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Special Collections Spotlight

Some of the most interesting finds in our Special Collections are featured below!

19 May 2016

College Baths

Once situated behind New Court, the St. John’s College Baths were a welcome addition to the College when they first opened in Michaelmas Term 1922 – though they were by no means appreciated by all. For some Fellows, such as physicist and mathematician Sir Joseph Larmor (1857-1942), a bathhouse seemed an unnecessary expense and luxury for students when the shortness of the eight-week university terms was considered. Initial resistance to the idea of a bathhouse certainly appears to have been strong enough to cause some delay in obtaining the approval for them. In his memoirs, G. G. Coulton remembers how, at a College dinner one evening shortly before the Baths were completed, the Master remarked how well the Honorary Fellow, George Downing Liveing (1827-1924), had done in having lived long enough to have “witnessed the introduction of railways, electric telegraph, motors, aeroplanes”, adding that it was now hoped that he also would “‘live to see the baths at St. John’s’”.[1] Liveing did indeed live long enough to witness the construction of the bathhouse on the site of his old Chemical Laboratory (originally constructed in 1853), though history does not record whether he had any opportunity to visit the Baths himself!

The circular shown here, issued by the Junior Bursar and dated October 1922, indicates the rules and regulations which must be observed by visitors to the Baths. Crucially, the bathhouse should be used members of the College only. Members of other colleges were not permitted, though occasional visiting guests from outside of Cambridge could be introduced by special application to the Bath Attendant for a charge of 6d. (including towel). The exception to this restriction was in the case of a visiting sports team from Oxford or elsewhere, who could enter the baths without charge. Opening hours during Full Term were from seven o’clock to ten o’clock in the morning and from four o’clock to half past seven in the evening, with the exception of Sundays, when only morning opening hours applied.

Once inside the Baths, guests would receive complimentary soap and bath brushes. While men living in College were expected to bring their own towels, those living in lodgings could obtain a towel from the Attendant for a charge of 2d. Perhaps anticipating some level of untidiness, the circular stresses that soiled towels should not be left in the bath-rooms or in the dressing-boxes of the spray-baths (showers), but placed in the appropriate basket. Bath-rooms 4 and 8 were reserved for Fellows’ use only. A changing-room for members to keep their sports clothes was also available and open daily from 1.45pm. Each member would receive an allocated peg and shoe rack on application to the Attendant, and any clothes left overnight would be “dried and brushed ready for the following day”. Use of this changing-room cost 8/- a term.

In his memoirs, the theologian and Master of St. John’s College, 1959-1969, John Sandwith Boys Smith (1901-1991) recollects that the new bathhouse was “a well-designed building”,  accessed via B Staircase, New Court, with “both baths in cubicles (two reserved for Fellows) and showers with dressing cubicles”. An undergraduate at St. John’s from 1919 to 1922, Boys Smith himself narrowly pre-dated the bathhouse, and yet struggles to recall what most students did in its absence. For his own part, Boys Smith “regularly had a cold bath in a flat circular bath in my bedroom”, since he had

[…] grown accustomed to cold showers at school at Sherbourne, and had grown up in a country vicarage where there was no hot water system and hot water had to be carried upstairs. But the [College] Kitchen would, at a cost of 6d., send up a large can of hot water to rooms.[2]

Sadly, very few images of the College Baths remain. Following the increase in student numbers post-1945, the bathhouse was demolished in the early 1960s along with the collection of workshops, storerooms and squash courts which formerly stood at the back of New Court to accommodate the construction of the Cripps Building (1966-1967). Nevertheless, the above circular helps us to imagine what a trip to the College Baths might have been like and offers an insight into a small but significant part of mid-twentieth century College life.

                                                                            Back of New Court, with the College bathhouse on the far left-hand side.

This article was contributed by Eleanor Swire, Information Services Graduate Trainee, 2015-2016.

[1] Coulton, G.G. (1943), Fourscore Years: An Autobiography. Cambridge University Press. P.p. 97-98.

[2] Boys Smith, J.S. (1983) Memories of St. John’s College, Cambridge: 1919-1969. Oxford University Press. p.17

26 April 2016

This year we’re off to sunny Spain.

