While on holiday in June, we visited Hereford Cathedral. It’s been on our ‘to do’ list for quite a while and happily we finally made it. The Cathedral, as well as being a draw in itself, is also home to the Mappa Mundi and the Chained Library. While most people will have heard of the Mappa Mundi (the largest medieval map still known to exist dating from c1300) fewer may have heard of the Chained Library. As an ex librarian I have a tendency to ‘pop’ into libraries while on holiday, where ever I am, but this was my first chained library.
The Hereford Cathedral Chained Library is the largest surviving chained library in the world. It dates from the early 17th century, though some of it’s contents are much older. It contains about 1,500 books which date from c800 to the early 19th century, including 227 medieval manuscript books. It includes over 80 books dating from the 12th century of which approx half appear to have been at Hereford since they were made – a rarity in itself.
The medieval books include books of the Bible and all but one are in Latin. That one, is a copy of a Wycliffe Bible. This is the name now given to a group of Bible translations into Middle English that were made under the direction of John Wycliffe. They appeared over a period from approximately 1382 to 1395.
Major changes to the library began following a Commission appointed by Queen Elizabeth I in 1583. It was reported that the library was neglected and in a poor state. New Statutes required that one of the resident canons be made Master of the Library and the books be chained for their security. The library was moved in 1590 into the Lady Chapel and work began in 1611 to create the Chained Library that is still used today. The then Master of the Library, Thomas Thornton based his ‘library’ on those recently installed at Oxford University, comprising books standing upright on shelves, with integrated reading desks. This library was added to until 1841 when it was dismantled to allow restoration work in the Lady Chapel.
The dismantling of the library resulted in a period of upheaval during which the chains were removed and the shelving and desks stored away. In the intervening years the books were used unchained in various locations. It was not until 1930 that the Chained Library was restored, by Canon Burnett Hillman Streeter, as it had been in 1841, albeit in two different locations. Luckily, shelving, seating, desks and chains had all been retained. Using the earliest surviving catalogues from the 18th century the chains were reattached to the books and shelved.
The library as we see it today is in the New Library Building. This was funded largely by the National Heritage Memorial Fund and John Paul Getty Jr and was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 3 May 1996. It enables visitors to see the whole Chained Library in one place again, laid out as it was in the Lady Chapel.
The historic collections are maintained in climate-controlled conditions and a reading room on the second floor includes collections of modern books for loan and reference.
Well worth a visit as the admission cost is combined with that for the Mappa Mundi (that might be another blog post if you’re unlucky!)
A library inspired reading list
In 1958, Sylvia Blackwell, fresh from one of the new post-war Library Schools, takes up a job as children’s librarian in a run down library in the market town of East Mole.
Her mission is to fire the enthusiasm of the children of East Mole for reading. But her love affair with the local married GP, and her befriending of his precious daughter, her neighbour’s son and her landlady’s neglected grandchild, ignite the prejudices of the town, threatening her job and the very existence of the library with dramatic consequences for them all.
The Librarian is a moving testament to the joy of reading and the power of books to change and inspire us all.
The year is 1950, and in a small town on Cape Cod twenty-eight year old librarian Peggy Cort feels as if love and life have stood her up. That is, until the day James Carlson Sweatt – the ‘over-tall’ eleven year old boy who’s the talk of the town – walks into her library and changes her life for ever.
Two misfits whose lonely paths cross at the circulation desk, Peggy and James are odd candidates for friendship. In James, Peggy discovers the one person who’s ever really understood her, and as he grows – six foot five at age twelve, then seven foot, then eight – so does their most singular romance.
The Uncommon Reader is none other than HM the Queen who drifts accidentally into reading when her corgis stray into a mobile library parked at Buckingham Palace. She reads widely ( JR Ackerley, Jean Genet, Ivy Compton Burnett and the classics) and intelligently. Her reading naturally changes her world view and her relationship with people like the oleaginous prime minister and his repellent advisers. She comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with much that she has to do. In short, her reading is subversive. The consequence is, of course, surprising, mildly shocking and very funny.
The Shadow of the Wind is a stunning literary thriller in which the discovery of a forgotten book leads to a hunt for an elusive author who may or may not still be alive…
Hidden in the heart of the old city of Barcelona is the ‘Cemetery of Lost Books’, a labyrinthine library of obscure and forgotten titles that have long gone out of print. To this library, a man brings his 10-year-old son Daniel one cold morning in 1945. Daniel is allowed to choose one book from the shelves and pulls out ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Julian Carax.
