Photographic albums uncovered at the University Library (UL) offer a unique view of the huge removal job which 80 years ago this week saw one million items successfully moved to their new home.
In the 1920s it was noted that the University of Cambridge’s old library was in danger of bursting at the seams with its contents occupying 20 miles of shelves.
More than a decade of talks and fund-raising led to the building of the UL with its iconic 157 feet tall tower, designed by the renowned Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, father of the K2 telephone kiosk.
On July 26, 1934, the contracted porters took the final box of books by horse and cart from the home they had lived in for 500 years to the new building.
The monumental undertaking was captured by member of staff R. G. (Robert George) Pilgrim, who spent three years painstakingly recording the building of the library.
He took more than a hundred black and white images of the construction work. Pilgrim also captured the moving of books and informal images of staff during their breaks.
His volume, along with another album created by several members of staff, and a third more formal album donated to the University by the Consulting Engineer, Burnard Geen, give a detailed image of how the new UL grew up out of necessity and how staff undertook the task of relocating its treasures.
Liam Sims, Chief Library Assistant in the Rare Books Department at the UL, researched the albums in the run up to the 80th anniversary. “These volumes are so special because they document a very important part of the UL’s history. I was delighted to find them in the year of the 80th anniversary of the move and the opening of the library.
“What makes two of these unique is the fact they are albums created by staff and I cannot think of anything else quite like them in our collections.”
“A few of my favourite images are by Pilgrim – such as staff enjoying lollipops given by the librarian. He also captured the last box being lowered into place before its move to the new UL building.”
Mr Pilgrim worked at the library from the 1920s to the 1950s and became the Superintendent of the Anderson Room.
At the beginning of his remarkable and detailed album, which contains more than 100 images, he thanks other staff for their help and states that his photographs should “be regarded only as the efforts of an amateur”.
“They might not be the work of an expert but his small images show the work in great detail – much more than the more formal images taken for Geen’s album, and show details including the preparations for the King’s speech to mark the opening of the library.
“He must have had privileged access to the site though some of his colleagues might have wondered how much of his work he was getting done during the building, as he took a huge number of photographs,” said Mr Sims.
As well as detailing the library and its iconic tower’s creation the albums also depict staff playing cricket outside the old library, some of the 23,725 boxes of books being moved to their new home, and porters relaxing over tea with the ‘Head Charwoman’.
Mr Sims said: “They are a window onto a very different but significant time for the library.”
Cambridge University Library’s history spans six centuries. Manuscripts were originally kept in chests within the University buildings until, in the 1420s, a place was created for the more than 100 volumes in the collection in the Old Schools. Over time the collection grew with major additions in the 17th and 18th centuries and by the 19th century new buildings were required to help contain the library.
But the addition of the Cockerell Building was not enough and by 1921 it was decided that there was no further room for expansion. Playing fields belonging to King’s and Clare Colleges were eventually chosen as the new site.
The Geen volume uncovered by Sims, as well as containing many images of the library’s construction, details the necessity for a new library: “The scale of accommodation necessary for books in the library is largely dependent upon the fact that the university uses its right to a copy of every work published in the United Kingdom,” Geen says, adding, “Acceptance of these publications leads to a heavy liability in the provision of space, cataloguing and staff.”
Geen adds that Sir Giles Gilbert Scott – father of the iconic telephone kiosk – was chosen as architect but funds for the project were an issue. However a £250,000 donation from the USA ensured the £350,000 price tag could be met – with another £150,000 going towards upkeep and endowments.
Along with its one million volumes the library was estimated to have 10,000 manuscripts, and 160,000 maps, along with a stream of periodicals constantly adding to the problems of space.
“It was then [in the 1920s] estimated,” says Geen, “That the total annual increased demand for shelf space was approximately 1,500 lineal feet.
Construction of the UL began in 1931 and in the summer of 1934, the entire contents of the library – packed into 23,725 boxes and transported by horse and cart – were moved across the river, leaving their medieval home. Eaden Lilley and Co porters were employed to move the books with library staff packing and labelling at one end and unpacking at the other. The library staff and Lilley's porters worked daily from 8am to 6pm and completed the move in eight weeks.
The hard work paid off and on October 22, 1934, King George V said of the library at its opening ceremony: “It is a workshop of new knowledge and a storehouse of seasoned wisdom.” He added: “I declare this library open, in the confident hope that it will be a centre of light and guidance for the civilisation of mankind.”
The library has continued to grow and now holds approximately eight million items, occupying 93 miles of shelves, increasing by just less than 2 miles per year. In the twenty-first century the Library's digital growth is equally prodigious - future librarians will be as concerned with terabytes of virtual space as with metres of physical.
To commemorate the 80th anniversary, the University Library will be displaying the albums, alongside other related material, in the Library Entrance Hall exhibition cases. The pages of each album will be turned regularly to allow visitors to see as many images as possible. The Entrance Hall is open to any member of the public, Monday - Friday, 9am-7pm, and Saturday 9am-4.45pm. The exhibition will run from 10 November 2014 for four weeks.
