Duke Humphrey's Library before Bodley

Duke Humphrey's Library before Bodley

Image 1

Duke Humphrey's Library, facing east. This photograph was taken , in 1960, when the book presses installed by Bodley were temporarily removed to reinforce the original floor. 

Ironically, this is also the entirely vacant state in which Bodley would have encountered the library in 1598: in 1550, Duke Humphrey's had been despoiled of its books by the King's Comissioners, and six years later the university removed the furniture as well, leaving only this empty shell. 

The unusual proportions of the room are clearly evident: unlike a typical medieval hall, it is far broader than it is wide. The window at the far end is that of Arts End, added in 1610-12, but probably modelled on the original window of Duke Humfrey's. 

Image 2

This photo, taken at the same time, clearly shows the outline of the narrow, two-sided lecterns originally installed in the library.

Image 3

This artist's reconstruction envisages the library shortly after it was opened in 1488.  In place of Bodley's three-level book presses, it was originally furnished with tall, thin lecterns at which users stood to read books lifted from the shelves below and chained probably to a metal bar running along the front of the shelves.  The window at the far end is also a conjectural: a speculative reconstruction of the window in the facade removed in constructing Arts End.


David Rogers, The Bodleian Library and its Treasures 1320-1700 (Henley, 1991), plates 8-10.  Permission pending.