In 2005 Pusey House, Oxford sold most of its pre-Tractarian library; Truro Cathedral sold Bishop Philpott’s Library; and writing in The Church Times, Professor Jonathan Clark in an article entitled The C of E is losing its own history reports the sale of cathedral libraries from Bangor, Canterbury, Ely, Lincoln, Llandaff, Lichfield, Exeter, St. Asaph and Wells on AbeBooks. Manuscript items are included in these various sales.
The critics of these actions mainly express concern about the Church’s financial incompetence. The Truro sale, described by one eminent librarian as a disaster, raised £36,000 for stock eventually sold on for half a millon pounds.
Excerpts from the Clark article which is online at
Unremarked, Anglican institutions are selling the contents of their ancient libraries. A search on http://Abebooks.com shows a swath of volumes for sale from cathedral libraries: Bangor, Canterbury, Ely, Lincoln, Llandaff, Lichfield, Exeter, St Asaph, Wells.
Even at Oxford, Pusey House, established as a think tank with a scholarly as well as a pastoral remit, in 2005 sold much of the ancient contents of its library for the years before the Tractarians. A friend, viewing this sale at Christie’s, and appalled at the rows of venerable volumes, described it as “like a scene from the dissolution of the monasteries”. Yet that, in present-day form, is too close to the truth.
One can imagine it. Accountants add up the retail value of the collections, calculate the number of borrowers or readers, and advise that there is no option but liquidation. Senior clergy, who no longer read the books, are all too happy to accept expert advice. The auction houses promise a professional service, and the best prices (which are not always realised). The Charity Commissioners make no complaint. There is little publicity.
Such sales are more than minor inevitabilities: together, they become a historical phenomenon. They signify the Church of England losing the argument, and turning away from an attempt to sustain a heavyweight historical rationale for itself. One wonders whether the libraries of most Anglican clerics now consist not of formidable works of scholarship, but of paperbacks from the 1970s, already disintegrating.
A generation ago, Anglican priests could count in their ranks historians of the scholarly stature of Henry Chadwick, Owen Chadwick, and Jack McManners; today, their number is diminishing radically, and their lack of preferment is almost assured. It is a trend that has been going on for some time.
On the Truro case see