Trust which funds the CCCW states in its charitable objectives: “To advance the Christian faith, and to advance education in the Christian faith for the benefit of the public, and to promote the understanding of and engagement with Christian mission and world Christianity, in particular but not exclusively, in the Universities of Cambridge.”


Mrs Ruth MacLean,

Librarian, Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide, Cambridge

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