One of Marlborough’s hidden treasures is The Vicar’s Library, comprising over 600 volumes, including 237 items printed in Britain before 1641, of which 8 are the only known copies and another 45 are rare. The library is on permanent loan to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Now a short information film to raise awareness of this unique book collection is to be made to be shown in Marlborough’s Museum in The Merchant’s House.
Ilse Nikolsky, a volunteer and guide at the Museum, is behind the project. She told Marlborough.news, “We need some way of alerting people that the town has this treasure which has a fascinating history. The books are kept in custom made acid proof boxes and in temperature and moisture controlled conditions in the Bodleian as they are very fragile so it would not be possible to have any of them in the museum. A short information film to be shown in the museum will, I hope, raise awareness of this wonderful library.”
The film will be made by Grisha Nikolsky, a professional film producer and Ilse’s son. Ilse will also produce an information leaflet to accompany the film. This is as a result of the considerable research she has carried out and from her visits to the Bodleian Library to see the books and to speak with the Head of Rare Books.
The books originally belonged to William White (1604 –1678) who was Master of Magdalen College School in Oxford. He bequeathed them to Cornelius Yeate, Vicar of St. Mary’s in 1678. They were stored in various buildings in the town including St Mary’s Church, the Old Market House, the old Grammar School and the attic of the Town Hall.
In 1942 they were rescued from destruction by E.G.H. Kempson, a teacher of Mathematics and Housemaster at Marlborough College. As a meticulous local historian he took good care of the books, moving them first to Marlborough College. In 1985, with agreement from the Mayor, the Vicar and the College, he arranged for them to be deposited on permanent loan with the Bodleian library on the condition that the library be kept as a whole.
The Bodleian Library describes the books as follows : “The majority of the volumes are theology, works of scholarship and school books (there are 13 specimens of the grammatical treatises of Robert Whittington and a volume of 5 tracts by John Stanbridge of which 4 are unique), while classics, literature, political tracts, history, law and medicine are also represented. Includes many books interesting for their associations and many annotated with date of purchase and price. The majority of the bindings are by Oxford binders of the 17th century, with some earlier blind-tooled examples.“
Ilse commented, “With the plan to make the library better known locally, a few volunteers from the Merchant’s House visited the Bodleian Library. The Head of Rare Books, Sarah Wheale, showed us the store rooms where the books are kept. Several were opened for us and their content and importance explained. One of the books, which was once kept on a lectern in a church, still has the original chain! In another book, White who became Rector of Pusey in Berkshire, notes that he saw a very red glow in the sky. The date is 1666, the year of the Great Fire of London. With an approximate distance of 60 miles from Appleton to London as the crow flies, and at that time little or no light pollution, it is highly likely that he saw the glow of the fire.”
For further information, a list of the books comprising The Vicar’s Library is available at the library in the Merchant’s House. The film will be produced as soon as the pandemic restrictions end.