The Bodleian Library and Merton College Library in Oxford

The Bodleian Library in Oxford was first built in 1320 and was the first library in Oxford. It was attached to Saint Mary’s Church, above parliament. The library was called the Humphrey Library. Nearly 100 years after it was built, it was openedIMG_0606 to students and served for 76 years. In 1420, a new room was to be built for students exams in Theology and Divinity. Seven years later, the foundation was finally laid. One interesting aspect of this space is that there was a change in master masons after the first one died. This change is very obvious when looking at the room – many of the stone carvings changed from complex and detailed to very plain. This was mostly due to financial issues.

Beyond this exam room is a parliament house. This is where the governing body of the university met. The wooden seats are all original, but the plaster ceiling is newer. In the 17th Century, the English Parliament met here for safety from the war. Beyond the parliament house is a court room. This was mainly used for university infractions. One interesting aspect about the court room is that the university had a separate governing body from the town of Oxford until the 1960s.

In 1490, the Humphrey Library began to decline due to staffing and the creating of the printing press. They ended up having to sell the furniture to the medical students at Oxford University in attempts to raise money. Fifty years later, Bodleian, a man who was born into a rich Catholic family and married a rich widow, saved the library. He utilized his connections with influential members of society to build up the collection again. In 1610, he got the state to give free copies of every British publication. To this day, the library is still a copyright library.

Throughout the changes of the libraries in this location, they are now collectively called the Bodleian Libraries, and are laid out in the shape of an H for Humphrey.



IMG_0693Merton College in Oxford has the oldest quad in all of Europe. It is called the Mob Quad. Along the Mob Quad one makes their way to the Mob Chapel. This was built in the 14th century and is extremely large for a chapel, because it was originally meant to be a cathedral for Oxford.

During the referendum, almost all of the stained glass was smashed  in the chapel. The only glass that survived was at the very top of the chapel because people could not reach up there. During the Victorian Era, some of this broken glass was put back together in the library.


The Merton College Library contains mostly Theology  collections. It is broken into two corridors, with tiled floor and dark wooden shelving. Within each isle, there is a small kneeling bench. Beyond books, the library also contains Bodleian’s funerary helm, astronomical compasses, and a globe. The library is not much of a working library, but its ability to encapsulate the era it once served is still intact.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s