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
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
This is so that each book can be removed and opened without
needing to be turned around, hence avoiding tangling its
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 group.
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, Guildford.
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
EVERY MONTH I SEND OUT
THE BOOKBINDERS DIGEST. WHICH AIMS TO BRING YOU INTERESTING
ITEMS CONCERNING THE WORLD OF BOOKBINDING AND RELATED CRAFTS.
IF YOU WOULD CARE TO SUBSCRIBE PLEASE JUST MAIL ME PUTTING
"EDEN" IN THE SUBJECT LINE.