Sunday, 12 September 2010

POSSIBLY the oldest LENDING library in England

Its funny how you discover things on your own front doorstop. When my local county did a heritage day where they opened all the churches and historic buildings to the public I went along to my local church as I heard they had quite a special library.

Cranston library is a tiny library composing of one room above the church vestry. The library was opened in 1701 by the vicar of the church Andrew Cranston who wanted his local parishioners to have access to books which could further their knowledge.

Although there were libraries operating in England long before this, you were unable to take the books out of these libraries. Because books were so precious you would only be able to look at the books within the libraries themselves and quite often these libraries would chain their books to the shelves to prevent people taking them away. Cranston library however allowed parishioners to take the books home which gives the library its little claim to fame.

The curators of the library were really nice and helpful and answered my questions cheerfully despite the fact that I was holding a very wriggly 22 month old at the time (my son chooses his moments he really does.) The collection of books numbers around two and a half thousand and was mostly accumulated between the years 1701-1708, its an snapshot of what the vicar thought his parishioners should be reading at that time.

In the way of literary fiction, there are some books by people like Milton and Shakespeare but mostly the collection is made up of two thirds religious text and the rest are factual books on subjects like history and geography.

The staff there showed me a record book which dates from 1701 and shows the records of every book taken out by whom and for how long right up until 1920 when public libraries came into operation and Cranston library was no longer needed.

Today the library still lends out books to academics and universities around the country, they mentioned Oxford university for example have had a book out for over a year now.

The library has not moved from the tiny room it occupies since its opening in 1701 and the books were only moved during WWII for safety reasons. The library has managed to stay in tact because Andrew Cranston set up a board of trustees to secure its future after his death, at this time there were 44 trustees and there are 9 trustees today (one of whom told me today that 44 is a ridiculous number.)

It was a lovely place to visit and was wonderful to see the staff there being so enthusiastic.

Posted by Jess


  1. This looks absolutely lovely. I wish my church had such a library.

  2. What a great claim to fame... maybe churches should do this now?

    Thanks for sharing


  3. I LOVE old, old books. Do they let regular people touch them?

  4. WOW!
    This is amazing!
    I'm really glad they let folks (and squirmy 22-month olds) in to see the books. IMHO books are there to be appreciated, and nothing is gained by locking them away. Of course, this is verging on heresy for me since the rare book library at my Uni has strictly closed stacks. *le sigh*

  5. What an extraordinary find! How lovely.

  6. Susi - I just think its lovely that its still in the same place after 300 years.

    Hannah - well I think now with public libraries there is no need (which is why this church stopped) but at the time there were no libraries.

    Kathy - they did ask me if I was interested in seeing a particular book but I said no, they seemed quite free with them though as one member of staff was showing me some gruesome pictures in one and he was touching the pages.

    Birdie - the trustees there were so enthusiastic about them that I think they loved showing them off which of course was the original vicars intention. Its a shame about your uni books :(

    Lyndsey - yes, I had no idea this was on my doorstop.

  7. This is a lovely library. I had a similar find when I discovered the family library of The Brownes which dates back to the 17th century at Townend in Troutbeck Cumbria. Not a lending library but a library kept in one family for all those generations.

  8. That sounds amazing! Hope I get a chance to visit one day...