Happy Halloween (or autumn) from the Oxford Library trainees!

Whether you celebrate Halloween or not, it is hard to deny that autumn is an atmospheric, spooky

Radcliffe camera with a sunset illuminating its top half and shadow on the bottom. Blue cloudy sky behind.
Photo of the Radcliffe Camera at sunset.

time to be in Oxford. Walking around the city in October, the trees are turning auburn, the mist is setting in, and, as the clocks change, the orangey streetlamps lamps are illuminated earlier and earlier. The night sky turns a deep royal blue. The clamour of ghost tours resonates around Radcliffe Square, reminding readers in the Old Bodleian of the city’s ghastly and rather gory history.

To honour this, I thought that there was no better time to explore some of the more ghoulish stories from the history of the Bodleian (and Oxford College) Libraries. For a Library which can trace its history back to 1320, you can imagine that these stories are plentiful. Through periods of history such as the town vs gown riots, which saw a Brasenose student killed by a local murderous mob, Radcliffe square has a hidden gruesome history. Thanks to Old Bodleian trainee Nia Everett, I have been informed about an even more prolifically gory historical function of this beautiful square: the Old Bodleian Anatomy school.

Founded in 1617, the Old Bodleian Anatomy school was active in this location for over 60 years, with frequent dissections occurring to instruct students on all aspects of physical human anatomy, including the slimy bits! For a current student or librarian, only allowed to take liquids into the library if contained in a keep-cup or sealable bottle, such activities are impossible to imagine taking place within the walls of the current Bodleian. However, to 17th century readers in anatomy, this study formed a crucial part of their daily scholarly practice. Such readers were able to demand the body of anyone executed within 21 miles of Oxford for use in their dissections and examinations.

A particularly oddly-spooky story from the Anatomy school is the tale of Anne Green’s

Early modern woodcut reading 'behold god's providence' with an image of anne green being hung and her resurrected from her coffin.
Image of Anne Green’s hanging

resurrection at the hands of William Petty, the Reader in Anatomy at the time of her execution. Anne was hung in Oxford castle yard, accused of committing infanticide. On a cold December night, awaiting to be dissected on the operating table, Anne Green was resurrected by Petty and his colleagues after they detected a faint pulse. Though she was brought back to life, her story ends with arguably another early modern horror: being married off to a man.


Turning away from horrors carried out within the Bodleian building, and towards its collections, there are plenty of spooky, magical, occult and alchemical manuscripts within the Bodleian’s special collections. For example, the Ripley Scroll, almost 6 metres long, as illustrated in this excellent TikTok from the Bodleian libraries: The Ripley Scroll. This manuscript instructs the reader how to create the philosophers stone- an item which Harry Potter readers will know can grant immortality. Additionally, many grimoires used by medieval priests to exorcise demons still remain within the Bodleian’s collections, such as this manuscript whose facsimiles are hosted on Digital Bodleian: MS. Rawl. D. 252.

To finish, I would ask you to consider the history all around you. Students at many Oxford Libraries can look up and see hundreds of years of architecture and artistry. College libraries can be over four hundred years old (Corpus Christi), or can be moved to cloisters (Brasenose) or be so grand, like my library at All Souls, that there are metres and metres of intricate cornices, shelving and windows to gaze up into. At the time of Halloween, All Souls requiems and frosty mornings, the vale between the present and the past becomes ever thinner, and the weight of history ever heavier.

Elena Trowsdale, All Souls Library

Hello All! I am Elena Trowsdale, the current trainee at All Souls College Library. As far as oxford libraries go, All Souls is rather puzzling since it functions both as a college library whilst also admitting many external readers from the wider university- and beyond! Our collections are mainly focussed on History, but also involve an entire room devoted to Law texts, and contain extensive Military and Naval History collections as well as lots of Early-printed materials. Contrary to popular belief, All Souls is not as mysterious and unenterable as one may think. The college itself is open to visitors 2-4pm every weekday, and the library is open to readers who are University members through a simple registration system. For me, this means I am able to perform a wide range of tasks, serving both external readers and internal fellows with book fetching, answering queries and many other requests. I am thoroughly enjoying my traineeship at All Souls, and hope to continue working in libraries when the year is completed- whether as a library assistant, cataloguer or a bibliographic researcher.

Photo of All Souls 'Great Library', a building from over 200 years ago with dark grey ornate shelving and a balcony. The books are behind mesh doors and the desks are oldfashioned wooden school desks. The floor is grey, white and black flagstones in a diamond pattern.
All Souls College, Great Library.

Prior to the traineeship, I was completing my MSc in Digital Scholarship at Corpus Christi college, in which I was researching early modern women’s devotional writing and how to create optimal digital editions of these works which are most often found in manuscript form. Alongside this research, I worked part time at Christ Church Library as after-hours Library Assistant and completed a summer internship in the Rare Books department of the Weston Library. All of these experiences grew my love of the world of librarianship, and increased my interests both in manuscripts and rare books, but also in the digital futures of libraries and their collections. I am glad to say that I believe I will be able to develop these interests even further during my traineeship here at All Souls.

Picture of Elena at All Souls Library, sat down with a blue and white checkered dress on. She has light brown hair and blue eyes and is smiling.
Me at work!

The first month of my traineeship has been extremely busy. Alongside learning my basic routine tasks such as journal processing, we prepared for and took part in a number of events such as Oxford Preservation Trust’s ‘Open Doors’, a conservation workshop and the All Souls Fellowship Examination preparations. I also moved a part of our law collection to a new location and have been taking part in web development and preparing the library for term time, when readers are allowed to enter the library again. It has been an exciting time, with many new Visiting Fellows being inducted to the library and lots of visits from schools.

In the coming months, I am looking forward to completing some projects such as exhibitions and blog posts for All Souls, as well as learning more in our training about ALMA, cataloguing and looking after readers. I hope that once I become more accustomed in my role, I will be able to assist in more complex projects and help continue the current librarians’ excellent work in exposing our library and collections to new readers.