SOME people may panic when their library book is few days overdue, but a volume recently returned to Sheffield Cathedral is more than two centuries past its return date.
“I did joke with the owner that we wouldn’t be demanding any charges,” the Vice-Dean, Canon Keith Farrow, said, “but then someone said we could have got a new roof.”
The cathedral library closed about 200 years ago; so Canon Farrow was surprised to receive an email from the goddaughter of a recently deceased woman in south Wales who had left instructions in her will for the book to be returned.
SHEFFIELD CATHEDRALThe title page of The Faith and Practice of a Church of England Man
The book, The Faith and Practice of a Church of England Man, a treatise for the laity, was first published in 1688. The Sheffield copy is a seventh edition dating from 1704. Inside is the handwritten inscription: This Book belongs to ye Lending Library in Sheffield Church 1709.”
“In our archives, there is talk of a very renowned lending library which we think was dispersed in the late Georgian period during a reordering,” Canon Farrow said. “Where in the building it was, we’re not sure. We still have a few books from that period in our archives.
“Back in those days, it was probably quite a pioneering thing to have a lending library in church. This building wasn’t made a cathedral until 1914; so it would have been the parish church, with just the vicar and a couple of curates. It would have been for the public generally rather than just the clergy. Some cathedrals have chained libraries, but this was one where people could take them out.”
The book, which, Canon Farrow believes, has little financial value, will go on display in the cathedral. “It gives a sense of past times when Sheffield was a village emerging into the industrial revolution,” he said. “The person who borrowed this book would simply not recognise Sheffield, even 100 years later. I felt as if I was holding something that had a story to tell. It’s a sort of ready reckoner to maintain you on the straight and narrow.”
The volume contains sermons by leading churchmen of the time, and essays on correct behaviour. One quote intrigued Canon Farrow: “It can never be improper or unreasonable for the most private man to give an account of himself and his beliefs and practices, especially at a time when religion is so much contraverted.”
“Nothing changes,” Canon Farrow said. “The Church had its back against the wall, as it does today.”