Harris Manchester College, Oxford 1988 - 2011 - see report below.

Englefield House 2005 - 2009

Refurbishment of some 4000 books

Mapledurham House 2009

Refurbishment of 75 volumes of London Illustrated News


Mapledurham House 2009 - 2010

Netting of curtains


1st December 2011 was a satisfying but emotional day for the Heritage Volunteers still working at Harris Manchester College Oxford as the project was formally closed after 23 years. In that time some 10,000 antiquarian books had been treated.

The project was started by Jim Burgess of Newbury NADFAS, and his team was joined by one from GADFAS nine months later. In total 20 Volunteers have worked on the project at varying times, with 7 there at the closure. Harris Manchester College has full status within Oxford University and is the only College solely for mature students. Its origins come from Warrington, then Manchester, Academy which was one of the non-conformist academies which started in the 18th Century. While the other academies gradually closed, Manchester, with its Unitarian tradition, moved to York, back to Manchester, to London and finally in the 1890s to Oxford. Its antiquarian collection of books enlarged as those from the closing academies were passed to them, and through donated collections from Unitarian academics. The books date from 15th Century and are the second biggest collection of books on religious dissent after the Dr Williams Library in London. At the time of the project starting, the books were stored in a series of locked rooms in or attached to the College tower. They had been placed there after they returned from their storage for safe keeping during the war. They had been catalogued and placed in chronological order but apart from that they had just become more and more dusty and sad looking. It was the work of the Volunteers to improve their appearance and to endeavour to hold any further deterioration at bay. We climbed the stairs to a large room which was book lined with the Carpenter Collection of books on Comparative Religion, largely 19th Century volumes, and not a relaxing read during the lunch hour!

Also in the room were Joseph Priestley’s two globes. These are a prized possession of the College which the Principal, DrRalph Waller, frequently brought visitors up to see. He would tell his visitors about the splendid work being done, and the team would try to explain NADFAS to those from near and far. As with all NADFAS book teams, we were well and regularly trained by Caroline Bendix, a leading book conservator. The books were all dusted and then recorded on to a specially designed sheet which followed the book though all stages, and marked every treatment used for the benefit of future conservation. Leather covering to a book was repaired with flour and water paste, loose pages glued in, and spines reattached if necessary. Damaged leather was consolidated with cellulose, and undamaged leather polished with a neat’s foot dressing. The book was finally taped if boards were detached, or a card wrapper made if its state required it. Shelves were inspected for damage and all being well the book returned to its place. Many of the books are very valuable and we were all conscious of the great privilege it was to be handling them. Books such as a first edition of Newton’s Principia, a Bible possibly owned by Queen Elizabeth I, books written by Henry VIII, books written by early dissenters, under pseudonyms but at great risk to themselves, all received treatment. Often the books we loved the most were small but beautifully bound and painted in France in 16th and 17th Centuries In the 1990s, when the college had attained its full status in the University, it was decided that the Old Library needed better facilities. The old kitchens were moved to a new position and the vacated space was assigned to the Library. The latest style of rolling stacks was installed, along with temperature and humidity control. A specialist team were employed to move all the old books. The location up the tower made removal impossible that way so windows were removed and the books were crated and lowered to the quad. The Priestley globes went for restoration and are now in the Tate Library in the College. Finances being limited, the planned gallery in the Tate Library was never built, but thanks to a large donation some hundred years later, the idea was re-visited and with first class workmanship a beautiful gallery has just been installed and is equipped for quiet study. Working so long in a small college meant that we were recognised and accepted by all levels of staff into the community. When there had been an evening dinner it was not uncommon for little delicacies to appear next day in our room, and we were invited to some College functions, and always given an annual lunch. At the time of application for full college status there was an increase in the number of Honorary Governors and two of the Volunteers accepted this honour. The College Chapel with its beautiful Burne Jones windows and Morris carving was always worth a visit, and also the lunchtime concerts held in the Chapel on Thursdays. Over the 23 years we worked under three Fellow Librarians and enjoyed a warm relationship with all of them. On the final day the seven of us were joined by Jean Burgess, but sadly Jim, then aged 92, had died a few days before. The College gave a reception when all of us were given large bouquets. This was followed by a lunch hosted by The Principal who spoke warmly and gratefully of the years of work given to the College. We departed, sad that we would see “our books” no more, but pleased to think that they were in a much better state than 23 years ago.

Anthea Stoneham June 2012