Hull Minster's Library

by Joan Lee
Divi Ambrosii
'Divi Ambrosii' volume from Hull Minster's library.

Our library at Hull Minster is significant, both for its size and diversity of its works. Consisting of a lot of Bibles, sermon texts, some devotional and prayer books and some unusual volumes scientific, the library has over 500 volumes.

Housed at the University of Hull’s Brynmor Jones Library, new research has revealed the changing pattern of faith, as well as the degree of scholarship in Hull during its existence from the late 1500s onwards. The library was offered for sale to finance the 1906 restoration of the building; only books considered at the time to be the least valuable remain. Most have suffered extensive damage through neglect, whilst a few have been conserved during their ownership by the University of Hull.

As well as an established library budget many volumes were donated by individuals, and are a valuable indication of the learning, wealth and status of the donor. Most significant of these is Eleanor Crowle who, in addition to being the original benefactor, gave four volumes during her lifetime. All are inscribed, although it is unlikely that the script is her hand. The earliest volume is a Latin dictionary dated 1519, formerly owned by John Catlyn; like many of the early volumes, it displays fascinating elements of the development of printing and book production.

One of the most delightful titles is a translation of the commentaries on the New Testament by Erasmus, printed in 1548. In 1547 Edward VI ordered an English-language version to be displayed in all parish churches, an indication of the influence of Erasmus on the English Reformation. This volume is in remarkably good condition, having been repaired and rebound. It is a little difficult to read without a familiarity with black letter type; nevertheless it is a constant privilege and pleasure to handle such a significant work. Sadly, it is missing the title page.

Henry Keld, who donated a volume in 1659, evidently thought little of the prevailing moral tone, as one of his many inscription states:

‘This age is as full of Sin as any age that was since our Saviour Christ tyme’.

Some have amusing marginalia written by the former owner; one such was the property of Thomas Hodgson, who entertains us with the following:

‘Thomas Hodgson is my name, and with a pene I wroate the same, but if my pene had bene the beter, I would have mended it every leter 1649’.

Four volumes were donated by Hugh Mason, Customs Officer. Eliza Crispin gave a volume ‘in consideration that she was permitted to lay a stone over her late husband Mr. John Crispin’. Two were given by Rev’d Joseph Craven DD, Master of Sydney College, Cambridge, whose father, Matthew Craven, was a wine cooper in Hull. Legacies include two donations of Canon Simmons ‘Left to Holy Trinity Parochial Library by the late Rev. Canon Simmons, Rector of Dalton-Holme ‘in remembrance of books lent many years ago’’– happy words for any librarian to read.

The volumes suffered the worst damage during the evacuation in 1938, when they were stored in the crypts of parish churches around the East Riding for safekeeping! A catalogue compiled by Abraham de la Pryme, written on vellum, completely disintegrated on its return to the University, and is now lost.

The whereabouts of the most valuable books of the collection, including the Fairfax Bible, and a copy of the Eliot Bible – the first Bible to be translated into an indigenous North American language - remain unknown, despite extensive, and continuing, research.

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