My trainee project saw me inventory the book collection of Bishop John Hall (1633–1710).
The project’s long-term aim is to see a complete, up-to-date inventory of Hall’s book collection enabling it to become a searchable collection for researchers, staff and students. Hall’s collection consists of works by Classical writers, and more modern books such as Wood’s History and Antiquities of the University of Oxford.
Hall was Master of Pembroke from 1664 to 1710 and Bishop of Bristol, as well as one of Charles II’s domestic chaplains. He was ordained as a Presbyterian before becoming an Anglican minister and maintained strong Protestant sentiments throughout his life. On his death, Hall left all his books to Pembroke. Until this point, the College did not have a proper library, and books were kept in an upper room of St Aldates Church. Knowing that more room would be needed, Hall had library space constructed above Broadgates Hall (Pembroke’s medieval precursor, former library and now the SCR), while the dining space for the Fellows was below. This situation remained until the building of the dining hall in the 1840s, after which point, the books took over the whole of Broadgates, spreading through the rooms of Old Quad and taking space elsewhere in College. Eventually in the 1960s, the situation became untenable, and the McGowin Library was built.
For my project, I worked with Laura Cracknell, the college librarian. The first step was to cross reference the 1970s’ card catalogue of Hall’s books to a recent handlist of the Hall collection, noting books’ shelfmarks. This information was converted into a large Excel database listing all of Hall’s books, or so Laura and I thought. When I assessed the stack which stored Hall’s books, I discovered that there were a number of books that corresponded to the themes of Hall’s collection which were not documented in our recent records. Laura and I teamed up and noticed that some of these books had Hall’s bookplate inside. This was puzzling. Taking a step back to assess this problem, we chose to then delve further into history and compare the library’s recent documentation with that of Hall’s personal catalogue of his collection which he wrote in 1709. This allowed us to address problems in the recent documentation of the Hall collection. I made a list of all of Hall’s books which were not recently documented, but nevertheless sat on the shelves in the stack and were recorded in Hall’s 1709 catalogue. In doing so, Laura and I realised that our 1970s’ card catalogue had not recorded nearly half of what Hall had recorded in 1709, and therefore Hall’s collection was much larger than what we first thought. This project took a surprising turn and it will require further work to better understand the scale of Hall’s book collection in order to create an inventory.
This project has taught me how to manage a historic collection and the trials and tribulations that comes with working with historic catalogues and documentation that you inherit from predecessors. As well, it has been fascinating to learn more about college history and to experience working with special collections.
Ben Elliott (Pembroke College)