History of the library and archive
The library was founded in Anglo-Saxon times. King Offa of Mercia is known to have given a Bible in c. 780. In 1057 Lady Godiva gave a Bible, which no longer survives. In the early middle ages the library was originally located in the cloisters. The aumbrey where the books would have been kept now displays the old cathedral bells. In the fourteenth century, the library moved to its present position in the roof space above the south nave aisle. Then in 1670 the library was taken down to the Chapter House, and stayed there until the Victorian Restoration of the cathedral in the 1860s when it was temporarily housed in the Edgar Tower and finally put back into the south nave aisle roof space.
The library and archive suffered during the troubled times of the reformation and civil war eras. In 1623 the Dean and Chapter received a request from King James I to furnish duplicates of any medieval manuscripts for a new library he was furnishing at Westminster Abbey. What happened to these books is not known. Book collectors also took manuscripts away from the cathedral for their own collections.
Thankfully the library was placed under the care of Canon Dr. William Hopkins from 1675 to 1700. Canon Hopkins, ably supported by his fellow members of the Chapter and in particular the Dean George Hickes, gradually built up the collection of books into a very fine library. The collection was maintained by a series of librarians who ensured the catalogues were kept up to date. Famous visitors to the library have included Sir Samuel Pepys in 1687, Dr. Samuel Johnson in 1774, and Sir Edward Elgar.
The first known instance of the cathedral's documents being arranged are under Bishop Wulfstan (1008-1095). He ordered the sub-prior, a monk called Hemming, to compile a cartulary of the lands of the monastery, which is now in the British Library. Saint Wulfstan also made sure that the documents kept in the monastery chest were properly organized and recorded.
In 1635 Dr. Roger Mainwaring, Dean of Worcester wrote to Archibishop Laud that he had saved thousands of rolls (medieval documents) which were lying in the (Edgar) Tower by a damp stone wall and under an open window where they were soaked by the rain. Further neglect followed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Fortunately, in 1907 Canon J. M. Wilson, was appointed librarian and he set to work arranging the muniments into their present order with advice from colleagues at Cambridge University Library. In recent decades the muniments were re-catalogued by the University of Birmingham's Library and Special Collections Department who also hold printed copies of these catalogues.