skip to content

The Bassingbourn collection comprises nearly 600 titles in over 400 volumes from the parish church of Bassingbourn, near Cambridge. The library was bought jointly by the University Library and the University of Essex in 1969, with Essex taking some 350 titles already held by the University Library. The library was founded in 1717 as the personal collection of Edward Nightingale of Kneesworth, a benefactor of the parish and church, who left it to the parish on his death in 1723. A plaque in the church notes that he also paved the church and provided a clock in the church steeple. The books were originally housed in a library within the church vestry, and added to by subsequent vicars of the parish, notably the Rev. Gilbert Negus (d.1763) and Thomas Hewerdine (d.1738), both Cambridge men.

Politicorum libri decem

The great majority of the volumes are on theological subjects, mainly Anglican tracts, as would be expected of a parish library of this period. Nightingale appears to have taken a keen interest in the theological debates of the day, with good coverage of contemporary issues such as the debates between Lewis Sabran (Jesuit chaplain to James II), John Gother, Edward Gee and William Sherlock in the 1680s. Other well represented authors include Edward Stillingfleet, Ofspring Blackall, William Beveridge and the German theologian Johann Alsted. Naturally the parish had numerous Bibles, though most were passed to Essex University as duplicates; the University Library kept one of only two recorded copies of the 1708 London Beza New Testament.

In total there are 500 seventeenth and eighteenth-century British imprints, the vast majority of the collection. As well as the typical contents of a parish library, Nightingale or his successors added a few more unusual titles, including several rare imprints and a number of continental volumes. Amongst these are Le secretaire françois, a guide to letter writing in French (Rouen, 1643); a volume on the planisphere and its uses in astronomy, astrology and geometry (London, 1686); a rare Lyons edition of Lactantius (1587); a French tract on care of the teeth (Paris, 1679); and an attractive discussion by Lemnius, pupil of Vesalius, on the plants and trees of the Bible (Frankfurt, 1626). The only non-European imprint is a discussion by Francis Makemie of Quaker debates in America, published in Boston in 1694 and annotated by the author. The illustration (right) is from the work of Adam Contzen, a forward-thinking Jesuit theologian writing in Würzburg and Mainz in the early seventeenth century. His Politicorum libri decem put forward liberal ideas about taxation, state ownership of certain industries, indirect taxation of luxury goods, and other ways of reaching a Christian commonwealth in accordance with the social ideals of the Book of Revelation.