But as he grows up, several people seem inordinately interested in his find. Then, one night, as he is wandering the old streets once more, Daniel is approached by a figure who reminds him of a character from the book, a character who turns out to be the devil. This man is tracking down every last copy of Carax’s work in order to burn them. What begins as a case of literary curiosity turns into a race to find out the truth behind the life and death of Julian Carax and to save those he left behind…
Dear Mr Beard,
I sent my Magic Moments off yesterday, and that made me think of you.
I hope the cookies will remind Father of our life here. Or maybe I should say what life used to be, before the war changed everything . . .
Hidden in the library of Delicious! magazine young intern Billie discovers the wartime letters of twelve-year-old Lulu Swan, written to distinguished food writer, James Beard. Lulu’s can-do spirit in the face of food shortages and other hardships help Billie come to terms with her own tragic past. Until one day it occurs to her: Lulu Swan might still be alive…
Betty Smith’s debut novel is universally regarded as a modern classic. The sprawling tale of an immigrant family in early 20th-century Brooklyn, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of the great distinctively American novels.
The Nolan family are first-generation immigrants to the United States. Originating in Ireland and Austria, their life in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn is poor and deprived, but their sacrifices make it possible for their children to grow up in a land of boundless opportunity.
Francie Nolan is the eldest daughter of the family. Alert, imaginative and resourceful, her journey through the first years of a century of profound change is difficult – and transformative. But amid the poverty and suffering among the poor of Brooklyn, there is hope, and the prospect of a brighter future.
From Alan Bennett’s Baffled at a Bookcase, to Lucy Mangan’s Library Rules, famous writers tell us all about how libraries are used and why they’re important. Tom Holland writes about libraries in the ancient world, while Seth Godin describes what a library will look like in the future. Lionel Shriver thinks books are the best investment, Hardeep Singh Kohli makes a confession and Julie Myerson remembers how her career began beside the shelves.
Using memoir, history, polemic and some short stories too, The Library Book celebrates ‘that place where they lend you books for free’ and the people who work there.
All royalties go to The Reading Agency, to help their work supporting libraries.
Fethering has everything a sleepy coastal town should: snug English pubs, cosy cottages, a little local library – and the occasional murder . . .
Bestselling author Burton St Clair, complete with soaring ego and wandering hands, has come to town to give a talk. But after his corpse is found slumped in his car, he won’t be leaving. Jude is the prime suspect; she was, after all, the last person to see Burton St Clair alive. If she is to prove her innocence, she will have to dust off her detective skills and recruit her prim and proper neighbour (and partner-in-sleuthing) Carole to find the real culprit.
Lucy Hull, a young children’s librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both kidnapper and kidnapped when her favourite patron, ten-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy’s help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly anti-gay classes. When Lucy finds Ian camped out in the library after hours with a backpack of provisions and an escape plan, she allows herself to be hijacked by him and the pair embark on a spontaneous road trip. But is it just Ian who is running away? And should Lucy really be trying to save a boy from his own parents?
Local librarian Hanna Casey is wondering where it all went wrong …
Driving her mobile library van through Finfarran’s farms and villages, she tries not to think of the sophisticated London life she abandoned when she left her cheating husband. Or that she’s now stuck in her crotchety mum’s spare bedroom.
With her daughter Jazz travelling the world and her relationship with her mother growing increasingly fraught, Hanna decides to reclaim her independence.
Then, when the threatened closure of her library puts her plans in jeopardy, she finds herself leading a battle to restore the heart and soul of the fragmented community.
Will she also find the new life she’s been searching for?
Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.
In those few quiet moments, she unwittingly assumes a quest she will discover is her birthright – a hunt for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the Dracula myth. Deciphering obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions, and evading terrifying adversaries, one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil.
An extraordinary exploration of the medieval world – the most beguiling history book of the year
This is a book about why medieval manuscripts matter. Coming face to face with an important illuminated manuscript in the original is like meeting a very famous person. We may all pretend that a well-known celebrity is no different from anyone else, and yet there is an undeniable thrill in actually meeting and talking to a person of world stature.
