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Abbey Library

Our collection is currently housed in the Wells Cathedral Library. Any enquiries please contact the Librarian at Wells Cathedral. Scholars are welcome but must make their requirements known and book an appointment in advance.

Contact details

Kevin Spears, Librarian
Wells Cathedral, Cathedral Green, Wells, BA5 2UE
Tel 01749 674483

A Brief History of Bath Abbey Library

The Benedictine monastery that preceded the Abbey maintained a library and probably a scriptorium. Visitors recorded books of particular significance and so we have some indication of the original library contents but not where it was located. However, in 1539 when the monastery was dissolved by Henry VIII, all books were removed and many of them were destroyed. Most of the books were written by hand and of considerable antiquity, including one given by King Athelstan (d. 939AD), the grandson of Alfred the Great.

When the building was restored and worship began again in 1616, Bishop Lake donated two books and so began to re-establish the library. By that time, all books were printed. There is a Benefactors’ Book listing all the books donated or of money given to purchase books, and it contains the names of many well-known Bath citizens. Entries end in 1715 and the majority of books in the collection, which totals some 300 items, are now housed in the Wells Cathedral library. The collection comprises mainly 16th and 17th century publications. The subject content of the books is predominantly religious with sermons and Bible commentaries being typical. However, three famous physicians – Drs Thomas Guidott, Edward Greaves and Joseph Glanville – gave early medical books and there are other items on antiquarian, historical, linguistic and travel topics. The oldest book in the collection is a prized 1493 “Golden Legend” printed by Wynkyn de Worde using Caxton’s original typesetting.

The largest donation was made by Bishop Thomas Ken who died in 1711. He gave his foreign language books, many of them collected during his travels in France, Italy and Spain. These include a 1543 copy of Euclid’s writing on geometry and a 1623 first edition of Galileo’s Il Saggiatore.

Present day

The library was originally housed in the vestry built by Bishop Lake. However, this was a small and impractical room; and so the collection was never used as Bishop Lake had envisaged. For that reason the collection was scarcely added to after the beginning of the 18th century and in late Victorian times there was consideration given to selling it or giving it to other libraries in Bath. The problem has been resolved for the time being by loaning the collection to Wells Cathedral library .