About The Codrington Library

About The Codrington Library

The Codrington Library is the library of All Souls College, Oxford.

All Souls was founded by Archbishop Henry Chichele and King Henry VI in 1438, and the first College Library was built by the 1440s. The Library contained a working collection for the forty Fellows in the arts course and the higher faculties of theology and law. It quickly diversified through donations and bequests into other fields, including classics and medicine.

By the end of the sixteenth century the Library was full, and despite additional shelves being built on top of the existing book presses, by the middle of the seventeenth century the Library was again facing a crisis of space, and books were being stored off-site.

The College had engaged Nicholas Hawksmoor to carry out an ambitious programme of building to create what is now the Great, or North, Quad which was to have included a grand common room and better, more spacious, accommodation for the Fellows to its north side.

Hawk 5 detail

However, when Christopher Codrington died in 1710 his generous bequest of £6,000 for the building of a library caused the plans to be changed, and Hawksmoor redesigned the range to create the new Codrington Library.

The foundation stone was laid in 1716 and building commenced; by the 1720s the building was an empty shell. Hawksmoor died in 1736, and with the interior still unfinished the advice of James Gibbs was sought to complete the project. He advised against the building of the second gallery planned by Hawksmoor, and suggested that it be replaced instead with a cornice that would support busts of “worthies” (fellows of particular note), and vases; in 1748 Robert Tawney was engaged to complete the work.

Codrington_1With the abundance of space, and Codrington’s own bequest of 12,000 volumes of largely classical and humanist texts, the eighteenth century saw the collections expand in both quantity and range of subjects. By means of purchase and donations the Library continued its ancient specialisations in law and theology, and developed its holdings in the classics, history, travel and topography, belles-lettres and natural history. It received a substantial collection of political pamphlets of the seventeenth century, and acquired a significant number of architectural drawings from the office of Christopher Wren.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Sir William Anson, the energetic Warden of All Souls from 1867 to 1914, established a new twin focus for the Library, in law and the emergent discipline of history. In 1867, after a Report of the University Commissioners, All Souls for the first time, opened its Codrington Library, or at least the newly and purpose-built Anson Room, to members of the University and became, in essence, the precursor to the University’s Law and History Libraries.

Since that time, collections have been developed in other sub-fields, notably military and naval history and the history of the book.

The Library was renovated at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and continues to welcome readers into a library equipped with wi-fi and access to electronic resources, as well as into a historic building preserving its collections for the future.

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