The Reverend Thomas White (c.1550 - 1624), Vicar of St Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street, left £3000 in his will “for the acquisition of a house for the making of a College of Ministers, Rectors (Readers) and Curates within the City of London and the suburbs of the same."
There were three requirements for the college “1) Sufficient lodging in the foreparts of the College for the clerk;” 2) a hall for the clergy where they could meet socially and ‘maintaine… love in conversing together” and 3) an ‘Almes house’
Its name – Sion College – was settled by the first charter granted by King Charles I in 1630. The first hall was built at the corner of London Wall, Aldermanbury and Philip Lane in the City of London, an attractive place that with bedrooms which could be occupied by clergy and students, a gate and a turret, and a garden with trees, damsons and gooseberries. Thomas White’s will made no specific provision for a library, but his executor, the Reverend John Simson, Rector of St Olave’s Hart Street, at the suggestion of a clerical friend, built a long Library as the upper story of the Almsrooms.
The College buildings suffered considerable damage during the Great Fire of 1666, and a third of the extensive collection was lost. The College was rebuilt and books continued to be added and under the Copyright Act of 1710 the College received a copy of every book published. This provision was not strictly carried out and when the Copyright Act was repealed in 1836 the College were happy to receive an annual sum by way of compensation.
The Court decided that the College was inconveniently situated at a noisy thoroughfare and in 1884 seized the chance to buy land from the City Corporation at the site on the Embankment and Sion Hall, by Sir Arthur Blomfield was built. In the nineteenth century the College programme began to feature lectures, with titles such as ‘A Church Mission to the Irreligious of London.’
The challenges of the twentieth century, with war, financial difficulties and the burden of looking after a very significant collection of books, weighed heavily on the Court. A radical new direction was needed. The building on the Embankment was sold, and the valuable collection of volumes and manuscripts were donated to Lambeth Palace Library and King’s College, London.
Sion College is now a ‘virtual’ College, with its office in Faith House, Westminster. Having been relieved of the burden of caring for the library, the Court are now able to put on a programme of events which encourage the education and fellowship of its fellows and members, so that, after the wishes of its pious founder Thomas White, clergy who often work long hours and feel isolated are able to ‘maintaine… love in conversing together’.