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Catalogue of Pre-1801 Printed Books

By David Shaw and Sheila Hingley



History of the Library and its Collections


There has probably been a collection of books within Canterbury Cathedral precinct since the arrival of St Augustine in 5971.  Augustine is reputed to have provided several books for Canterbury’s other great church, the abbey of St Peter and St Paul, later rededicated as St Augustine’s Abbey, volumes of which were venerated as the foundation books of the English church.  The cathedral which Augustine founded undoubtedly housed collections of books, not least those used by Archbishop Theodore (668-690) to support his famous school, although none of these survives in Canterbury.  Various disasters such as Viking raids and fires, destroyed and scattered the book collections, but the Golden Gospels now at Stockholm are a reminder of the magnificent early medieval books from Canterbury that are now sadly lost.

Archbishop Dunstan and his successors in the late tenth century established a library, of which at least thirty-three books survive in other collections.  The Christ Church Priory scriptorium produced work of the quality of the Harley Psalter, now in the British Library, and, despite the interruption of the Viking raid of 1011 on Canterbury, provided a variety of liturgical and scholarly books.

The fire of 1067 which destroyed nearly all the monastic buildings, also decimated the library.  Lanfranc, Archbishop from 1070 until 1089, not only reformed the priory’s way of life, but also rebuilt the church and monastic buildings, and set up a scriptorium to make good the losses in the book collections.  The books produced by this scriptorium became the core of the library of the cathedral priory for the next few centuries.  In his Constitutions2 Lanfranc laid down strict rules about the annual loan of books to monks.  Books were to be returned on a specific day and any monk who had not read his book was required to confess his fault, prostrate himself and ask for pardon.

The medieval library of Christ Church Priory, Canterbury was deservedly famous in its day.  It is likely to have numbered over two thousand volumes by the end of the medieval period, but the dissolution of the priory in 1540 and the installation of a new cathedral authority of a dean and a chapter of twelve canons, saw the start of a difficult period for the library.  Between 1540 and the early years of the seventeenth century there was a gradual dispersal of the manuscript books.  Archbishops, deans and prebendaries took books from the neglected medieval library and gave them to other repositories, a large number going to form the core of manuscript collections now treasured by Oxford and Cambridge colleges.  The worst kind of loss can be illustrated by the example of the one illuminated book from the twelfth century which still remains in Canterbury.  This is a volume of leaves from a set of passionals which has been reconstructed from the bindings of ecclesiastical court books.  Only a handful of manuscript books now remain in Canterbury.

The sad dispersal of the medieval library was counterbalanced by the purchase of printed books to form the basis of a new collection.  In 1550 the Chapter approved the expenditure of £12 on new books, but it was not until the early 1620s that a real interest was shown in the development of the library.  A Chapter resolution of 23 June 1628 ordered that a donors’ book of vellum should be set up in a prominent place in the library to encourage further gifts of books.

This promising beginning was halted by the Civil War.  The books were probably taken to London for a time and the medieval library building was pulled down.  The Restoration saw the building of a new library on the site of the old one, financed by Archbishop Juxon, whilst Bishop John Warner of Rochester gave £500 in 1667 to purchase books for it.  The collection was also enhanced by the purchase of William Somner’s manuscript and printed books from his widow after his death in 1669.  Somner was an Anglo-Saxon scholar, local historian and Cathedral registrar and auditor, and one hundred and three books previously belonging to him are listed in the provenance index of this catalogue.  In 1672 rules were established to govern the library, listing opening hours and borrowing regulations, and establishing that two members of Cathedral staff should be employed to look after the library.

Whilst it is unlikely that the library was heavily used, there is some evidence that Somner’s books in particular attracted more than local scholars.  Gifts and bequests of books were made, and the provenance index records many small donations of one or more books by prebendaries and local people.  One of the larger and more interesting bequests was that of Prebendary John Bargrave, who died in 1680 and gave not only volumes of Italian engravings collected on his European travels, but also cabinets of curiosities and two marble-topped tables.  Stephen Hunt, a local physician, bequeathed his collection in 1714 containing a large number of continental imprints, including books on literary criticism, philology and bibliography.  The printed catalogue of the library, published in 1743, recorded about five thousand titles3.

