The Tract Collection

The Tract Collection of the Roderic Bowen Library and Archives is a major resource for the study in depth of British political, religious and intellectual history. It comprises upwards of 10,000 tracts, some 8,000 of which were printed between 1640-1730, the greatest concentration falling in the years 1710-14, which are  represented by 1600 tracts, a situation probably not paralleled in any other library. Further, some 150 tracts are not recorded in Wing's Short Title Catalogue for the period 1640-1700, a compelling statistic of the rarity of some of the material.

The collections of the Bowdler family account for 550 volumes of the total tract collection of 810 volumes. Thomas Bowdler II (c.1661-1738), whose MS catalogue is one of the treasures of the Roderic Bowen Library and Archives, was the major figure in assembling the collection. He worked alongside Pepys in the Admiralty, and later became a close friend of the notable Saxonist George Hicks (1642-1715), both being non-jurors. Pepys, Hickes, and an uncle (Thomas Bowdler I, fl. 1638-1700) probably orientated him towards the delights of collecting contemporary pamphlet literature. The nature of his collecting aligns him with his famed contemporary Narcissus Luttrell (1657-1732), both of whom followed the tradition so magisterially piuoneered by George Thomason (d.1666) Thomas Bowdler III, his son (c.1708-1785) added some 350 tracts before the consignment of the collection to Lampeter by Dr Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825).

Quite apart from their content value, the Bowdler Tracts (as distinct from later additions by Thomas Burgess, Thomas Phillips and others) are important bibliographically in being in non-cropped original state and by virtue of MS dating, allusions and ascription of authors to anonymous title pages.


The following subject areas are pointers to their range of interest.

Religious Tracts

Religious Tracts comprise non-juring literature (notably a near definitive collection of the Hickes corpus); Church controversies in depth - Bangorian, Socianian, Arianism, the Popish Plot, etc.; and Sermons, with their important political, social and satirical overtones.

Literary Tracts

Literary tracts are, for the most part, poetry - notably of the early eighteenth century, with such categories as Anglo-Latin poetry not being negligible. Of the major figures, Swift, Pope, Dryden, but notably Defoe, are well represented. The Roderic Bowen Library and Archives holdings of Defoe's Review, arguably his major work, include the unique Continuation Volume No. 81, not recorded elsewhere. Additionally there are obscure plays, character essays, critical tracts (for example on the publication of the Spectator), and four volumes of mid-seventeenth century newspapers. Also worthy of nota is the first edition of a masque by Ben Jonson.

Philosophy Science and Medicine

While not a major area of interest, these areas are represented by important tracts by Berkeley, Hickes, Bentley, Boyle, Ditton, Holland, Partridge, Desguliers and Mead.

Special Groupings

Special groupings in particular bound volumes (not a feature of the collection as a whole) are notable for certain figures and subjects - for example, Thomas Fuller; Roger L'Estrange; Darien Settlement; East India Company; South Sea Company; American Colonies; Irish Affairs; Naval Affairs.

The post-Bowdler tracts - some 1100 for the period 1750-1830 - are more practically orientated and include social and political reform, the French Wars, and Indian and American Affairs.


The Tract collection contains 45 manuscript items. A litst of these items is available by clicking on the following link:

Manuscript Items in the Tract Collection

Lists of photographs held in the archives are available by clicking the following links:

Catalogue of Photographs Part I [pdf]

Catalogue of Photographs Part 2 [pdf]

Catalogue of Photographs of Wales and the Welsh from the Radio Times [pdf]