The Old Library

A Tale of Two Statues

The earliest space in Univ which can be identified as a Library was a small room above the Antechapel in our medieval quad. During the great rebuilding of the seventeenth century, this was replaced with a purpose-built Library created in the 1660s to the south of the new Main Quad and above the College’s kitchen.

The decision to replace this Library with something newer came about through an unexpected gift. In the 1840s, the 2nd Lord Eldon commissioned a sculpture group of his grandfather, the 1st Lord Eldon, and his brother, Lord Stowell, two of Univ’s greatest Fellows. Several sculptors worked on the piece, but most of the detailed planning, and much of the execution, was the work of Musgrave Lewthwaite Watson. It was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, where it won a prize.

College Buildings Old LibraryEldon and his heirs had great trouble finding somewhere willing to give the statues a home, and eventually the family suggested to Univ that the statues could live there, on the understanding that the family paid for the creation of a brand new library to house them. It remains a moot point whether the College actually needed a new library at this point, or whether the family just wanted to pay for a building to house the statues, and a library was fixed on as having an appropriate purpose.

The new Library was built by George Gilbert Scott in 1858–61, and the old Library was gutted and turned into student rooms (it was later converted into the Alington Room). As first built, the Library had only one floor, with the statues seated at the west end.

Scott’s original concept of the Library soon fell from favour. In 1937 the Library was described as “a building which provided the minimum of seating and book-space for its cubic capacity and excluded the maximum of light”, and in the 1930s, a mezzanine floor was installed, to create a reading room on the first floor, and a book stack and a librarian’s office below.

College Buildings Old LibraryIn the 1990s, the Library underwent its second great transformation when its ground floor was converted into a new reading room, with a new office for the librarian. The two great statues, which in 1937 had been brought into an entrance hall, to glower there at all visitors, were now moved to their present situation on the first floor.

In 2016 an extra library was created in 10 Merton Street, as an overflow area both for books and readers. Since that date, Scott’s Library has been called the Old Library, while the library in Merton Street is called the New Library.

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