Tour of Gloucester Cathedral's Library


After exploring the library at Cardiff Castle and then taking a trip to Chepstow Castle, I was inspired to prioritise my novel over everything else that I’m doing at the moment, and look into gaining more research. So I headed straight for Gloucester Cathedral.

The library at Gloucester Cathedral is incredible. It’s full of beautiful books (organised by how they would have been when the library first opened centuries ago) that you can flip through, the archivist and volunteers are passionate and love to answer your questions, and if you listen carefully, you can even hear the choir practicing below.

I went for the second time last week, and yet it felt different to before. The archivist always changes which books they have out for us to look through, and so there’s still something new to learn. I went with my friend who asked questions that I had never thought of, so I got to find out even more.

The library itself is long and narrow, as the structure of the cathedral meant that the library is squeezed into a confined space, and then it opens up at the end. It can store about 500 books roughly, but the sad thing is, no one knows what happened to the original texts. Books were often donated to other scholars, monks, and libraries, but they were also burned if they contradicted the beliefs of the period. I didn’t know that they were sometimes taken apart so that the bindings could be used for another book as well, and the previous book would then be discarded. It’s sad to know that we will never really be sure of what happened to books that were stored in this library, as they would have had so much history inside them. But the fact that some were recycled and made into more books is lovely, as their life had been extended.

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My friend has an interest in oriental books, and so one of the volunteers brought out a book of cultural songs that were translated by a French author. The pages featured song lyrics that were translated and accompanied by beautiful illustrations.

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When speaking with one of the other volunteers, we started to talk about the preservation of the books and bookbinding. She showed us a book that was bound so poorly I almost cried! The spine was a completely different cover to the original book and looked a bit artificial. When the book is opened, the pages separated in the middle, so the inside of the spine was visible, a big no when it comes to bookbinding! (I hope I explained that right because unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of this :(

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The same volunteer (just realised I haven’t introduced her! Diana Heywood) also mentioned that she has recently published her novel, titled ‘This Game of Blood and Iron,’ which is available from Waterstones.

The Cathedral library allows you to arrange research days, where you are given a desk and books that related to your project, and you’re just left to it. I’ve arranged a date for February, and I’ll be focusing on witchcraft to see if I find anything for my novel. My book list is: The poetry of witchcraft, illustrated by copies of the plays on the Lancashire witches (the original 1854 edition, only 80 copies were published!), The history of the Inquisition, translated into English by Samuel Chandler (1731) and another which is entirely in Latin so I can’t say what it is, but it was published in 1568. There will be herbal books to add to the list as well. I’m so excited - I can’t believe I’m going to be reading books like these!

As well as this, there were photographs, records and archive materials spread throughout the library as well.

I love the Cathedral’s library, and I can’t wait to return in February to learn even more about their beautiful books.

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