Published February 2014
In the later 17th century, Univ, like several other Oxford Colleges, created books in which to record, in suitably fine script, benefactions from alumni and friends. Three books were created, one for general benefactions, one for silver plate, and this one, to record gifts to the Library, which was created in 1674.
Like the other two benefactors’ books in the archives, this one has a fine binding, with elegant tooling. It also, unusually, still has the chain by which it was kept in place on a bookshelf. As with other Colleges, Univ kept many of the library books chained up (as they still are in the Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral), only doing away with these chains in the 1740s.
The book lists all benefactions made to the Library up to 1674. Here is one of the more generous gifts, made by William Rogers, who had come up in 1663. The fifth item on his list is the beautiful twelfth-century manuscript of the life of Bede by St. Cuthbert, which itself is the subject of another Univ treasure. Rogers also gave Univ the statue of James II which stands in the Main Quad.
The glory of the Library Benefactors’ Book, however, must be its frontispiece, which shows the College Library very soon after its completion. This is the only image of this particular Library, which was dismantled in the middle of the 19th century, when the current Library was created. This room is the site partly of the Alington Room and Kitchen Staircase above. When the Alington Room was created in the 1950s, however, traces of some of the shelves of this older Library were found there, which suggested that this drawing was fairly accurate.
The inscription translates as: “To the sacred memory of those who have given money, books, or other literary furnishings to the Library of the College of the Great Hall of the University of Oxford, the Master and Fellows have offered their thanks, A. D. 1674".
Sadly, no effort was made to add further entries after the book was completed. Some draft lists of later benefactions were compiled, but no one copied them neatly into the book, so that most of it is unused.