Public Library Founded At Bedford
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
I lately obtained a copy of the deed of settlement of a library of books, formerly preserved in the vestry-room of the church of St. John, in the town of Bedford. From this deed, which bears date the 20th October, in the year 1704, the fourth year of Queen Anne, it appears that the library in question was founded in the year 1700, by the contributions of the gentry and clergy.
The following is an abstract of the settlement :
I. Edward Bourne, Rector of St. John's, Bedford, reciting a gift to him, upon trust, etc., cloth by indenture assign, etc.. the several books in a schedule annexed, unto the Lord Bishop of Lincoln, and others, in trust, for the use of him, the said Edward Bourne, and his successors, Rectors of St. John's, so long as they will accept the office of library-keeper, and allow the vestry for the place of the library ; and also for the use of the present and all future contributors and benefactors, to the value of 10s. for their respective lives, under certain restrictions and limitations, in the said indenture expressed and declared, as follows :
II. Edward Bourne is library-keeper during life, and the vestry of St. John's to be the place of the library during his life, and so long after as his successors are willing to allow the vestry for the place of the library, and to take upon them the office of library-keeper, and the trustees approve thereof.
III. The trustees may remove the books, shelves, etc., to any other place in the town of Bedford, if they find it inconvenient to continue them in the vestry of St. John's, and may appoint such other library-keeper as they shall think fit.
IV. The library-keeper covenants with the trustees : to preserve the books from damage and embezzlement ; to mark every book in the title-page with the donor's name, or the price which it cost, and the name of the library to which it belongs ; to attend every Saturday, by himself or deputy, from ten o'clock till four, to deliver and receive the books; to lend no book but to the persons for whose use the library is appointed ; to lend but two books to any one person at one time, nor to any unless the price be deposited in his hands, or a note given to restore the books within the time limited, without damage; except in the case of an author, who may borrow six at one time for four months, giving security for restoring them, and for giving to the library a printed copy of his book when finished; a folio is to be restored in two months, a quarto in six weeks, and a smaller book in one month ; to lend no books to any till they shall have restored those formerly lent them ; to acquaint the visitors at their general meetings with all money given to the library, who are then to appoint how it shall be disposed of ; to keep a register of all books and money given, with the donors' names, and time when given; to see that the books lent be restored in due time, and to give notice, at every visitation, what books are lent, and to whom, and what books are not restored within the time limited ; to give notice to the Trustees of any extraordinary days of visitation.
V. All the Trustees are visitors, and are to meet in the library on the first Tuesday in February, May, August, and October every year; to see that all the covenants, agreements, etc., are duly observed, and to consult the farther benefit and advantage of the library.
VI. The Trustees may visit (besides the stated times of visitation) as often as they please, upon notice given by any five of them to the librarian, and by him to the other Trustees, at least seven days before the intended day of visitation.
VII. When the Trustees are reduced to ten at the least, the survivors are to choose new Trustees, and settle the library upon them-selves and the new Trustees, with the same trust, etc.
VIII. The bishop of the diocese and the archdeacon of Bedford, for the time being, to be always trustees, if they will accept the same.
1X. Four parts of the settlement are to be executed, whereof one to remain in the hands of the bishop of the diocese, one in the hands of the vicar of St. Paul's, Bedford, if he be a contributor, one in the library in a strong box, and one in the hands of one of the Trustees, whose name is to be entered in the register.
X. Upon the death of the library-keeper, the Trustees, with the executors or administrators of the deceased, shall lock up the library till a new library-keeper be chosen, or the Trustees shall give farther orders therein.
Under the above regulations, it appears this library was first placed in the hands of sixty-two trustees, consisting of the principal noblemen, gentlemen, and clergy of Bedford and its vicinity. In 1704 the number of trustees was increased to upwards of one hundred and thirty; amongst whom I find William, Lord Bishop of Lincoln; Wriothesly, Duke of Bedford ; Henry, Earl of Kent; Powlet, Earl of Bolingbroke ; John, Lord Carteret ; John, Lord Ashburnham ; Lord Edward Russell ; Charles, Lord Bruce ; Sir John Burgoyne, Sir John Osborne, Sir Thomas Allstone, J. Harvey of Ickwellbury, etc., etc.,
The deed of trust, to which I now refer, and which contained a specification or catalogue of the books, was signed and sealed in quadruplicate, by William, Bishop of Lincoln; Thomas Frank, Arch-deacon; Alexander Leith, and John Nodes.
