Salisbury Cathedral’s library was built in 1445 but its history goes back much further.
In the late 11th century Bishop Osmund established a scriptorium at the Cathedral's original site of Old Sarum. It is the manuscripts written at Old Sarum - of which around 60 have survived - which mark the beginning of the unique collection of books that we have today.
Now the book collection is housed in a room over the east cloister accessible by a stone spiral staircase of 37 steps. Originally the books were chained; Henry VI donated 30 oak trees from the royal forests for the original bookcases. In the mid-eighteenth century it was discovered that the cloister stonework was struggling to support the weight of the library above so the room was reduced in length. The early 1980s saw a further major renovation when the current elm bookcases were installed.
The book collection numbers some 10,000 volumes on a wide range of subjects although, as you would expect, theology forms a major part. However, as many of the books have come to the library through donations and bequests the interests of their original owners have to a great extent formed our collection. Bishop Seth Ward, an early member of the Royal Society, bequeathed circa 300 books in 1689 particularly medieval and scientific texts. Another major benefactor was Bishop Edmund Geste whose personal library of over 1000 books on contemporary Protestant reformation literature are now part of the library. Despite these major donations there are still many single volumes the original owner of which are unknown.
The vast majority of the books are printed - dating from the 1470s to the early twentieth century. The manuscript (handwritten books) date from the 9th century and include the Old Sarum manuscripts: the manuscript books number in total around 180 and include the beautifully decorated 10th century Salisbury Psalter. Finally the library also holds a reference collection of books, articles and pamphlets on the history of the Cathedral and the people connected with it.
Online Catalogue Database
You can access our new online database for the library and archive collections here: