The Codrington Orders

Nov. 8, 1751

If the Codrington Library has a birthday, then it is surely the day on which, in 1751, the Codrington Orders were signed. They were drawn up by the Warden and Fellows, to be the regulations governing the use of the newly built Library. The Codrington came into being as the result of two occurrences: the desperate need for a larger library, and the bequest of the money and books left to the College by former Fellow, Christopher Codrington. Codrington was elected a Fellow of All Souls in 1690, and regarded as a wit, a linguist and an effective speaker, as well as a universal scholar. When he died in April, 1710, his will made public his charitable intentions: he left £6,000 to All Souls to pay for the building of a new library, with a further gift of £4,000 to be spent on books. He also bequeathed his own collection of 12,000 books. All Souls commissioned Nicholas Hawksmoor to redesign the north side of the Great Quadrangle to house a library (instead of the common room and rooms that had originally been envisaged). The Codrington Orders state that the books should be arranged in subjects, and that particular parts of the Library be allotted to each subject; that a catalogue should immediately be drawn up; and that two principal librarians should be appointed to classify all newly purchased books, and to maintain a register of donors. It is evident from the Orders that locks on each bookcase were part of the original design. Only the appointed librarians had access to the keys, and they fetched books for the Fellows. There was to be “no Fire or Candle to be carried into the Library on any Account whatsoever”. Each Fellow signed the Library Minute Book to comply with the above Orders: “We whose names are underwritten do hold ourselves strictly bound in conscience and honour not to take any Book out of the Library, but under the Restrictions and according to the Rules prescrib’d in the Codrington Orders. And we do farther promise, each one for himself respectively, that we will at all times be very carefull of any key, or keys, entrusted to us; and if any such Key, or Keys, shall happen to be lost by our neglect, we will readily submit to the Penalties enjoin’d by the said Orders.”