Early in the Easter Term, with the prospect of examinations approaching, and a tough few weeks ahead for those studying hard, it’s good to be able to think of more relaxing things. The summer holidays are really not so very far away, and the thought of enjoying oneself in warmer climes is very appealing. Thanks to a new acquisition for the Library – a photograph album commemorating St John’s College Choir School’s holiday to Vigo in Spain in June and July 1925 – we can share the delights of such a trip. This small, leather-bound ring binder contains 74 black and white photographs, each measuring just 55 x 79 mm, carefully labelled with locations and descriptions.

Back in 1925, a holiday to Spain meant a train journey to Liverpool to catch a boat. In the case of the Choir School, the boat in question was the steamship ‘Darro’. When there weren’t other vessels to watch, the voyage could be enlivened with games of deck quoits or deck tennis, until views of the Spanish shore came into view.

 The Outward Journey  Pastimes on board  Views of Vigo

The boys enjoyed typical holiday activities, exploring many local sites around Vigo and Santiago, and bathing in the sea.

 Exploring Vigo  Seabathing

They crossed the international bridge from Spain into Portugal, and went sightseeing there too, visiting Tuy Cathedral, before embarking on the “Aroya” for the voyage home.

Crossing from Spain to Portugal  Sightseeing in Tuy  The homeward journey

While the locations and activities on the photographs are beautifully labelled, the individuals concerned are not identified. If anyone has a relative associated with the College Choir School in 1925 and recognises any of the people featured in these photographs, the Library would love to hear from you.

Do you recognise any of these people?

A full description of the contents of the photograph album (together with the other albums in the Library’s collections) may be found on the Janus catalogue.

This article was contributed by the Special Collections Librarian. 

5 April 2016

F(l)inders Keepers

Title page of Matthew Flinders' 'A Voyage to Terra Australis'

One of the larger items in our Special Collections, the “super-oversize” atlas accompanying Matthew Flinders’ epic Voyage to Terra Australis, is not taken out regularly for exhibitions. For one thing, it is rather too large to fit in any of the display cases, and for another, the acidic ink used to print the large scale charts prepared by Flinders from measurements made by himself and others is starting to degrade the paper.

However, it played an important part in the history of Australia, as Flinders in this work consolidated all recorded  discoveries along the Australian coast line and produced charts which went on to be used by the Admiralty for much of the nineteenth century. In fact, it could be argued that Voyage is one of the most important works on early colonial Australia prepared, as it not only gives us the first accurate shape of the Australian mainland and surrounding islands, but also provides important historical and social details about life in Australia for both settlers and indigenous people at a period when the colony of New South Wales was beginning to expand.

The Johnian connection to this important document comes from the passages referring to Captain William Bligh. Flinders served with Bligh on the Providence on a voyage to Tahiti, two years after the infamous mutiny on the Bounty which left Bligh alone in the Pacific Ocean in a 7 metre long boat. Despite this situation, Bligh was able to navigate to Timor and along the way made observations of the coast of Australia. Flinders relates these observations in his introduction covering prior discoveries along the coast, which can be seen below. Bligh’s cousin, Reginald Bligh, a clergyman, was admitted to St John’s in 1797 and was a Fellow from 1802 to 1833, having more success in holding office than Captain Bligh did with his ill-fated governorship of New South Wales for a year and a half between 1806 and 1808.

Account of Captain Bligh's journey in the Bounty's launch

As previously mentioned, Flinders’ charts were drawn up using some of these earlier measurements of the coastline, all recalculated by Flinders to conform to his own compass and latitude and longitude. This results in some accurate, highly useful, as well as really quite attractive charts, which contain not only measurements but also occasional notes on the maritime history of Australia.

This chart of part of the coast of Queensland is an excellent example of this. On first inspection, it appears to be a relatively ordinary chart displaying the latitude and longitude of the different points on the coast including sandbanks and reefs.

Chart of the coast of Queensland

However, a closer look reveals that these are not just any reefs, but part of the Great Barrier Reef on which the HMS Endeavour under Captain Cook struck in 1770, requiring extensive repairs. Flinders’ understated commentary does not quite do justice to the drama of the situation, which required all members of the crew to man the pumps and ensure that the ship was not sunk.

Detail of chart showing the place where HMS Endeavour struck a reef

The same chart also records Bligh’s path in his seven metre boat towards Timor, a remarkable piece of maritime and naval history.

