Then and Now: An unobscured Library
In this latest of a series of features showcasing images from Univ’s history contrasted to their modern photographic equivalents, we “uncover” a view of the Library.
We are all used to walking out of the Hall, and seeing straight in front of us the Old Library. The history of the Library is well known, of how, 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.
Eldon 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, at first, had only one floor, with the statues seated at the west end.
That library has remained in use ever since, albeit with two major changes. First of all, in 1937, a mezzanine floor was installed, to create a reading room on the first floor, and a book stack and a librarian’s office below. Then, in the 1990s, the ground floor was transformed to create another reading room, and a new office for the librarian.
There was, however, another change next to the library. This older photograph shows that, once upon a time, when you walked out of the Hall, there was a wall and an archway between you and the library.
We don’t know when this wall was built: it is not there on a plan of the College from 1733, but it can be seen on a plan dated to 1875. At this date, the only toilets in the College were where the Mitchell Building stands, and perhaps this wall was erected to create a discreet (and not too windy) passageway there.
We do not yet know for sure when this wall was demolished. It may have survived until the 1960s, when the area around the lavatories was cleared and the Mitchell Building erected. If anyone can offer us any further information, we will be delighted to hear from them.
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Published: 5 April 2023