Transforming the library
The library project
The clever architecture of Christopher Wren conceals a secret area of the Cathedral which is home to a remarkable room – the Cathedral library.
Reopening in July 2022, it is one of the best preserved eighteenth-century interiors in London. Our three-year project to clean and conserve the Cathedral library is almost complete and – with the addition of display facilities and a new lighting scheme – it will be a fascinating room to experience.
A history of the library
Situated at triforium level behind the south-west tower, the Cathedral library was completed in 1709, and kept in service up until 2018 when restoration began.
The library's collection was almost completely destroyed in the Great Fire of London – but Wren's library chamber was restocked by the Commissioners for rebuilding St Paul's following the damage. They bought collections, including valuable Bibles and liturgical texts, and were lucky to receive a generous bequest in 1712 of nearly two thousand volumes from the library of Henry Compton, late Bishop of London.
Later, in the nineteenth-century, large collections of ecclesiastical tracts and pamphlets were brought in and improvements were made to the library's holdings of sermons preached in the Cathedral and at Paul's Cross.
The library’s historical collection focuses on theology, church history and patristics (the study of early Christianity in the period stretching from the end of the New Testament to the early Middle Ages). At the moment, acquisitions are restricted to major works on the history of the Church in England, on Wren and the building of the Cathedral, the Church in the City, and material by ‘alumni’ of the Cathedral.
Why restore the library?
The library escaped the types of alteration which have radically changed the rest of the interior of St Paul’s. Prior to the restoration project, the only significant modifications of this outstanding eighteenth-century space had been to install electrical lighting in 1902 and a heating system shortly after. The library shelves had not been emptied since the Second World War, when their contents were transported to Wales for safe keeping during the Blitz.
Because of this, the library was in a much-needed state of repair. Before any work could start, the temperature and humidity in the room were monitored for a number of years, and the books and manuscripts were moved off-site so the architecture could be assessed. Our conservators were especially concerned about the safety of the gallery structure and the water-tightness of the roof.
As part of the restoration project, we are:
- cleaning and packing the books and manuscripts
- installing a new humidistat controlled heating system
- cleaning and painting the walls and ceiling
- cleaning the book shelves and carved brackets
- refinishing the floor
- installing new blinds
- designing a new lighting scheme
- constructing a new display case and desks for readers.
The project in numbers
1313: the earliest year that we have listings of the texts which were contained in the library.
12,500: the number of books and manuscripts cleaned, recorded, packed and moved off-site.
42: how many metres of loose and unlisted archive material were removed from the library between December 2016 and August 2018.