Detail of chart showing Bligh's route in the Bounty's launch

Flinders’ expeditions made him one of the first people to circumnavigate Australia, and he and his friend George Bass, with the discovery of the Bass Strait, proved that Tasmania, then known as Van Diemen’s Land, was not connected to the Australian mainland. Flinders himself was not only an accomplished commander, but also took all the measurements for his personal charts himself, and attempted to popularise the use of the term Australia over the more clunky Terra Australis. He was also a noted lover of animals, having a particular fondness for a ship’s cat named Trim who accompanied him on his expeditions in the Investigator, Porpoise and Cumberland, as well as for the first part of his six-year imprisonment by the French at Mauritius, also detailed in this account. His importance to the history of Australia is commemorated with several towns, capes and other important landmarks named after him. Despite this, he is often less well known than other explorers such as Cook and Tasman, and deserves to be recognised for his incredible achievements.

This article was contributed by Felicity French, Library Graduate Trainee 2015-2016.

1 March 2016

Royal visits

John Buck's Ceremonial Accounts, 1665As Esquire Bedell to the University of Cambridge for more than fifty years, John Buck (1597-1680) was responsible for numerous ceremonial and offical duties, including the production of written accounts of the many “material things, which do concern […] the university and town of Cambridge”. The accounts of 1665 are particularly interesting, not only in terms of the meticulous detail Buck provides in his descriptions of degree ceremonies and senate proceedings, but also for his fascinating reports on royal visits to the University during the seventeenth century.

A visit by the monarch was a very important occasion and often involved a good deal of speech-making and gift-giving. When King James I visited Cambridge on the 12th March, 1622, students and fellows lined the streets between Jesus College gate and Trinity College gate to greet him as he arrived. Once inside Trinity College, Buck records that the King was entertained by a short speech by the University Vice-Chancellor, who afterwards “presented his majesty with a book, very curiously bound”. From there, the King went up into the great chamber, “the beadles going before him with their velvet caps in their hands”, where he was treated to drinks, dinner and further speeches by prominent members of the University, eventually leaving Cambridge at around four o’clock in the afternoon.

James was followed by his successor, King Charles I, who came to Cambridge with his queen from Newmarket on the 22nd March, 1631. Once again, Buck writes, “the scholars, bachelors, fellow commoners, regents and non-regents were placed in the streets in like manner as they were when King James came thither in March 1622 [and] made a great acclamation as the king and queen passed by them, saying vivat rex, vivat regina, vivat rex, vivat regina”.

King Charles I

Despite receiving a similarly enthusiastic welcome, however, the royal couple on this occasion were not only keen to dine in Trinity College as James had done, but to do a spot of sight-seeing. Having refreshed themselves with food and drink, Buck reports that “the king said that he would shew the queen Kings College Chapel. But before they went out of the chamber Mr Creiton made another short speech, and their Majesties did stand all the time to hear it.

“After this speech was ended, they went to Kings College Chapel, where the provost did entertain them with a speech, their Majesties now sitting on chairs of state. The speech ended the king led the queen into the quire where they viewed the windows and stately structure and then took the coach to Royston”.

Charles visited Cambridge again on the 14th March, 1641, this time in the company of his young son, the future Charles II. In addition to the usual array of speeches and refreshments, the King was provided with a tour of St John’s College, where he was shown both the library and the chapel. After listening patiently to an address made by a “Mr Cleaveland” in First Court, the royal party proceeded towards “the great court beyond the hall”, where “two masters of arts presented his majesty with a banquet of which he ate a little and gave the prince good store to put in his pocket”.

In its effort to impress, St. John’s College evidently made far more food than the King and his son could consume. Thankfully, Buck concludes, “the noblemen and the rest of his followers made quick dispatch of the remainder” - so nothing was wasted on the day!

This article was contributed by Eleanor Swire, Information Services Graduate Trainee, 2015-2016

3 February 2016

Theatricals at St John's

 the Scourge of Simony'At the turn of the seventeenth century, Christmas entertainments at St John’s typically included a theatrical performance by the students. One such drama, performed in either 1601 or 1602, provides a unique insight into how the writers of the day were viewed by the student community. The Returne from Pernassus, or, the Scourge of Simony was the final and most ambitious of three Parnassus plays, authorship unknown. The plays give a humorous account of the adventures of two students, Philomusus and Studioso, the first recounting their life as students, the second their unsuccessful attempts to earn a living. By the third, the character Ingenioso, who appears in all the plays, has become a satirist, and he delivers a brief and pithy characterisation of the authors of the day. Such greats as Spenser, Marlowe and Shakespeare are among his subjects, as are both Ben Jonson and Thomas Nashe. Some later critics have identified Ingenioso with Nashe himself, and although it is by no means certain that the characters are intended to represent real people, it is clear that the author was very familiar with Nashe’s work.