Borrowers’ registers show steady use of the library by canons and minor canons in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  By 1868 the books had outgrown the seventeenth-century building, and so a new library was constructed on part of the site of the medieval dormitory in 1868, but by 1877 the old library was in use again as an overflow store for books.  The most dramatic change in the fortunes of the library came in 1887 when Archdeacon Benjamin Harrison’s widow gave her husband’s collection of sixteen thousand books and pamphlets to the Cathedral. Through his wife, Harrison was connected with Sir Robert Harry Inglis MP and Harrison’s library contains a large number of books and pamphlets belonging to Inglis.  Harrison as a young man had been chaplain to Archbishop William Howley and he had acquired a substantial part of Howley’s scholarly books.  Other books and pamphlets came from Harrison’s father, also Benjamin, who was Treasurer of Guy’s Hospital.

In the twentieth century, the most interesting developments have been the construction of two new library buildings, and in the forging of an agreement in the mid-1970s with the University of Kent, to help in the finance, management and staffing of the library.  One new building was completed in 1954 to replace the 1868 building which was destroyed in the 1942 Baedeker raid, and another, the Wolfson Building, was completed in 1966.  The former building contains the Reading Room and modern book collections as well as housing the Cathedral Archives and its staff.  The latter building adjoins the old library, now renamed the Howley-Harrison Library, and forms a store for the pre-1900 books, with office space for library staff.

There have been three important additions to the library collections in this century.  The two hundred most valuable books from the Elham Parish Library were deposited in the Cathedral Library in 1913 for security reasons.  The remaining one thousand books joined them after the war and were finally placed on permanent deposit in the 1970s.  Preston next Wingham parochial library, a Dr Bray library, was deposited around the same time, still housed in its early eighteenth-century carrying box.  The Elham Parish Library has proved to be a fascinating collection, the library of the Oxinden family, the main part being the books of Henry Oxinden of Barham who died in 1670 and his descendants, including John Warly, a Canterbury surgeon, and Lee Warly, a Canterbury attorney, who acquired the bulk of the books during his long lifetime.  When Lee Warly died in 1807 he bequeathed the library to the parishioners of Elham, the home of his Warly ancestors.

In 1985 another exciting development was the deposit by the Law Society of London of the Mendham Collection, the books of the Reverend Joseph Mendham who died in 1869.  This collection contains books both Catholic and Protestant, dating from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, which Mendham used as a basis for his anti-Catholic writings.  Its subject matter complements the more Anglican slant of the religious books and pamphlets of the Dean and Chapter’s collection.  A catalogue of the Mendham Collection was published in 19944.

In 1998 the statistics of the collections stand as:  c.15,000 pre-1801 books and pamphlets; c.16,000 19th century items; c.5,000 items in the Mendham Collection.


There is a long history of catalogue production at Canterbury Cathedral Library.  Several medieval catalogues survive5, and manuscript lists are available of the growing post-Dissolution library.  The first printed catalogue was produced by the Canterbury printer James Abree in 1743, listing authors and titles only.  A second catalogue was published in 1802 based on the alphabetical listing of the printed books completed by              H J Todd and including a reprint of his catalogue of the manuscript books6.  Todd’s catalogue comprises an alphabetical index of the books by author or title followed by the catalogue arranged in shelf-mark order.  Each entry contains author, if relevant, title, format, date and often place of printing.

Various manuscript catalogues exist which record acquisitions after 1802, and a two volume manuscript catalogue was the only guide to the books until a modern cataloguing project was set up in the mid-1970s.  Two cataloguers were funded by the British Library to catalogue the pre-1801 books as part of a wider campaign to complete the recording of all the early printed books in cathedral libraries in England and Wales.  Miss Karen James and Mrs Margaret Brown were employed from 1978 until 1982 to work under the supervision of Dr David Shaw of the University of Kent.  David Shaw developed MARC programs, closely consulting with the members of the Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalogue team, who were using MARC programs to catalogue rare books for the first time.  Many adaptations and developments evolved over the four years of the project and have continued since.  Not least, David Shaw has had to rewrite his software three times as changes in hardware and software have dictated.

The University of Kent provided not only the overall support of the University Librarian, Mr Will Simpson, but also disk space on their mainframe computers.  The University’s commitment has been invaluable and the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury are very grateful for this support in the past and present and into the future.

