A small group of APML members were guests of Eton College Library on a bitterly cold late Autumn morning. Arriving a little early we took the advice of a remarkably opportune chance meeting with the headmaster to dive into the beautiful and well heated 15th century Henry VI chapel, prior to our appointment with Rachel Bond (College Librarian) and Katie Lord (Deputy College Librarian).
Following a warm welcome and an introduction to the history of the College, its remarkable Library and its collections, we were provided with the opportunity to view a choice selection of its holdings. These included an example of early Caxton printing, a remarkable Copernicus edition, a selection of drawings after the antique from the collection of Richard Topham, and a copy of the earliest, though perhaps not the funniest, “comedy” in the English language. Entitled “Ralph Roister Doister” it had been written by the College’s own Headmaster Nicholas Udall back in the 1530’s. Udall would later be jailed for homosexual offenses, but cleared on charges of theft, ending his career ultimately at that other school of early theatrical tradition, Westminster.
Of the items on display the highlight was certainly the Eton choir-book, a richly illuminated manuscript collection of sacred music composed during the late fifteenth century, one of very few collections of Latin liturgical music to survive the Reformation and one of only three large choir-books surviving from early-Tudor England. A joy to look at, it also brought back memories of singing plainsong as a youthful choirboy myself.
An opportunity for discussion of librarian-ship issues then arose, on such matters as cataloging and software. Our visit concluded with Eton College’s Library of World War One Books, and the pupil’s own working library, an intriguingly converted miniature Radcliffe camera.
A particularly worthwhile visit, I would like to extend my thanks on behalf of the APML to Rachel Bond and Katie Lord for giving up so much of their time. Our thanks also to Stephen Massil for making the arrangements for the visit.
Marcus Risdell (APML Chairman 2008)
Page from the Eton choir-book reproduced by permission of the Provost and Fellows of Eton College