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Over the last century or so, there has accumulated a large quantity of notes by members of Library staff, correspondence sent and received, off-prints of publications and other miscellaneous materials relating to the collection of medieval manuscripts at Cambridge University Library.  Between 1903 and 1920, as part of updating the descriptions of the manuscripts printed in the nineteenth-century catalogue, C.E. Sayle began gathering such material and filing it with his own work as a source of information.  These materials were retained and subsequently augmented by further accretions.  The draft descriptions produced by M.R. James between 1926 and 1930 formed the basis for further cataloguing work by H.L. Pink between 1948 and 1971, and were themselves in similar manner the locus around which such miscellaneous information coalesced.

The unpublished descriptions by Sayle and James have now been accessioned into the University Archives (for further details, see the subject guide Unpublished descriptions of the western medieval manuscripts at Cambridge University Library).  In the case of Sayle’s descriptions, handwritten notes by librarians and scholars (but not off-prints) have been retained with his drafts, since this reflects the way in which his work was undertaken and organised; given that the sources of some of these notes were themselves important scholars, it is also appropriate that their notes and letters be safeguarded in this way.  However, in the case of James’s descriptions, all such material has been removed: these did not form part of James’s work, but were a later development and, furthermore, were beginning to cause damage to the fragile sheets of paper on which James’s work was written.

These materials now form the basis of running files in the Department of Rare Books and Early Manuscripts.  Their purpose is primarily internal: as a place in which information may be kept pending enquiries from researchers or as the basis for fresh descriptive cataloguing in the future.  In the main, they comprise:

  • New intelligence received from scholars
  • Correspondence prepared by Library staff in response to specific research enquiries
  • Off-prints of publications where copies are not already held by the University Library

- but in each case, only where direct and substantive reference is made to medieval manuscripts in the collection at Cambridge University Library.

Files may be made available to readers on request, on a case-by-case basis.  Further contributions or observations, as well as notifications of forthcoming publications or copies in the form of off-prints, are welcomed (on the understanding that any submissions are retained or discarded at the Library’s discretion).


Dr James Freeman

Medieval Manuscripts Specialist