St Paul's Library Project

The Collections
Today at the Cathedral View More
8:00am Morning Prayer
8:30am Doors open for sightseeing
8:30am Eucharist
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Choral Evensong
5:30pm Cathedral closes

St Paul's Library Project

The Library Project 

The magnificent library chamber in St Paul's Cathedral was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and Christopher Wren and was completed in 1709. Some of  most talented British craftsmen of the time contributed to the stone carving and woodwork which has received limited conservation care over the last three hundred years. Many parts of the cathedral were radically re-ordered in the nineteenth century, however the library has remained largely unaltered in terms of its principal fixtures and fittings. It houses an important collection of books, manuscripts and archive material, largely collected since the Great Fire of London, which is used by researchers of theology, church history and the life and work of St Paul's.

After a successful fundraising campaign, the library project is now almost completely funded. The scope of the project includes: the replacement of an existing wet heating system with an electrical, environmental-control heating system; conservation cleaning of the fabric including the floor, the presses, the gallery, walls, carved pilasters and ceiling; new blinds will be installed and air tightness measures will be undertaken for the main areas of air leakage. The existing reader facilities will be up-graded and new display cases will enable more of the Collection to be used in learning and visitor engagement activities. 

The library shelves have not been emptied since the Second World War, when their contents were transported to Wales for safe keeping during the Blitz. The removal of all the books will provide a rare opportunity to check the fabric of the building that surrounds them. The whole room will be checked for damp areas behind shelves. The shelving itself will also be checked for anything that might harm the books, eg splits in shelves or insecure shelf-adjustment systems, and any repairs. The empty Library also provides an opportunity to fully understand the effect of the books on the environment. 


Removing the books and manuscripts

A project within a project the library decant has seen 12,500 books and manuscripts cleaned, recorded, packed and moved off-site. This logistical feat has been undertaken so that the environment can be monitored without the books present, the building works can take place without risk to the collection and the collection is clean when it comes back to the renovated chamber. 

42 linear meters of loose and unlisted archive material were removed from the library between December 2016 and August 2018. This historic material was listed, re-housed and moved to the Reserve Collections Store, by the Archivist and Librarian. The inventoried objects (paintings, busts, models and miscellaneous furniture) were removed throughout July and August 2018. 

Expert advice on book moves was obtained from Caroline Bendix and Girogia Genco, with Giorgia providing team leadership for the cleaners and packers. On September 3rd 2018 work began to clean, wrap, record and pack the library’s books and manuscripts. Starting with the book cases and the lower level shelves, the conservators used conservation hoovers to remove dust from the outside of the volumes, before they were wrapped in acid-free tissue paper, recorded with an individual barcode and packed into plastic boxes which were lined with bubble wrap.

A tower was constructed within the library to transport the boxes safely from the gallery level to the library floor. 208 boxes were winched from the Triforium level to the cathedral floor each Monday evening after evensong in September. The boxes were winched 12 at a time by the cathedral’s Works Department.  Each Tuesday morning a removals company took the boxes out of the building via the Great West doors and loaded them into a lorry for transit to the store at Upper Heyford. 977 boxes were required.

Lunchtime bubble wrap cutting volunteers were supplied by the cathedral’s Finance Department, Schools and Family Learning and Events Departments. Book slips and box numbers were produced in-house by the cathedral’s Print room.  The decant concluded in October 2018. The packaging and recording method will enable the books to be returned and re-shelved in an orderly fashion . The removal of the books and furniture has revealed that, in general, the shelves and floor are in good condition. 

The project is currently in RIBA Stage Five. The building fabric is being repaired and painted, the timber surfaces are receiving a conservation clean and the new heating system is being installed. The library will re-open in the summer of 2022.

For enquiries concerning the project please contact Simon Carter, Head of Collections: 

To donate to this project contact Alex Pridgeon, Head of Trusts and Foundations: