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Wren’s library at St Paul’s ‘transformed’ 300 years after his death

20 October 2023

St Paul’s Cathedral/Graham Lacdao

THE library of St Paul’s Cathedral has reopened to the public after a five-year restoration project. Its collection of books and manuscripts has been cleaned and recorded, and the space itself refurbished and transformed.

The library, regarded as one of the best-preserved 18th-century interiors in London, was completed in 1709. The only significant modifications since then have been lighting in 1902, and heating shortly afterwards. The shelves had not been emptied since the Second World War, when their contents were transported to Wales for safe keeping during the Blitz.

Its archives date from 1099 to the present day, and the listings of the texts that it contains go back to 1313. Its most prized volumes include the 12th-century St Paul’s Psalter; a Henry VII indenture (1504); William Tyndale’s New Testament (1526) and William Dugdale’s history of St Paul’s (1658). In 1712, it received 2000 volumes from the library of Henry Compton, Bishop of London.

Today, its historical collection focuses on theology, church history, and patristics. The archives also include minutes of meetings of the Dean and Chapter, estate papers, financial records, services and events records, rolls of honour and memorial books, architectural drawings — including the Wren Office drawings and the drawings of F. C. Penrose — and photos and personal papers of cathedral clergy.

Conservators had been especially concerned about the safety of the gallery structure and the water-tightness of the roof. The project has included the installation of a humidistat-controlled heating system. The walls and ceiling, bookshelves and brackets have been cleaned and re-painted, the floor has been refinished, and blinds have been installed. New lighting has been designed, and a new display case and desks for readers have been constructed.

The Dean, the Very Revd Andrew Tremlett, described the library as a remarkable room, which remained one of Sir Christopher Wren’s great achievements. “It is fitting that, as we mark 300 years since his death, his library is able to reopen after five years of painstaking restoration,” the Dean said.

“With books, manuscripts, Bibles, and liturgical texts dating back hundreds of years, the newly restored library will provide visitors and researchers with a deeper insight into church history and theology, inspiring new generations to engage with their relationship with the Christian faith.”

The Head of Collections, Simon Carter, described the library as transformed. “In particular, the new lighting scheme has completely altered the experience of this unique room,” he said on Monday. “The illumination now enables visitors to see some of the finest stone carving in the cathedral better than ever before, whilst also drawing attention to the books themselves, giving these important collections more prominence.”

Donations from benefactors of St Paul’s enabled the project. The library is open to the public by appointment, or through booking the triforium tour of the cathedral.

Read this week’s feature on libraries here

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