Several of the articles enumerated in the specification are works of great respectability, and such as, by the vicissitudes of time, are be-come of considerable rarity and value ; amongst them are the following : Walton's " Biblia Polyglotta," 6 vols., fol., 1656 ; " Le Livre Royal," written anno 1217, Englished by Caxton, anno 1484 ; Venerable Bede's " History," fol., 1563 ; Du Pin's " Ecclesiastical History," fol., 5 vols., 1699, etc. ; Fuller's " Worthies of England," 1662 ; Froissart's " Chronicles," and Purchase's "Pilgrimages."
Also the following manuscripts : " Exemplar S. Scripturæ à Nich. Hanapis Patriarchâ Hierosolymitano," fol. ; "Tractatus de Victoria Christi contra Antichristum ab Hug. de Novo Castro," fol. ; " Tractatus Pauperis contra insipientem Novellarum Haeresium confutorem contra Evangelicam veritatem ab Anonymo," fol. ; " Historia Vet. & Novi Testamenti carmine Latino donata," fol. ; " Sermones Dominicales per annum," p. Johannem Felton, 4to. ; " Leiger Book of the Priory of Newnham near Bedford," 4to. ; "Biblia Sacra Vulgatæ Editionis," 8vo. ; " Biblia Sacra Vulgatæ Editionis," 12mo. ; " An old English Translation of the Four Evangelists," 8vo.
I have lately learned that these books have been long since re-moved from the vestry-room of St. John's Church ; and that, if they are yet in being, they are now completely out of sight, and out of use.
My object in writing this letter, therefore, is to recommend an inquiry into the disposal of this library ; and, if it should be found to be recoverable, that some of the respectable and intelligent inhabit-ants of the town of Bedford will exert themselves to recover it, and place it, together with such additions as they may be enabled to make to it, in a situation where, by being accessible, it will be useful to the town, and reflect honour on the parties concerned in its recovery. A reference to the names of the original trustees, of which I can furnish you (or any person who may be desirous to possess such a document) with a list, will show who, by descent, may justly consider themselves and will no doubt be considered by others, as the rightful Curators of this valuable appendage to the town and neighbourhood.
A second catalogue of these books is stated to have been made in 1755, which was kept in the library. The number of articles in the first catalogue, of which I have a copy, exceeds a thousand.
Since I communicated to you a few particulars of the Bedford Library founded about the year 1700, and which was for many years kept in the vestry of St. John's Church, I have had an opportunity of making some inquiries on the spot respecting it. The books, it appears, are not all dispersed, as was apprehended, but. a part of them still remain in a small room over the vestry of St. Paul's Church. The apartment, however, in which they are now kept is so damp and unsuitable for the purpose, that they are in great danger of perishing in less than twenty years, unless some change in their custody takes place. They are also out of the reach of every person whose ardour for literary pursuits is not such as to dispose him to encounter whitewash, dirt, and cobwebs in abundance, in ascending the narrow flight of stone steps leading to the apartment in which they are deposited. The covers of some of the volumes have begun to vegetate, and show an outer covering or surtout of white mould, not as a defence against the weather, but as an intimation that they have already caught cold, and a sure prognostication of the fate which awaits them all if they continue where they are.
The valuable "Polyglot Bible," in six volumes folio, and the "Caxton," remain ; but the "Ledger-Book of Newnham Priory" (a manuscript particularly connected with the history of the county) is not forthcoming ; and I have since learnt that it is in the British Museum. Query : As the deed of trust confers no power on any person to dispose of a part of the collection, by what authority has it been alienated?
May I therefore be permitted again to recommend to the trustees to place these books in some commodious room, where they will be accessible to all the inhabitants of Bedford who may wish to use them, or where at least they may be preserved from further harm for the benefit of future generations who may be disposed to appreciate them ? The fourth article of the deed of trust enjoins that they shall be safely kept, and I would suggest a due observance of that salutary injunction,
It is a circumstance perhaps worth preserving, that Lewis Atterbury, LL.D. (elder brother of Doctor Francis Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester), who died the 20th of October, 1731, left by his will some books to the Libraries of Bedford and Newport Pagnell. The larger part of his library went to Oxford.
The project of establishing a Literary Society in the town of Bedford has lately been recommended from the press, in a poetical " Epistle addressed and dedicated to the Marquis of Tavistock ;" and the inhabitants of Bedford will in my humble opinion do them-selves honour if they take the hint. I cannot conceive that any legal obstacle can exist to placing the present neglected collection under the care of such a society as a basis of a new town library.