Sir Charles Sydney Jones was one of the University’s great benefactors, and this year sees the 70th anniversary of his greatest gift of valuable books to the University Library. Items from this gift and Sydney Jones’ life are currently on display in Special Collections and Archives, as part of an exhibition celebrating accessions old and new.
Charles Sydney Jones was born in Liverpool and educated at Charterhouse School and Magdalen College, Oxford. He followed his father into the city’s shipping trade as a partner in Alfred Holt & Company, popularly known as the Blue Funnel Line.
A Unitarian and a Liberal, Sydney Jones took a leading role in the politics of Liverpool, serving as a Justice of the Peace, a councillor for Fairfield Ward, and an Alderman. He was elected briefly as the only ever Liberal MP for Liverpool West Derby in 1923-24. He was Lord Mayor of Liverpool from 1938 until 1942.
Typically of the Liverpool philanthropists of the time, Sydney Jones had a great belief in the value of education as the foundation of a meritocracy. This belief manifested itself in his long association with the University. He became a member of the University Council, as his father had been, in 1906. Subsequently he served as Treasurer, President of the Council, and finally Pro-Chancellor between 1936 and 1942.
His first gift to the University came in 1911, when he agreed to meet the cost of an expansion of the Athletics Club’s facilities, which his recently-deceased father had instigated. In 1916, in memory of his father, he endowed the Charles W. Jones Chair of Classical Archaeology. Abercromby Square is a university quad thanks in no small part to Sydney Jones, who successively bought and gifted properties there to the University throughout the 1910s and 1920s. He worked closely with Professor E.T. Campagnac to provide, redevelop, and refurbish a home for the Education Department’s teacher training courses in the square, known as Abercromby House. Taking a great deal of interest in this “Temple of Education,” Sydney Jones sourced fittings from antiques shops and dealers around the country.
Sydney Jones was an active and informed collector in many fields: his gifts also include the silverware now housed in the University’s Art Gallery in the Victoria Building, and more than 200 volumes presented to the University Library and the former Education Library. These range from medieval manuscripts to limited editions of contemporary fine printing to which Sydney Jones subscribed. Nearly a quarter of Sydney Jones’s gifts to the Library came as part of a single great gift in 1945, when he gave some of the most valuable and beautiful books representing the highlights of five centuries of printing from his own private collection. The description of the gift in the Annual Report to Court for 1945 notes,
Sir Sydney’s private library has now ceased to rival the University’s in its special field because he has presented the best books in it to us, an act of heroic generosity far surpassing even his own previous benefactions.
The freedom of the City of Liverpool was conferred upon Sir Charles in 1946. Upon his death the following year, he bequeathed an estate of £40,000 to the University, as well as his home in Sefton Park Road, which became the Vice-Chancellor’s Lodge.
He was remembered by the University first through the construction of the Sydney Jones Memorial Gates opposite the Staff House in 1953, and later of course in the naming of the Sydney Jones Library, built in 1976.