The Library | Beginnings

The building was a typical first-floor library with stalls, designed to house a chained collection. Fox dictated, in his statutes, that it was to be carefully curated so every book was ‘of competent price or utility’. Duplicate or small value books were kept separately in a small circulating collection.

These two collections were probably amalgamated as part of the library renovation of 1604, when the original lecterns were replaced by the book presses that are still in use today. In 1700 these were raised in height to increase capacity as the library’s collections grew.

The book presses preserve some of the best surviving metal furniture of a chained library, even though the chaining practice ended midway through the 18th century as books became smaller and less expensive. The Library’s wooden ceiling dates from 1843 when the College Chapel ceiling was also renovated.

Preserving history

Fox showed concern for the upkeep and preservation of his library, keeping his own books well and saying in his statutes:

All persons whatsoever of our College who enter the Library shall shut the books which they find open, and look to the windows, lest from the rising of the wind, or a shower, damage accrue either to the glass or to the books. And so often as anyone goes out without leaving any person there, he must lock the door’.

The College obviously listened to the Founder and looked after its books over the following centuries. Of the 371 manuscripts and printed books listed in the first catalogue of 1589, 340 still exist today along with another 60 from the circulating stock of the 16th century.