The latest exhibition in the Mappa Mundi & Chained Library explores the role of Master of the Library and the individuals who have held this prestigious title throughout the centuries.

The title Master of the Library has been given since 1583 to the member of the cathedral clergy with overall responsibility for the care and organisation of the Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral. The exhibition will begin at the present day and will transport visitors through the last 440 years to the Revd Dr Thomas Thornton, who conceived the Library’s current format in the 17th century.

The exhibition will introduce some of the different characters who have worked in the library since its founding, including Maude Bull who was the assistant librarian when the Dean Leigh Library opened in 1897 and remained involved in the Library until her death in 1951. A slightly eccentric character, she took personal responsibility for taking volumes for repair in Oxford and, allegedly, always wore wellington boots. 

Items on display will include a WW2 utility model typewriter which is believed was used in the library by ‘The Morgans’ who were honorary librarians between 1945 and 1989 and a 20th century reminder card for the modern lending library. 

Master of Library HC May 2024 Master of Library HC_May 2024

One of the oldest artefacts in the exhibition is Thornton’s inventory which is a spectacular 15ft long document detailing the possessions of Revd Dr Thomas Thornton, at the time of his death in 1629. At that point in time, he was living in Ledbury and in this property alone amongst many items listed were a globe, ten maps, some firearms, fifteen feather beds and twenty-two dozen napkins.

The title of Master of the Library is currently held by Revd Canon James Pacey, the cathedral’s Chancellor. In September he will be performing To further the good of the Library, a one man show giving an opportunity to hear directly from two of the prominent figures in the history of the Chained Library: Rev Dr Thomas Thornton, and Canon B H Streeter, who recreated the original library layout in the 20th century. The performance will take place on Wednesday 11 September at 7pm in the Chained Library. Tickets, which cost £15, are available to purchase from the cathedral website.

Elizabeth Semper O’Keefe, Archivist at Hereford Cathedral, says: “Over the last 440 years there have been many clergy who have held the role of Master of the Library – with overall responsibility for the books at Hereford Cathedral, sometimes aided by a librarian (who often did the actual work!). We are delighted to be able to highlight some of the characters and personalities who have shaped the fortunes of the Chained Library over the centuries. Who will be your favourite?”

Master of the Library will be on display in the Mappa Mundi & Chained Library Exhibition from Monday 6 May until Saturday 14 September 2024. The exhibition is open from Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm (last entrance 4.30 pm) and normal admission charges apply.