Many people have been involved in the cataloguing of the pre-1801 books over the years.  Inevitably it was not possible to complete the cataloguing of all the pre-1801 books within the time frame of the British Library funded project.  Karen James continued to work on the catalogue long after her contract with the Cathedral finished, and I think that she can certainly be credited with the bulk of the editing work on the catalogue entries.           Mrs Sheila Hingley, who became Cathedral Librarian in 1989, has catalogued the remaining two thousand books with the help of David Shaw.  Mrs Sarah Gray, who has been involved with the project almost from the start, has undertaken an enormous amount of proof-reading, checking and editing over the years, with great patience and a very keen eye for errors.  Various other people have been involved in the catalogue and its preparation since 1978 and this is by no means a comprehensive list of those involved.  I should, however, mention Mrs Anthea Poole who has keyboarded countless thousands of records with great accuracy and speed.  Mr Lawrence Dethan kindly undertook to read through the entire catalogue and produce as near to a consistent product as any work of this size can be.  As always, one can continue checking and still find mistakes, so my apologies for those that remain.

Using the catalogue


The form of heading used in the British Museum General Catalogue has been followed, except where the heading would be at a variance with modern usage.  ESTC cataloguing rules were followed, with a few minor exceptions7.  Added entries are provided for contributors, editors and translators, and there is a generous provision of added title entries.  In many cases subject added entries are provided for such things as biographies and controversies, and there are form entries such as dictionaries and grammars.  The Bible is used as a form entry with whole Bibles arranged by language and date followed by parts of the Bible in canonical order.  Liturgies are under the churches they relate to, e.g.  Church of England, Roman Catholic Church, etc.


The version of the programs available at the beginning of the project did not include the ability to produce Greek characters, consequently Greek words in titles are transliterated into roman characters.


All information in the imprint field is taken from the title page.  If the information comes from another part of the book or from an external source, it will be enclosed in square brackets.


Notes that apply to every copy of the work appear immediately after the collation and format.  Copy-specific notes are identified by a lozenge, and these include a note of former owners.  If there is more than one copy of a work then copy notes are separately identified against each book’s unique number.  It has been the practice to catalogue from a perfect copy when a volume is incomplete or damaged.  Imperfections in the Canterbury copy then appear in the copy-specific notes.  A provenance index at the end provides an alphabetical listing of former owners.  There has not been time to provide definite identification of more than a small proportion of these people, but wherever possible relevant dates have been given.

Bibliographical references

The usual references are provided to STC, Wing and Adams.  Because of the timing of the project, entries were sent to contribute to ESTC’s original database, and when the cataloguing was resumed after a lapse of years, it was not possible in the time allowed to check and add ESTC numbers to all entries, so regretfully it was decided to omit all ESTC numbers.  A search for material with the location CYc on the ESTC database will provide information on the Canterbury Cathedral copies of eighteenth-century works.  Entries for ESTC items in the final two thousand items catalogued will be reported to ESTC in due course.


Thanks are owed to the British Library for its financing of the original four year cataloguing project.  The University of Kent has provided expertise, computer disk space and professional support for the cataloguing, in addition to its regular financial contribution to the Library’s finance.  Various members of the ESTC team at the British Library have answered awkward enquiries over the years, and incunable problems have been dealt with by John Goldfinch and Martin Davies also of the British Library.  Finally, Bill Pidduck of Adam Matthew Publications has been extremely patient and forbearing with all the delays to publication that always afflict rare book catalogues.

Sheila Hingley

1) The best history of the library is by Nigel Ramsay in his chapter ‘The Cathedral Archives and Library’ in A History of Canterbury Cathedral.  Edited by P Collinson, N Ramsay and M Sparks.  Oxford: 1995.  Pp.341-407.

2) Lanfranc Monastic Constitutions. Edited and translated by D Knowles. (Nelson’s Medieval Classics)  London:  1951 p.19.

3) Catalogus Librorum Bibliothecae Ecclesiae Christi Cantuariensis. Canterbury: 1743. The Dean and Chapter paid local printer James Abree to print 100 copies.  Ramsay, p.388 n.239.

4) Catalogue of the Law Society’s Mendham Collection. Ed by S Hingley and D Shaw.  London: 1994.

5) M R James.  The Ancient Libraries of Canterbury and Dover. Cambridge: 1903.

6) Catalogue of the Books, both Manuscript and Printed, which are Preserved in the Library of Christ Church, Canterbury. [Canterbury]: 1802.  The first edition of Todd’s manuscript catalogue was in: H J Todd. Some Account of the Deans of Canterbury; from the New Foundation... to the Present TimeCanterbury and London: 1793.

7) The Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalogue.  Cataloguing Rules.  First published by the British Library in 1978.  It was too late to incorporate changes in the revised editions of the rules published in 1984 and 1991



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