St James’s Place (Westminster)

Diplomat Wilhelm Philipp Best was born in Hanover in 1712, but he spent most of his working life in London. After completing his studies at the University of Helmstadt, he entered the service of George II and was posted to the Hanoverian legation in London in 1746 where he remained until about 1782. From the 1750s to the 1770s he lived at no. 6 St James’s Place.

His most significant contribution to Anglo-Hanoverian relations during his long residence in London was as the representative of the University of Göttingen, the Hanoverian ‘national’ university (founded in 1737). He was overseeing the London side of the acquisition of books for the university’s rapidly growing library. His surviving correspondence is a crucial source for the early history of the library. By 1800 it was to become the largest single assembly of books in Europe.

Books acquired through the London book trade formed a significant proportion of the estimated 133,200 held by the library by this date. Their presence in Göttingen contributed in no small measure to the increasing awareness of English-language authors in Central and Eastern Europe. From about 1782, when Best appears to have retired to Hanover his role was taken over by his son Georg August Best. Wilhelm Best died in Hanover in 1785.