In the play, Ingenioso and Judicio join in praising Nashe:

     Yet this I say, that for a mother witt, Fewe men have ever seene the like of it.

Praise for Thomas NasheWhether this is respect for a writer only lately deceased, affection for a fellow Johnian, or simply appreciation of his writing style is a matter for speculation. 

Later in the play, Shakespeare’s famous actors, Richard Burbage and William Kempe are portrayed, discussing the literary merits of scholars:

Few of the university pen plaies well, they smell too much of that writer Ovid, and that writer Metamorphosis, and talke too much of Proserpina & Juppiter. Why heres our fellow Shakespeare puts them all downe, I and Ben Jonson too. O that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow, he brought up Horace giving the Poets a pill, but our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him beray his credit.

This was a reference to the so-called War of the Theatres in which rival poet playwrights competed to caricature their adversaries in an exchange of plays. In Poetaster, of 1601, Jonson had represented himself as Horace against his detractors, in response to which, Shakespeare's company had performed Thomas Dekker's Satiromastix, in which Horace the bricklayer (Jonson's family trade) was the humorous poet untrussed. It is fascinating to see how students at St John’s were aware of contemporary events on the London stage and reflected these in their own theatrical performances.

The Returne from Parnassus is currently on display in the Library Exhibition area, as one of the exhibits in ‘Remembrance with Posteritie’, featuring the life and work of Ben Jonson and Thomas Nashe. The exhibition runs from 3 February to 22 April, open Monday to Friday 9-5 (closed Good Friday and Easter Monday).


This article was contributed by the Special Collections Librarian.

7 December 2015

Christmas Letters from a POW Camp

Christmas is a time traditionally passed with friends and family. Separation from those whom we love can thus prove hugely difficult, especially in the midst of armed conflict, as the wartime letters of John Anthony Crook (1921–2007) reflect. Crook began his studies at St. John’s College, Cambridge, in 1939, before enlisting with the 9th Royal Fusiliers in 1942. Captured as a prisoner of war at Salerno in September 1943, during the allied landings in Italy, he was sent to Stalag Luft VIII-B at Larnsdorf in Silesia, where he remained for the next two years until Russian forces liberated the camp in 1945.

Crook’s Christmas letters for 1943 and 1944 present a vivid picture of life in the camp. They describe the plays and concerts organised by the men (Crook was himself a keen clarinettist), and offer reassurance to Crook’s parents that they should not worry about him. Crook was especially active during the Christmas period, allowing himself “no time to pine away”. In his letter dated 12th December, 1943, he records performances of “Carols, ‘Messiah’, a Band Concert, Cabaret, Pantomime [and] decorating our barrack with paper-chains”.  A letter dated 20th December, 1943 explains that he has been:

"So intensely busy about rehearsals and writing parts, teaching Greek, cooking gelatine-and-chips, planning a chamber-music concert and acting as usual as a general confidant and receiver of everyone’s troubles". Crook with his clarinet on the first row, fourth from the right

With a supply of Red Cross parcels, plenty of fuel and ample entertainment, Crook optimistically predicts that they “shall do all right” over the festive season.

Yet despite their resolved optimism, Crook’s letters also reflect the difficulties of living in a POW camp, particularly during the winter months. His reference to the “very Xmassy weather – snow and ice” hints at the perishing cold temperatures and challenging conditions experienced by the men. Life as a prisoner-of-war meant learning to live without certain things as well. While Crook instructs his parents not to send any clothes to him, he requests cigarettes, because, he explains, “they are currency here, and one can obtain for them anything from a banjo to a tin of porridge”.

Crook’s letter to his parents on Christmas Day, 1944, is particularly moving, and reveals the determination of the men in the camp to remain brave, despite missing friends and family. He writes that, notwithstanding the cakes and the atimo and whatever good cheer can be put into a prison camp on Christmas Day, and even with the perfect cold, crisp, sunny weather, all that he and the other men can think of are their loved ones at home. The dances and concerts and parties are a brave effort, with everyone in their best khaki slacks, but Crook can’t help but wish he was at home and longs to see the faces of his parents again.


This article was contributed by Eleanor Swire, Information Services Graduate Trainee, 2015-2016.

