This weekend, the Archives and Chapter Library is hosting its annual Adopt a Book Open Day, an opportunity for our supporters to have a guided tour of the building, including exhibitions of archival and library material, and to see their adopted books.
This year, sixty people will be joining us for the day, many of them also taking lunch in the Dungeon of the Curfew Tower. The adopted books on display cover an enormous range of dates and topics, including a codex dating from 1452 of documents relating to the foundation of the College; a sixteenth-century edition of the works of Roman politician Cicero; an essay on the preparation and use of ink from 1660 and a seventeenth-century history of the most famous French thieves.
An adopted book from the College of St George’s Chapter Library can make an exciting and unusual gift, a fitting commemoration of an event, or a lasting memorial to a departed loved one. A bookplate is printed with wording of the adopter’s choice and fixed inside the cover of the book.
The money raised by Adopt a Book helps to fund essential conservation work to improve and maintain the condition of the books so that they can continue to be used now and for generations to come. Some of the books in the Chapter Library are over five hundred years old and many are rare.
The library has developed over many centuries. Its initial home was in the Deans’ Cloister and when more space was needed it was move to the Vicars’ Hall in 1692. It remained there for three hundred years until, in the 1990s, the Vicars’ Hall Undercroft was converted into storage and office space for the College’s archives and library services to be combined. Now, the Dean and Canons’ oldest and rarest books are housed in secure strong-rooms where temperature and humidity are monitored to provide the best environment for their long-term preservation.
There are more than six thousand books in the Chapter Library, including medieval handwritten texts and some of the earliest examples of printed material in Europe. The Bodleian Library in Oxford holds a further seventy manuscripts which the Dean and Canons of Windsor gifted to Sir Thomas Bodley, the library’s founder, in 1612.
By the early twentieth century, the Chapter Library was so large and the Vicars’ Hall so full that it had become difficult to move around. In 1947 a Library Committee was established and the decision made to sell all books published after the library’s removal from the Dean’s Cloister in 1692 and to thereafter maintain the collection as a museum piece.
It was soon after this that the College began a long-term programme of refurbishing and rebinding its remaining books, many of which were in poor repair. The Adopt a Book programme was introduced in 1997 to raise funds to enable this work to continue. To date, approximately two thousand books have been adopted.
Kate McQuillian, Assistant Archivist