Worcester Cathedral Library and Archive: A Review of 2022

This week’s blog is a review of Library news for the past twelve months. During the first part of 2022 the Library was still undergoing major repairs and restoration work to the roof, although some scholars were able to visit on a limited basis. However, by the late summer of 2022 the Library’s building repair and improvement works were finally coming to an end. The work had been funded first in 2020 by grants from the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund and then in 2021 from English Heritage. These grants enabled the Cathedral to employ specialist craftsmen to repair the roofs, windows, flooring, insulation and several other important aspects of the Library.

The Library in February 2022, during the renovation work. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

With the work finished, the following couple of months saw a small group of Library staff and volunteers undertaking a thorough clean of the 6,600 post-medieval books that had been exposed to plaster dust during the works. Each book was individually cleaned, as well as the bookcases around the walls.

Cleaning the books in the Library after the building work had been completed. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

By the summer, freelance conservators were able to return and repair some Adopt-A-Book items. As part of Adopt-A-Book and together with a grant from a charitable trust, the conservators were able to order book shoes and archival register boxes to give further protection to specific items. We gained approval from the Fabric Advisory Committee to begin some more substantial conservation repairs on half a dozen historic books also as part of the Adopt-A-Book scheme. These included an early printed edition of Handel’s Israel in Egypt, a volume of Purchas’s Pilgrims from 1625, a handwritten 1749 music book of compositions for the organ used in the Cathedral, two alto part books used by the choir from 1840 and 1873 and an 1806 printing of a civil war biography. It has been heartening to hear from people who are willing to support the ongoing repair work of the books and documents.

Conservation work, showing a book being repaired under the Adopt-A-Book scheme in December. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

Bandages being used to help repair books. December 2022. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

There were researchers and students from a wide variety of institutions, including the Universities of East Anglia, Birmingham, Durham, Worcester, London, Oxford, several American universities, Italy and more. We have researched and answered 182 enquiries from many different countries since fully reopening in September and had 70 researchers visit from May onwards. Tours have included visitors from Canada, the United States, Germany and Great Britain although not as many as in pre-pandemic times. Some Library tours are different as people occasionally request tours about specific subjects so it was fun to do varied tours this year for the lay clerks and organists keen to see the music collection, students from the local university drawing maps, local artists, and people interested in medicine, maths and science.

What a transformation from the first image! This is the Library, back in business after the restoration work. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

In November we were grateful to have the help and advice of the local Fire Brigade who carried out a training exercise in the Cathedral, including the Library and Archive. This involved a pretend rescue exercise for some books to look at the practicalities of trying to get them out of the building as quickly as possible. It was a useful experience not only because of the changes they recommended whilst here, but also what they advised about the instructions and plans that we produce to help them if a real emergency were to happen. We look forward to their more detailed report.

The Library volunteers and two work experience students from local schools have been working on a variety of topics this year. These ranged across such diverse areas as Sir Ivor Atkins’ role as Cathedral Librarian, medieval tiles, a seventeenth century scientist’s study of dragonflies, to the owners’ notes written into the fronts and backs of the early printed books. During 2022 the Library team also created displays for the public about Worcester in the 1950s, Remembrance Day, medieval cities, medieval printed books, Shakespeare’s visit to the Cathedral to collect his marriage certificate and depictions of Christmas in some of the books. These all took place in the Library’s display cases in the nave.

Thank you very much for all your support, advice, enquiries, skills and time in contributing to making the Cathedral Library and Archive get back to normal after a couple of difficult years. Have a wonderful 2023.

David Morrison


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