Monday, 23 February 2015

The Libraries at Lincoln Cathedral

I visited  Lincoln Cathedral library last week. It would be fairer to say libraries, because there is more that one collection, specialising in different books and documents dating from the 1400's up to the present day. The collections are held in separate rooms: the Reading Room holds books dated from 1801 upwards that are all about cathedral architecture and artefacts; the Wren library holds the medieval collection and books up to 1800 of diverse subjects; the collection in the gate house at Exchequer Gate holds books about theology. All of these can be read by prior appointment with the librarian, Julie Taylor (

As well as diversity of collection, there is a diversity of Architecture. The reading room appears to be in  a Victorian extension to the Cathedral, but a nearby set of steps leads to the original medieval (15th century) half timbered reading room where the library had a collection of books that were chained to large long lectern like benches. Apparently the Cathedral kept a chest full of books that could be borrowed. If a book was lost, then the borrower had to replace it with a book of a similar financial value, not the same subject matter, so that meant the collection became very random. It is possible that the mediaeval room was constructed and the books chained to prevent then getting lost. It would be really interesting to find out if that system could work these days?

A door in the middle of the mediaeval library leads to a beautiful piece of reformation architecture. Restrained, perfectly proportioned and elegant, the long room above the north cloister was designed by Christopher Wren for  Michael Honywood who was the Dean of Lincoln from 1660 to 1681. He had gathered a large collection of books about many subjects, including beauty tips for ladies! On his death he left the collection to the Cathedral. Current day librarians that are concerned about classification would have a nightmare: the books are not arranged in conceptual order, but are simply arranged by height; large on the lower shelves and small at the top! This room has undergone some recent restoration and the walls are now painted in the original style. More restoration is taking place. Many of the books are quite unique, others have similar versions elsewhere. Many of the books are of Dutch origin because Dean Honywood spent some years in Holland.

Although none of the collection is currently digitised, the library does have an on-line catalogue which can be searched from the cathedral website (

The library web pages can be found here:

No comments: