English Chained Libraries.
Chained libraries are libraries where the books are attached to their bookcase by a chain,
which is sufficiently long to allow the books to be taken from their shelves and read, but not removed from
the library itself.
This practice was usual for reference libraries (that is, the vast majority of libraries) from the Middle Ages to
approximately the 18th century, as books were extremely valuable during this period.
Chaining books was the most widespread and effective security system in European chained libraries from the
Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, and Hereford Cathedral's seventeenth-century Chained Library is the largest
to survive with all its chains, rods and locks intact.
It is standard for chained libraries to have the chain fitted to the corner or cover of a book.
This is because if the chain were to be placed on the spine the book would suffer greater wear from the stress of
moving it on and off the shelf.
Because of the location of the chain attached to the book (via a ringlet) the books are housed with their spine
facing away from the reader with only the pages' fore-edges visible (that is, the 'wrong' way round to people
accustomed to contemporary libraries).
This is so that each book can be removed and opened without needing to be turned around, hence avoiding tangling
The earliest example in England of a chained library to be endowed for use outside an institution such as a
school or college was the Francis Trigge Chained Library in Grantham, Lincolnshire, established in 1598.
In 1598 Francis Trigge, Rector of Welbourne in Lincolnshire, arranged for a library to be set up in the room over
the South Porch of St. Wulfram's Church, Grantham for the use of the clergy and the inhabitants of the town.
The borough was responsible for furnishing the porchroom and Trigge undertook to supply books to the value of "one
hundred poundes or thereaboutes".
The two vicars of North and South Grantham, together with the master of the local grammar school (now The King's
School, Grantham) were to control the use of the library, and took an oath to abide by the rules.
The original documents still exist and are deposited within the Lincolnshire Archives. The library was the first
in England to be endowed for use outside an institution such as a school or college. It is perhaps slightly
misleading to call it "the first public library" but nevertheless its use was not the prerogative of a private
Marsh's Library in Dublin, built 1701, is another non institutional library which is still housed in its
original building. Here it was not the books that were chained, but rather the readers were locked into cages to
prevent rare volumes from 'wandering'. There is also an example of a chained library in the Royal Grammar School,
I have visited Hereford Cathedral's chained library, fascinating, and of course it has that feeling of antiquity,
the smell of ancient wood, polished through the generations.
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