13 November 2015


The title page of 'Chocolate, or, an Indian drinke...'

    On a dark and chilly November afternoon, what could be more comforting than a steaming mug of hot chocolate? If Antonio Colminero of Ledesma, Doctor in Physicke is to be believed, it has many health benefits too. His book can be found in the Old Library, snappily titled: Chocolate, or, an Indian drinke:  by the wise and moderate use whereof, health is preserved, sickenesse diverted, and cured, especially the plague of the guts; vulgarly called the new disease; fluxes, consumptions, & coughs of the lungs, with sundry other desperate deseases; by it also, conception is caused, the birth hastened and facilitated, beauty gain’d and continued. So to be fit and fertile, and look fabulous, this is the perfect drink! Our copy is an English translation, by Captain James Wadsworth, published in 1652. The enterprising printer sold not only the tract, but advertised that from his premises 'the chocolate it selfe, may be had at reasonable rates’.

 The benefits of consuming chocolate   Doctor Melchor de Lara's recommendation  In due praise of divine chocolate...


The work includes further descriptions of the health benefits to be gained from consuming chocolate, testimonials from prominent physicians affirming the truth of these claims, and several different recipes for making chocolate with information about the particular qualities of the ingredients used. The original text is supplemented with a poem in praise of chocolate by the translater, James Wadsworth.

 The English Spanish pilgrime...

Wadsworth led a colourful life. He attended schools in Spain, where his family had converted to Roman Catholicism, before entering the English Jesuit College at St Omer in Artois. Whilst on a voyage with other students in 1622, he was first captured by the Dutch, then held to ransom by Moroccan pirates. In 1623 he acted as an interpreter for Prince Charles’ entourage in Madrid before being granted a commission in Philip IV’s Flanders army, though he was clearly more taken with using the title of captain than involvement in any battlefield action. In 1625, Wadsworth returned to England, renounced his Catholicism, and offered his services to the Privy Council as a spy. His career as a spy was singularly unsuccessful; his missions to Paris and Calais both resulted in ignominious imprisonment. Back in London, he wrote and published popular accounts of his adventures and experiences in Spain, highlighting the dangers of popery and his own prowess in dealing with pirates (the accuracy of some of his tales was much later contradicted when further contemporary sources came to light). He worked for two decades as a pursuivant, or messenger of the High Court, carrying out arrest warrants for a fee.  1640-41 saw him publishing again, first a translation of the treatise on chocolate, of which our copy is a later edition, and then a work on the highways and fairs of Europe aimed at travellers. He continued to collect pursuivant fees throughout the 1640s, appearing at several trials, and giving testimony against old schoolmates from the Jesuit College. Pursuivant work declined markedly after the civil war, leaving him impoverished. In 1656, a contemporary described him as a ‘renegade, proselyte, turncote of any religion’ now resident in Westminster and working as a ‘common Hackney to the basest catchpole Bayliffs’. 

This article was contributed by the Special Collections Librarian.


30 September 2015


Many of the volumes in the Old Library are substantial monographs or collected works, printed over many pages and bound in leather-covered boards, but some smaller and more ephemeral works survive in its collections too. These include chapbooks.

Chapbooks were usually small paper-covered booklets. Typically they would be printed on a single large sheet of paper, folded to form a booklet of 8, 12, 16, or 24 pages. They first appeared in the sixteenth century, as printing began to become more affordable. At its height during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the format proved ideal for all forms of ephemeral literature: almanacks, poetry, tracts, and children’s literature. These were readily available throughout rural areas, being distributed by travelling salesmen or pedlars, the ‘chapmen’ after whom they were named. Being relatively cheap and easy to produce, in a pocket-sized format that suited small hands, this publication format continued to be used for children’s story-books into the early nineteenth century.

Chapbook from Ross's juvenile library, published in 1814.

This example from Ross’s Juvenile Library, published in 1814, stands just 11cm tall. It is now bound together with several other chapbooks, but it would have been sold originally in its simple paper cover, for twopence.

In his Prelude (book V), William Wordsworth looks back with nostalgia to the popular tales of his youth:

        Oh! Give us once again the wishing cap

        Of Fortunatus, and the invisible coat

        Of Jack the Giant-killer, Robin Hood,

        And Sabra in the forest with St. George!

        The child, whose love is here, at least, doth reap

        One precious gain, that he forgets himself.


