Work begins on new library at Lambeth Palace

27 April 2018

Lambeth Palace

The Archbishop of Canterbury breaks ground to begin construction of the new Lambeth Palace Library

The Archbishop of Canterbury breaks ground to begin construction of the new Lambeth Palace Library

CONSTRUCTION has begun on the new Lambeth Palace Library after the Archbishop of Canterbury broke the ground last Friday.

The library, which will be built in the gardens of Lambeth Palace, is the first new building at the site for more than 150 years, and will cost at least £23.5 million (News, 27 May 2017). Archbishop Welby said that it was a “very exciting moment indeed”, and emphasised the need for a new facility to look after the “extraordinary treasures”.

He said last Friday: “It marks the beginning of making sure that what the head of the National Archives described as ‘the second most important ancient library in Europe’ — not just in the UK — gets a proper home: a home where it can be looked after, and where scholars can come and it can be used properly.”

The current library at Lambeth Palace was, he said, “completely unsuitable for preserving and keeping the extraordinary treasures. The [current] risk is fire, flood, and, above all, pollution from this road behind us, which is seeping into the books and the other treasures.”

The collections include more than 5000 printed manuscripts and more than 200,000 books, which amount to 10km of archives. A large part of the archives is housed at the Church of England Record Centre warehouse, in south-east London.

It is the second-largest religious collection in Europe after the Vatican, and contains records that go back to the ninth century. Plans to build a new library were announced in 2015 (News, 11 December 2015).

Archbishop Welby said: “It is a huge responsibility for the Church to ensure that those [the archives] are kept, because they are national treasures. We need an up-to-date building that gives access to scholars, proper ability to visitors to see the best of the treasures, and is somewhere that is purpose designed so what is there can be used, and seen, and kept permanently.”

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The architects Wright & Wright are in charge of the project; the construction is being carried out by Knight Harwood.

The Archbishop said that he and the C of E’s Director of Libraries and Archives, Declan Kelly, felt “very strongly” that there was “no point having these things if they’re never seen; why have them if you just hide them away? They tell us a huge amount about the history of the nation, particularly in the pre-Reformation period. And it testifies to generation after generation of disciples who loved and followed Jesus Christ. That speaks volumes about the centrality of faith in the life of the nation over its history.”

When asked what his favourite items in the collection were, Archbishop Welby mentioned the gloves that Charles I wore on the scaffold, the correspondence of the former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, and the prayer book that Richard III carried at the Battle of Bosworth.

Mr Kelly said: “The new building means the library can expand and enhance its mission to support the work of the Archbishop and the wider Church. We will be able to not only protect and preserve the collections, but provide greater access to them than ever before.

“It will also be a space which can be used by and for the Church to promote the Christian message and raise the profile of our Christian heritage as seen through the collections.”

Listen to the Archbishop of Canterbury talk about the new library on the Church Times Podcast

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