The idea for the book, which is entirely new, is to invite the reader into intimate conversations with twelve of the most famous manuscripts in existence and to explore with the author what they tell us about nearly a thousand years of medieval history – and sometimes about the modern world too. Christopher de Hamel introduces us to kings, queens, saints, scribes, artists, librarians, thieves, dealers, collectors and the international community of manuscript scholars, showing us how he and his fellows piece together evidence to reach unexpected conclusions. He traces the elaborate journeys which these exceptionally precious artefacts have made through time and space, shows us how they have been copied, who has owned them or lusted after them (and how we can tell), how they have been embroiled in politics and scholarly disputes, how they have been regarded as objects of supreme beauty and luxury and as symbols of national identity. The book touches on religion, art, literature, music, science and the history of taste.
Part travel book, part detective story, part conversation with the reader, Meetings with RemarkableManuscripts conveys the fascination and excitement of encountering some of the greatest works of art in our culture which, in the originals, are to most people completely inaccessible. At the end, we have a slightly different perspective on history and how we come by knowledge. It is a most unusual book.
To save ancient Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven in this “fast-paced narrative that is…part intellectual history, part geopolitical tract, and part out-and-out thriller” (The Washington Post).
In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that were crumbling in the trunks of desert shepherds. His goal: to preserve this crucial part of the world’s patrimony in a gorgeous library. But then Al Qaeda showed up at the door.
“Part history, part scholarly adventure story, and part journalist survey….Joshua Hammer writes with verve and expertise” (The New York Times Book Review) about how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist from the legendary city of Timbuktu, became one of the world’s greatest smugglers by saving the texts from sure destruction. With bravery and patience, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali. His heroic heist “has all the elements of a classic adventure novel” (The Seattle Times), and is a reminder that ordinary citizens often do the most to protect the beauty of their culture. His the story is one of a man who, through extreme circumstances, discovered his higher calling and was changed forever by it.
‘It wasn’t an extensive library. In fact, it consisted of eight books and some of them were in poor condition. But they were books. In this incredibly dark place, they were a reminder of less sombre times, when words rang out more loudly than machine guns…’
Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious books the prisoners have managed to smuggle past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the secret librarian of Auschwitz, responsible for the safekeeping of the small collection of titles, as well as the ‘living books’ – prisoners of Auschwitz who know certain books so well, they too can be ‘borrowed’ to educate the children in the camp.
But books are extremely dangerous. They make people think. And nowhere are they more dangerous than in Block 31 of Auschwitz, the children’s block, where the slightest transgression can result in execution, no matter how young the transgressor…
Twelve-year-old Bobby Nusku is an archivist of his mother. He catalogues traces of her life and waits for her to return home.
Bobby thinks that he’s been left to face the world alone until he meets lonely single mother Val and her daughter Rosa. They spend a magical summer together, discovering the books in the mobile library where Val works as a cleaner. But as the summer draws to a close, Bobby finds himself in trouble and Val is in danger of losing her job. There’s only one thing to do — and so they take to the road in the mobile library . . .
Librarian Martha Storm has always found it easier to connect with books than people, though not for lack of trying. She keeps careful lists of how to help others in her notebook. And yet, sometimes it feels like she’s invisible.
All of that changes when a mysterious book arrives on her doorstep. Inside, Martha finds a dedication written to her by her grandmother Zelda, who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier. When Martha discovers a clue within the book that her grandmother may still be alive, she becomes determined to discover the truth. As she delves deeper into Zelda’s past, she unwittingly reveals a family secret that will change her life forever.
HERE IS A SMALL FACT – YOU ARE GOING TO DIE
1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.
SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION – THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH
Agatha Christie’s world-famous Miss Marple mystery, reissued with a striking cover designed to appeal to the latest generation of Agatha Christie fans and book lovers.
It’s seven in the morning. The Bantrys wake to find the body of a young woman in their library. She is wearing evening dress and heavy make-up, which is now smeared across her cheeks.
But who is she? How did she get there? And what is the connection with another dead girl, whose charred remains are later discovered in an abandoned quarry?
The respectable Bantrys invite Miss Marple to solve the mystery… before tongues start to wag.
A dazzling love letter to a beloved institution – our libraries.
After moving to Los Angeles, Susan Orlean became fascinated by a mysterious local crime that has gone unsolved since it was carried out on the morning of 29 April 1986: who set fire to the Los Angeles Public Library, ultimately destroying more than 400,000 books, and perhaps even more perplexing, why?
With her characteristic humour, insight and compassion, Orlean uses this terrible event as a lens through which to tell the story of all libraries – their history, their meaning and their uncertain future as they adapt and redefine themselves in a digital world.
Filled with heart, passion and extraordinary characters, The Library Book discusses the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives.