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BFBS Archives

Reference Code: GBR/0374/BFBS/BSA

Scope and Contents

The British and Foreign Bible Society was founded in 1804 as a non-denominational organisation which set out to publish, or to help others to publish, editions of the Bible in any language for which there was a readership. The Society was publisher and distributor only: translators were sometimes given financial assistance but were not on the permanent staff, and the printing was done by commercial firms. Since Bibles were often sold at less than cost price, the Society depended on donations from its supporters as well as income from sales. The maintenance of a large supporting constituency was therefore a necessary part of the Society's activity, and this was achieved largely through the formation of local branches throughout England and Wales. From 1804 onwards Bible Societies were formed in many parts of the world in imitation of the BFBS, and often with its active encouragement and financial assistance. Later, the Society sent its own agents overseas, who organised translation and printing, set up depots, and employed travelling salesmen, who were known as colporteurs. At its centenary in 1904 the Society employed 30 agents overseas, with about 1000 staff; there were about 2000 affiliated societies in the British Dominions and a further 5000 local branches in England and Wales. During the 20th century other national bible societies began to expand their work, and efforts were made to work jointly instead of competitively. In 1946 the United Bible Societies organisation was founded to co-ordinate Bible Society work around the world; as a consequence, the BFBS gradually relinquished its overseas work, in particular in the period after 1966. In 1965 the Society reckoned that its total issues over 160 years amounted to some 723 million volumes in 829 languages. In 1985 the Society moved its headquarters from London to Swindon, Wiltshire.

The archives consist of the administrative papers created at the Society's headquarters in London, comprising minutes of the Committee and Sub-committees, correspondence, and financial records. In addition, there are papers deposited by individuals, by subsidiary branches in England and Wales, and by related societies overseas.


  • Creation: 1804 - 2001

Conditions Governing Access

Material less than 50 years old is not available to the public.


c. 1130 volume(s) : Paper

1170 archive box(es) (1170 boxes)

240 file(s)

Language of Materials


Other Finding Aids

Detailed guide to the archive comprising lists and indexes.


Further records are transferred from Swindon at irregular intervals.

Related Materials

The most recent records of the Society are held at Swindon.

Date information

DateText: The records are not complete, the most serious loss being that of the original incoming letters from 1857 to 1900 inclusive..


British and Foreign Bible Society

2001-11-14 09:26:15+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom