Colles Library

Colles Library/RSCM archives

The RSCM’s Colles Library has a large collection of books about church music, plainsong, liturgy, hymnody and psalmody together with a very large collection of church music, much of which is out-of-print. There is a large corpus of organ music and an archive of all publications and journals of the RSCM.

Access for research and availability of copies

The RSCM library and archives are situated in Salisbury in temporary accommodation. Weekday visits by researchers may be possible by arrangement with the Honorary Librarian, Dr John Henderson: or telephone 01793 525856.

The RSCM library is for reference only, and use of the library is free to RSCM affiliates, individual members and friends. Others are requested to make an appropriate donation.

SECM/RSCM course and festival recordings since 1930

The library holds some recordings of RSCM courses and festival events, dating from 1930. An article by the Librarian about these recordings can be accessed below:
Article by Dr John Henderson from Church Music Quarterly (September 2008)

If you can supply or know the location of any further RSCM course or festival recordings, please contact the Honorary Librarian at

History of Colles Library

In January 1929 when the College of St Nicolas opened at Buller’s Wood in Chislehurst, Kent, the bulk of the library available to  students was provided from the personal library of Sir Sydney Nicholson, founder of the School of English Church Music (‘Royal’ status was granted in 1945). Large bequests were also received from the estate of Noel Ponsonby, organist of Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, and from Lady Mary Trefusis, Secretary of the Church Music Society.

When the SECM closed in September 1939, the entire contents of Buller’s Wood, including the library, was transported to Rochford Rectory near Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire. Sir Sydney stayed at St Michael’s College, Tenbury, and deputised as organist there whilst the resident organist was away on active war service. When the College reopened in the Precincts of Canterbury Cathedral in January 1946 the library was named the Colles Library after HC Colles, music critic of The Times and former SECM tutor in Chislehurst who had given considerable support to the SECM in its early years. Also a teacher at the Royal College of Music, Colles served as editor for the Grove Dictionary of Music. During the RSCM’s Canterbury years further significant gifts and bequests were made by H Bacon Smith of Leeds and Dr JH Arnold, plainsong expert and RSCM tutor.

Following the 1954 move to Addington Palace anonymous donors gave the complete works of Heinrich Schütz, Musica Britannica and Purcell Society editions. The late Revd Maurice Frost, noted hymnologist, bequeathed to the RSCM his collection of c200 rare hymn books, mostly English, but some French and German also. In 1979 the library acquired the personal collection of the late Gerald Knight, RSCM Director from 1952 to 1973.

From 1929 until the RSCM ceased to take resident students in 1973 our library of books, together with a large collection of gramophone records, was an important teaching resource for the students. From that time the library ceased to be a lending library but remains a valuable reference library for all RSCM members, RSCM staff and students of church music.

In 1996 the library was packed into store for the RSCM’s removal to Cleveland Lodge and many older volumes were lodged for temporary safe keeping at the Royal College of Music. A basic reference library for staff members was maintained at Cleveland Lodge throughout the renovation works. In October 2000 the new library room on the first floor of Cleveland Lodge was commissioned and most material dating from 1900 onwards is on open access.

Records of library development and the various honorary librarians are scanty, with hardly any mention of the library in the various house journals from 1930 to this day. There has never been a full time librarian. CES Littlejohn (b 1879, d c1959) was Honorary Librarian during the Canterbury years. He had been a tutor in Chislehurst during 1934/35 and he continued to look after the Colles Library for many years despite being the organist of Hunstanton Church in Norfolk. John Parkinson served as Honorary Librarian until his death in 1996.

As teaching has always been the RSCM’s priority there have never been spare funds to provide for Library acquisitions. Almost every item in the library was received as a gift or bequest. We owe a debt of gratitude to many individual donors, to publishers for complimentary copies supplied, to researchers in the field of church music who lodge copies of their dissertations with us, to composers who send copies of their music and to authors who send copies of their books.  Many of these items are signed by the donors (including Vaughan Williams, EH Fellowes, Erik Routley, Timothy Dudley-Smith and Cyril Taylor).

Any future gifts or bequests would be most welcome.