Monday 13 April 2015

Our March visit: Pepys, poets and red wine

On the 19th of March, the CLG visited Magdalene College – with three different libraries to look round this was a packed evening and after a glass of wine in the College Parlour we split off into groups to begin the tour.

The lovely Magdalene College wine...
Deputy College Librarian Annie Gleeson took us round Magdalene’s modern, working collection, established as a library in its own right in the 1960s and now housing around 26,000 books aimed at the college’s 340 undergraduates. The working library has grown by extensions over time, and this layout lends the space a cosy feel – rooms follow one after the other, providing students with popular, hidden-away study spaces surrounded by books, some with views out onto the Fellows’ Gardens. 

From the working collection, we moved on to the Old Library, where Deputy Librarian (Pepys Libray and Special Collections) Catherine Sutherland was on hand to tell us about some of the College’s ancient treasures. Magdalene was first founded in 1428, and the collection of the Old Library reflects this long history.

In the Old Library 
The Old Library is particularly strong on 18th century sermons, and also boasts a collection of early printed books, some hand-painted, and a number of medieval manuscripts. Many famous names are associated with books, prints and papers held in the Old Library – T.S. Eliot, Nicholas Ferrar, and George Mallory to name a few. And the collection is not just academic – shelves of buttery books, dating from the mid-17th century, provide an insight into the workings of college life.

College Buttery books in the Old Library
Delightfully retro... collections from the Old Library

The most treasured collection at Magdalene is, of course, the Pepys Library, which came to the Library through the will of the famous diarist. Samuel Pepys died in 1703 and his diary records such iconic events as the outbreak of the plague and the Great Fire of London. Pepys Librarian Dr Jane Hughes talked about just why Pepys’ diary is so important as a resource for social historians; Pepys wrote about all aspects of day to day life – from attending plays to drinking tea. The Pepys Library contains not only his diaries – handwritten in Shelton’s shorthand, and undeciphered until 1819 – but also Pepys’ personal Library, books held in their original bookshelves, and bound in Pepys’ personal binding, bearing his own bookplate with motto – ‘The mind maketh the person.’

The outside of the Pepys Library
As well as a volume of the famous diary, we saw out on display many other treasures testifying to the richness of Pepys’ personal library. A discriminating as well as enthusiastic collector, Pepys ensured his library numbered exactly 3000 books (and Magdalene must maintain this number, neither adding nor taking away, or risk forfeiting the collection to Trinity College...) Among the many beautiful items we saw – which included maritime books, collections of ballads and fragments of medieval manuscripts - a scribe’s model book from c.1410, filled with coloured studies of birds, animals and drapery, was particularly eye-catching, as was the Anthony Roll, open to the only contemporary picture of the doomed ship, the Mary Rose.

Thanks to Annie, Catherine, and Jane for showing us round, and answering our many questions with such enthusiasm!

Contributed by Emily Downes, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Library.

For more information visit the fantastic Magdalene College Libraries Blog  or follow @magdlibs