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300 year old lending library finds a future at JRUL

27 Jul 2009

Nantwich church donates collection of early printed books

Book from St Mary's Church collection

The week beginning 13 July saw a team drawn from departments across The John Rylands University Library rescuing an extraordinary 300-year-old library from St. Mary’s Church, Nantwich. Originally established in the 1690s as a lending library to educate both clergy and parishioners, the care of the collection of around 350 early-printed books had long been a concern for the Parish Council. Their decision to donate it to The John Rylands safeguards its future and re-establishes it as a working library for the first time in centuries.

The transportation of the collection posed unusual difficulties. Still in its original home in a tiny room above the south porch, the only access to the library was via an extremely narrow spiral staircase. Jim Duff, Team Leader for Conservation at The John Rylands Library explained “The only safe way of moving the books was one by one down a human chain - a long and uncomfortable job.”

The collection contains some wonderful examples of early printing, including an extremely rare hymnbook, printed in London by Wynkyn de Worde in 1502. Ed Potten, Assistant Keeper of Printed Books, describes this as “One of the most important additions to our stunning collection of early English books in years. This is one of only three copies of this beautiful and significant book to survive. I can’t wait to see what else we uncover as the books are catalogued.”