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