History of the Historic Chapter Library
It is certain that the Canons of Southwell Collegiate Church had a library before the Civil War although we know very little about it. Whatever the Library contained in the period from the Reformation until the Civil War was largely lost with the scattering of books and charters in the churchyard by Scottish soldiers in 1645.
After the Restoration in 1660, the Chapter was re-established, and by 1690 a start was made in creating a library. A fine collection of books was given by a certain Edward Lee of Norwell, a nearby village which also provided three of the prebendal livings. Many of Edward Lee’s books are still identifiable since they have his signature or ex dono inscription. Lee’s collection was augmented from time to time by gifts from the canons, vicars and others and by a few books bought by the Chapter in the C18th.
The restored collection was housed in various places in and around the Minster until finally the books were put into the old treasury where they are at present. The archives were originally housed in the parvise over the north porch until 2003 when most of them were deposited at Nottinghamshire Archives in Nottingham, although an online catalogue is still maintained in the library.
The Present Library
The present library has some 1200 titles, dating from the 14th century onwards. Many contain the names of the donors. The earliest printed book dates from 1505. The Chapter was glad to collect books on any subject: history, geography, law, science and music are all represented, and, as might be expected, bibles, sermons, and the writings of church fathers and theologians.
Besides the printed books there are a number of manuscripts, most housed at Nottinghamshire Archives. These include the White Book of Southwell, the Cartulary of Thurgarton Priory. Remaining in the library is a copy of John Mirk’s Liber Festialis from the end of the C15th, a Bible of c.1300, and a large number of choir part books from the earlier part of the C18th.
All the books printed before 1701 are included in the Cathedral Libraries Catalogue (British Library, 1984-98).
By 2000 a computer-based catalogue of the contents of the library had been created which in 2006 was made searchable on-line.