About the Old Library
The Old Library is the jewel in the crown of Trinity Hall and one of the hidden gems of Cambridge.
Bishop Bateman’s gift of books formed the first Library in the College. He stipulated that certain books should be chained and housed in a secure room: ‘All books of the College to be kept in some safe room, to be assigned for the College Library, so that all the scholars of the College may have common access to them… The books of the Doctors of Civil and Canon law are to remain continuously in the said Library Chamber fastened with iron chains for the common use of the Fellows.’ The original room for the library which was Chamber 25, next to the Chapel, is no longer in existence. Gradually, the Library outgrew its position and by the late 16th century the College felt it was time to create a proper Library.
Tudor Chained Library
The Tudor red brick Library we know today was erected in ca.1590. It is situated opposite the Master’s Lodge and is the oldest library in Cambridge still in its original setting. It was purpose built as a library, with the books housed on the first floor and two Fellows’ sets on the ground floor. In those days, libraries along the river were always placed on the first floor as the river flooded with monotonous regularity in the winter. Fellows could expect to get their feet wet, but books were valuable and difficult to move quickly so they had to be placed out of reach of the vagaries of the Cam!
The Old Library is one of a handful of chained libraries remaining in Britain. Unusually, the interior and furniture are much as they were at the time of construction: each lectern has the original locking mechanism intact and the Library still contains examples of chained books. The College’s special collections of rare books and manuscripts are housed here and may be consulted by prior arrangement. The oldest manuscript is A life of St Martin of Tours created in c1050.
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