15th Century Manuscripts – An exciting discovery during the restoration of the William Blades Library.


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While the reading room doors are closed, St Bride Library has been busy making an abundance of improvements. One of the first projects has been the restoration of the William Blades Library.

William Blades’ famous collection of books was purchased by the Foundation soon after his death. This was one of the first major collections of the library, ensuring that the building instantly became one of the finest sources of information on printing. However, this is not the only thing that makes it so special. The library is also an architectural facsimile of Blades’ personal library in Surrey.

Darren Cool Images

The team has been busy restoring the room to ensure that the layout is even more faithful to the original than before. We will be writing an article especially for this when the project is completed. Until then, we thought we would show you a very exciting discovery that happened along the way.

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These beautiful, handwritten manuscripts were found within the overhead cabinets in the library. Surprisingly, their existence was completely unknown to the current team. Nobody really knows of their provenance either, as the Blades catalogue has nothing about them.

IMG_0584However, we can still say a few things with confidence. Firstly, the manuscripts vary in their written language. Some are in Latin, which carried the linguistic function of religion in these times, while others are in European vernaculars such as Flemish and Dutch. They are also likely to be ‘book of hours’ dated from c.1450 onward. These common prayer books are the most prevalent surviving manuscripts from this time period.

The majority of the items that live within our walls are related to printing. Even the few religious texts that we do have are here as a demonstration of fine printing, or as a record of typography. These manuscripts are therefore quite special exceptions in our collection, exhibiting the meticulous work of scribes, whilst simultaneously providing the library catalogue with some paleography.

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As the restoration continues, an effort will go towards retrieving some more information about these books. The first question to ask may be, ‘why do we even have them?’. Meanwhile, I’m sure the team will now be keeping an eye out for any other hidden books or artifacts.

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