Lottery funding for Cathedral rare books

THOUSANDS of rare books, some nearly 600 years old, including a beautifully bound 16th century copy of a book by Martin Luther with an image of Luther on the cover, can now be catalogued thanks to a Heritage Lottery grant of £73,500.

The three year project will see volunteers help to create a searchable digital catalogue of books held in the collection – most for the very first time.

John Glen, Heritage Minister and MP for Salisbury, who visited the Cathedral to mark the funding success, said: “The money will be used to open up a historically fascinating collection of more than 10,000 books to a much wider audience.”

The Cathedral library was built in 1445 and the original medieval book chains still survive but many of the books are undocumented and their condition unrecorded. Volunteers will play a key role alongside staff to protect this important literary heritage and will receive training in cataloguing, cleaning rare books and creating condition records.

The collection spans from the 15th century to the present day on topics from mathematics and astronomy to medicine and religion. As well as Salisbury Cathedral library, books from Sarum College Library and Gillingham parish will also be part of the project.

Sarah Rickett, director of outreach and learning, who has managerial responsibility for the library and archive, says: “It has long been our aim to make the library and archives accessible not just to academics, but to the local community and visitors. This generous grant from the Heritage Lottery fund will allow us to learn more about the treasures we own and to share them more widely. It is also a golden opportunity to train individuals in the management and care of rare books and their bindings.”

Emily Naish, Salisbury Cathedral archivist, says: “Up until now we have relied on an out of date catalogue compiled in 1880 so this project will finally allow us to enter the modern era.”

Other highlights of the collection include: A  1611-13 copy of Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queene; a 17th century account of the coronation preparations for James II from 1688; a Catholicon or biblical dictionary printed in 1497 which re-used waste pages from a William Caxton print (the dictionary contains notes on the flyleaf that are amongst the earliest and rarest evidence of French Basse danses, which were late medieval period court dances).

Pictured: Archivist Emily Naish with John Glen, Salisbury MP and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Arts, Heritage and Tourism.