Petition update

Warburg Institute Safe

Friends of the Warburg

Nov 8, 2014 — Dear all,

This past week the High Court ruled that the Warburg Institute and its contents are not the property of the University of London, ensuring the Warburg Institute and the community it draws to together to be safe for the time being. However, the University of London has decided to appeal the decision, and this petition will be a space to watch for updates as these events unfold.

In the meantime, please see below for a letter of thanks to you for your support, and an official press release on the judgment.

6 November 2014

Dear friend,
I am writing to you in my capacity as Chairman of the Advisory Council of the Warburg Institute.
As you know, the University of London is the trustee of the Warburg Institute, and holds it on charitable trust pursuant to the terms of a 1944 Trust Deed. We have been waiting for clarification from the High Court of what the trust comprises and what  the obligations of the University of London are, and whether its conduct is and has been in accordance with the provisions of the Trust Deed.
The High Court issued its judgment this morning and, in view of the public support you have given to the Institute, we thought that you would want to learn of the outcome of the case.  With this in mind, a press release on the content of the judgement is attached for your information.
The Advisory Council of the Warburg Institute is very grateful for the immense support it has received and continues to receive in regard to the case.  We hope that the judgment will provide us with the opportunity to secure its long-term future.

With best wishes,

Professor Margaret McGowan

Chairman of the Advisory Council of the Warburg Institute


Warburg Institute safe as High Court rules contents not the property of University of London

6th November 2014

To the benefit and relief of scholars worldwide, the High Court has rejected the University of London’s claims that all additions to the Warburg Institute since 1944 belong to the University, and instead agreed that they form part of the Institute. Furthermore, the judge, Mrs Justice Proudman, held that the University is obliged to provide funding for the activities of the Warburg Institute.

Leticia Jennings of Bates Wells Braithwaite, who advised the Advisory Council of the Warburg Institute, commented: “This decision ensures that the wealth of important material housed within the Institute will remain available, as before, in its entirety, and that the University will not be free to in any way restrict the access of the many scholars who use and rely on the Institute’s outstanding resources.”

The Institute grew out of the private library of the art historian Aby Warburg (1866-1929), who collected books in art history, literature, intellectual history, religion and the history of science and magic. As a Jewish institution based in Germany, the Institute was forced to close, and its very existence was threatened by the Nazi-organised book-burnings of April 1933. To escape destruction, the entire library of 60,000 books, as well as photographs, papers and furniture, were shipped to the safe-haven of London in December 1933. Many of the Institute’s staff also transferred to London.

After years of negotiation involving members of the Warburg Family, the University of London, distinguished scholars and philanthropists, the University of London became trustee of the Warburg Institute, to hold it on charitable trust pursuant to the terms of a 1944 Trust Deed*.The Institute has since grown into a world class teaching and research institute, much respected and sought after by academics worldwide.

The Trust Deed obliges the University to maintain and preserve the Warburg library in perpetuity, to house it, and to keep it adequately equipped and staffed as an independent unit. Leticia Jennings stated: “The contemporaneous evidence leading up to the signing of the Trust Deed shows that the transfer to the University of London was on the condition that the University accepted these obligations. This judgment has confirmed that the University must maintain the Institute as ‘an independent unit’, and that the University is not entitled to use the name and prestige associated with the Warburg Institute to obtain funds, but to then apply those funds to the University’s general purposes.”

In recent years the University had charged a proportion of its total estate expenditure to the Warburg Institute, meaning that the once solvent Institute was left with a significant deficit as it was used, in effect, to subsidise the University’s corporate property. The judge held that the University’s conduct in this regard is not permissible and “flies in the face” of the terms of Trust Deed.
The judge also clarified the important role of the University in relation to housing the Warburg Institute: whilst the University continues to own the building at Woburn Square, it has a binding obligation to house the Institute in a suitable building close to the University centre in Bloomsbury.

Despite the judge’s clear ruling, following a very detailed review of the evidence, the University has decided to seek permission to appeal.

In response to the judgment, Librarian and Acting Director of the Institute, Dr Raphaële Mouren, commented: “Whilst I am very pleased that this judgment appears to mean that the intellectual resources of the Warburg Institute, including its world renowned library, will be preserved for future generations of scholars working in the humanities, I am very disappointed that the University has decided to focus on an appeal. I very much hope it will reconsider, and commit to working with us to strengthen the Institute for the benefit of the academic community and enhancing our corpus of scholars.”

The Chairman of the Advisory Council, Professor Margaret McGowan, commented: “The Advisory Council was pleased to receive the judgment representing years of hard work, and had hoped that the University would agree to enter into discussions and begin to work together in the best interests of the Institute and the University. We are frustrated that the University appears to wish to continue to spend its time and money on furthering the legal dispute rather than find a solution to secure the Warburg Institute’s long-term future. The Advisory Council remains very grateful for the immense support it has received regarding this matter, in particular from the American Friends of the Warburg Institute and from The Polonsky Foundation, without whom its successful defence of the matter would not have been possible.”


Notes for Editors:

* Details of the Trust Deed can be found at:

Keep fighting for people power!

Politicians and rich CEOs shouldn't make all the decisions. Today we ask you to help keep free and independent. Our job as a public benefit company is to help petitions like this one fight back and get heard. If everyone who saw this chipped in monthly we'd secure's future today. Help us hold the powerful to account. Can you spare a minute to become a member today?

I'll power Change with $5 monthlyPayment method


Please enter a comment.

We were unable to post your comment. Please try again.