This copy of The history of Jack & the giants was published in the 1790s, a little later than Wordsworth’s youth, but is very much the sort of tale of adventure and fantasy to which he referred

Jack & the Giants chapbook 1790s

More of the chapbooks in the collections, together with a range of other children’s literature across the ages, feature in the exhibition Some Earlier Age: Children’s books in the College Library, which is on display in the Library Exhibition Area from 1 October 2015 to 29 January 2016.

This article was contributed by the Special Collections Librarian.

2 September 2015

Bird Bolt Inn: from pub to temperance hotel

Elizabeth Gill's lease for the Birdbolt tenement (1681)

From the 15th century, Cambridge inns and public houses begin to figure by name in town rentals, College accounts and deeds of purchase. The Bird Bolt Inn, later known as the Bird Bolt Temperance Hotel, was orginally located at the corner of Downing and St Andrew's Streets.

Birdbolt Temperance Hotel (c.1910)The name Bird Bolt was apparently in use from 1630 although the name change does not appear in the College records until five years later. From 1638, College leases and plans refer to the building and its attached premises as the Bird Bolt Inn. The original building was torn down in the late 19th century to make way for the new Norwich Union Building.

Following the demolition of the original inn, the new landlord moved the hotel  to 41 Regent St. and re-branded it as a temperance hotel. From 1910 it was run by Mr J. W. Hall and his family as the Bird Bolt Family and Commercial Temperance Hotel.

 Barnett Beales' lease for the Birdbolt Inn (1862) Lease to B Beales for the Birdbolt (1835)

The Bird Bolt Hotel (c.late 19th century)
  Plan of the Birdbolt Inn (1792)

Plan for Beales' lease (1835)   Plan of Birdbolt for Beales' lease (1862)

17 August 2015

A book full of history

Title page of Otto of Freising's Gesta FridericiSome of the College’s earliest printed books came to St John’s from the personal library of William Crashaw. The religious controversialist and poet William Crashaw built up an impressive library while serving as preacher to the Inner and Middle Temples in London. Around 1000 volumes from his early printed book collection came to St John’s via his friend and fellow Johnian Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton. While canon law and theological subjects predominated, he collected other works too, including this biography of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I. This contemporary account of Frederick’s life was written by Otto of Freising, bishop and close relation of the emperor, who knew the protagonists in his history personally and saw many of the events he recounted at first hand.

The publisher's device is printed at the end of the volumeAlthough Otto is unfailingly loyal to his imperial nephew, and sets out openly to praise his deeds, his history is not totally lacking in objectivity. He acknowledges the motives of those who chose Frederick to serve as Emperor. His approach to history is biographical, using examples of individuals to highlight virtues. He does not dwell on the disastrous outcome of the second crusade (in which he participated) as his purpose is - self-confessedly - to write a cheerful history.  A German speaker, Otto writes in Latin, the common language of European scholars, though occasional evidence of his native language can be seen in his use of local names. He includes rhetorical phrases, proverbs, anecdotes and quotations, and follows the example of ancient historians such as Thucydides in reporting conversations between his key protagonists apparently verbatim, even where the actual words spoken cannot have been known. However, and very helpfully for future historians, he includes copies of original documents such as letters to illustrate his history, and even gives some references to his sources. In comparison with some other medieval histories,  Otto’s work provides a valuable and reasonably reliable resource for later historians.

This particular copy of the Gesta Friderici imperatoris was published in March 1515, in Strasbourg, by Matthias Schurer, a publisher who also printed the works of Erasmus. The inked ‘Otho Fris’ on the foredge of the book indicates that it was once shelved with the foredge frontmost, rather than the spine: a common practice in the sixteenth century. The book was bound in London and retains its original blind-stamped binding made of calfskin over wooden boards. As was the case with many volumes of the period, fragments of older manuscripts were used in the construction of the book. Parchment was too useful to be wasted when a manuscript fell out of use and was recycled by bookbinders to create endleaves and pastedowns and to strengthen spines.

London blind-stamped binding  Manuscript fragment used in the binding  'Otho Fris.' inked on the foredge of the volume

A single volume, whose individual story can be traced over the last five hundred years from Strasbourg to London, through Crashaw’s library, via Henry Wriothesley to Cambridge,  thus gives us not just a renaissance printing of a much earlier history, but also physical evidence of a completely different medieval text, and of how the book was shelved. Layers upon layers of history…

This article was contributed by the Special Collections Librarian