Image credits: All images reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library except for top right-hand image of the present day library which is copyright of Steve Cadman: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevecadmanTweet
A 600-year-old astronomical document is now moving into the modern era, with a symposium at the Whipple Museum to mark its digitisation.
Cambridge University Library is delighted to have received the Stanley Sadie Archive as a gift from his widow Julie Anne.
Seventy years after Hitler’s soldiers were driven from Paris, Cambridge University Library is staging the first-ever exhibition to examine the outpouring of literary works that followed the German retreat from French soil.
A tenth century Greek manuscript, one of the latest additions to the Digital Library, shows how the transmission and reinterpretation of written knowledge over the centuries still continues in today’s digital age.
A 13th-century manuscript of Arthurian legend once owned by the Knights Templar is one of the star attractions of a new exhibition opening at Cambridge University Library today (January 22).
Cambridge University Library plans to raise £1.1m to purchase an outstanding Biblical manuscript. Dating from the 6th or 7th century, Codex Zacynthius is a palimpsest that offers scholars a key to understanding the way in which the text of St Luke’s Gospel was transmitted as Christianity spread.
A campaign to save ancient documents chronicling 1,000 years of history has succeeded after £1.2m was raised by the universities of Cambridge and Oxford in their first-ever joint appeal
Treasures from the University Library’s Japanese Collections are to be digitised and made freely available to a global audience, thanks to a gift from Professor Mikiko Ishii.
Adultery, libel, bribery, attempted murder: Cambridge University’s criminal underbelly has been exposed after painstaking research on its Vice-Chancellor’s Court records from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
On matters of gender, Charles Darwin was supposedly an arch conservative who argued that a woman's place was in the home. Now new research shows that in private, he was anything but...
A landscape design competition to transform the space surrounding Cambridge University Library has been launched.
Now, for the first time, the full story of attempts to solve the longitude problem - unravelling the lone genius myth popularised in film and literature - is freely available to everyone via the Cambridge Digital Library
The Library is delighted to announce increased alumni access to academic research. In addition to the longstanding right of MAs to borrow books from the Library, alumni will now be able to access a huge range of academic work online and free of charge via JSTOR.
The gift from the Howard and Abby Milstein Foundation will enable the University Library to reimagine the way in which it displays its collections in both the physical and online worlds.
Read all about it! Wrongdoing in Spain and England in the Long Nineteenth Century exhibition opens free to the public on April 30 and reveals a catalogue of criminality from the Library’s remarkable collections of books, broadsides, penny dreadfuls and cheap, mass-produced ephemera.
Millions of web pages from millions of websites, as well as public Facebook posts and tweets, are being preserved far into the future by Cambridge University Library and five other major libraries.
Cambridge University Library and the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries have today announced their first ever joint fundraising campaign to purchase the £1.2 million 'Lewis-Gibson Genizah Collection', currently owned by the United Reformed Church’s Westminster College.
On 28 January, the Legal Deposit Libraries (Non-Print Works) Regulations 2013 were laid before parliament. The regulations seek to ensure that the Legal Deposit Libraries (LDLs) can provide a national archive of the UK’s non-print published material, such as websites, blogs, e-journals and e-books in a way that does not prejudice publishers’ commercial interests and that respects copyright ownership.
The Library is releasing digital versions of some of the most significant religious manuscripts in the world through the Cambridge Digital Library. This includes a 2,000-year old copy of The Ten Commandments (the famous Nash Papyrus) and one of the most remarkable ancient copies of the New Testament (Codex Bezae).
Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has invited ten of the best UK poets writing today to take part in an unprecedented series of residencies at the University of Cambridge, supported by Arts Council England.
Leading author Dame Margaret Drabble has deposited her literary archive in Cambridge University Library.
Newly-catalogued childhood notebook sheds light on Sassoon's poetic vocation.
Cambridge University Library’s Music Department and the Pendlebury Library of Music are delighted to have been jointly awarded the 2012 IAML (UK & Irl) Excellence Award.
A unique tour through the Soviet century – via one woman's extraordinary collection of books, propaganda posters, ration coupons and even cigarette packets – is the focus of a new exhibition opening to the public on July 4.
The winner of this year’s Rose Book-Collecting Prize is Alessandro Bianchi of Robinson College, for his collection Japanese Popular Publications before the Twentieth Century.
A Ukrainian steel factory and a BP chemical works in Yorkshire provided the inspiration for a series of artworks on display in Cambridge University Library's Entrance Hall.
A small, lockable leather diary - kept in the vast archives of Cambridge University Library - has led to a reassessment of one of the key relationships in Charles Darwin’s life.
Further content and functionality has been added to the Cambridge Digital Library, including new collections and some library treasures.
An unpublished Rupert Brooke poem will sit alongside some of Cambridge University Library's greatest treasures when a free exhibition of highlights from its priceless collections opens to the public.