Hereford Cathedral Library

Hereford Cathedral Library is a working theological lending and reference library located in Hereford Cathedral, Hereford, England; it also holds books and manuscripts of major importance to the history of the county of Herefordshire. Hereford Cathedral Library is also well known for its chained books as it is the only library of this type to survive with all of the chains, rods and locks still intact.[1]

Hereford Cathedral Library
Mappa Mundi and Chained Library are housed here - - 665609.jpg
The Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral
CountryUnited Kingdom
TypeChristian library
ScopeHistorical books
Established1611 (1611)
Coordinates52°03′15″N 2°42′57″W / 52.054219°N 2.715898°W / 52.054219; -2.715898Coordinates: 52°03′15″N 2°42′57″W / 52.054219°N 2.715898°W / 52.054219; -2.715898


16th and 17th centuriesEdit

During the reign of Elizabeth I, in 1582, a commission investigating the cathedral found that the collection, gathered since the 12th century, was poorly organised and poorly kept.[2] In 1590 the whole library was moved to the Lady Chapel, and in 1611 the Chained Library (with books in manuscript chained to their places) was established by Thomas Thornton. Thornton, who was canon of Hereford from 1583 onwards and vice-chancellor of Oxford University in 1583 and 1599, was the first to chain books in the library.[3] William Brewster bequeathed the collection to St John's College, Oxford.[4] Many books were added in the 17th century and in 1678 the collection from the Jesuit College at Cwm, Llanrothal, Wales, joined the library when the college was shut down following the invasion by John Arnold of Monmouthshire.

19th and 20th centuriesEdit

In the 1840s, the cathedral underwent considerable restoration work and the books and shelves had to be removed from the Lady Chapel.[3] It was split between the North Transept and the Victorian Dean Leigh Library.[3] In 1854, Francis Tebbs Havergal was appointed deputy librarian and he greatly improved the library and paid attention to details such as the room temperature and cleanliness.[5] B. F. Streeter was responsible for a major change in the organisation of the library as were librarians such as Langton E. Brown and Maude Bull from 1897 onwards;[6] Bull worked in the library for over fifty years until her death in 1951.[6] For years, the notable scholar, Canon William Wolfe Capes (1834–1914), sorted records within the library; he printed a volume containing early records, presenting it to the members of the Cantilupe Society.[7] Also important in the library's history were Frederick Charles Morgan (died 1978, aged 100) and his daughter Penelope (1976–90).[8] F. C. Morgan supervised the cataloguing project of 1927 onwards, following a donation by the Dean Leigh Fund.[6] His nephew Paul was succeeded as honorary librarian by Penelope Morgan who remained in the post until 1989.[8][9] During the Second World War, the Mappa Mundi (the largest medieval map known to still exist) and other valuable manuscripts from the medieval period were kept elsewhere in safety and returned to the collection in 1946.[3]

Mappa Mundi LibraryEdit

In 1988 the Dean and Chapter proposed the sale of the Mappa Mundi and aroused considerable national opposition.[10] Following the setting up of a dedicated trust, a donation from Sir Paul Getty, and an endowment from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Mappa and chained library were transferred to the Mappa Mundi Charitable Trust and a new building designed by Sir William Whitfield was opened on 3 May 1996 by the Queen to house the historic collections and the historic chained library, which is open to the public.[3]

Both chained library and historic collections in store are now held in temperature-controlled, fire-resistant rooms and the Mappa and historic collection are much easier to access than they were in the cathedral. However, the chained library is still chained to the bookshelves.[11]


The Hereford Gospels, circa 780, illustrating the Gospel of John
Book shelves of Hereford Cathedral Library

Most of the books in the collection date to about 1100. The oldest volume in the library, the Hereford Gospels in Anglo-Saxon characters, dates to around the year 780 and was the only book to survive the 1055 fire.[12] Many of the books and manuscripts were collected from Herefordshire, with many of those from the 14th century onwards related to county law.[3] For several centuries books were stored in cupboards or wooden chests until the first library room was established, in the south-west cloister of the cathedral, in the 15th century.[3]

The library contains mainly old books in manuscript chained to their places, some of them fine specimens of ancient handwriting, containing beautiful illustrations in gold and colour. The library has an ancient and well-preserved Hereford antiphonary of the 13th century. Another treasure is an ancient reliquary of oak, bequeathed to the cathedral by Canon Russell, said to have been obtained it from a Roman Catholic family in whose possession it had long been. It is covered with copper plates overlaid with Limoges enamel representing the murder and entombment of St. Thomas of Canterbury. The library is in possession of some 229 manuscripts, mainly theological, dated from the 8th to the 16th centuries.[13] Aside from the Hereford Gospels, is the Wycliffite Bible and the 13th century Hereford Breviary – the only surviving copy.[13]

The Chained Library has about 1500 older books in its collection, dating mainly from the late 15th to the early 19th centuries, although it has some 56 books published before 1500.[13] The bulk of the collection is of books on theology, biblical and church studies and law. Aside from the 150 volumes, dated to the 16th and 17th centuries, from the Jesuit Library at Llanrothal, it received, in 1925, 242 volumes on theology from Paul Foley of Stoke Edith House and, in 1978, 260 volumes printed between 1494–1782 from the Library of Lady Hawkins School at Kington.[13] The library has also received many other small donations over the years, revealing an important insight into the history of the county and ecclesiastical practices within it. The collection also contains music manuscripts used in Hereford Cathedral between the late 17th and 19th centuries and some 9,000 items printed after 1850, as well as a local history section.[13]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 February 2013. Retrieved 1 April 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) "The Chained Library",, 2009
  2. ^ Aylmer & Tiller 2000, p. 515
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "History of the Chained Library". Archived from the original on 11 September 2011. Retrieved 15 March 2012.
  4. ^ Ker, Neil Ripley; Perkin, Michael (2004). A Directory of the Parochial Libraries of the Church of England and the Church in Wales. Oxford University Press. p. 239. ISBN 978-0-948170-13-3. Retrieved 15 March 2012.
  5. ^ Aylmer & Tiller 2000, p. 525
  6. ^ a b c Aylmer & Tiller 2000, p. 529
  7. ^ Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons (1919). Papers by command (Public domain ed.). HMSO. pp. 1 ff. Retrieved 15 March 2012.
  8. ^ a b Barker, Nicolas (24 March 2006). "Paul Morgan, librarian and local historian". The Independent. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 16 March 2012.
  9. ^ Clifford, Mary F. (4 October 1990). "Protector of a great treasure: obituary, Penelope Morgan". The Guardian.
  10. ^ Driver, Christopher (19 November 1988). "World time forgot: the 13th-century world map up for sale is not the only neglected treasure of Hereford Cathedral". The Guardian.
  11. ^ Blake, Monica (April 2004). "Art Index Retrospective: 1929-1984 now available via EBSCOhost®". The Electronic Library. 22 (2). doi:10.1108/el.2004.26322bab.013. ISSN 0264-0473.
  12. ^ Aylmer & Tiller 2000, p. 511
  13. ^ a b c d e "Library Collections". Archived from the original on 19 December 2011. Retrieved 15 March 2012.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit