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Father of Fleet Street finds new home

15 Jul 2009

A priceless library hidden away at the top of a Cheshire church tower containing books up to 500-years-old has been acquired by The John Rylands University Library at The University of Manchester.

St Mary's Church, Nantwich
St Mary's Church, Nantwich

The library includes one of only three known copies of a 1502 hymn book printed by Wynkyn de Worde - the first printer to set up a printing press in Fleet Street, later the home of the newspaper industry.

The council of St Mary's Church, Nantwich, were concerned at the deteriorating condition of the books and their long-term future, so arranged for University staff safely to transport them to their new home.

Forming a human chain down the narrow spiral staircase from the church library, staff from The John Rylands Library Deansgate have been passing the priceless books one by one down to the church hall, where they are being cleaned, recorded and packed carefully into crates.

The books will join other rare books and manuscripts, including those from other parish libraries, at The John Rylands University Library, where they will be conserved, boxed, catalogued and made available to researchers and the public.

Ed Potten, the Assistant Keeper of Printed Books at the Library said: "Church libraries like this are increasingly rare and Nantwich is a particularly important example.

"In discussions with the Church Council and the Diocese of Cheshire, we all agreed that these beautiful and important books, some of which date back to the late-fifteenth century, are kept together as a collection, maintaining forever the connection with St. Mary’s Church and Nantwich.”

He added: "We were particularly delighted to discover the Wynkyn de Worde hymnal – a truly spectacular addition to our collections of early English books.

"Wynkyn de Worde worked for William Caxton, England’s first printer, and took over his business following Caxton’s death

"As a printer, de Worde was extremely prolific and he is credited with the creation of the mass book market.”

Rick Appleton from St Mary's Church said: "Books like those in the Nantwich library need specialist care and curation and sadly we're not in a position to provide that at the church.

"The conditions aren't good for such old artefacts and the room where the books historically lived is very inaccessible - the public rarely get to see or use them.

"We have long worried that the books were deteriorating - the staff at The University of Manchester will be able to conserve them and store them in the correct conditions.

"We're delighted that the public will soon be able to enjoy the library in an environment where it can be properly cared for.

He added: "This grade one listed church is currently in the middle of an  extensive restoration programme and to fund that we have launched an appeal for £900,000.

“The sale of the library would save helped this campaign – but despite that we made the decision that the books should be maintained for posterity and so donated them to the John Rylands Library.”

Notes for editors

Rick Appleton and Ed Potten are available for comment.

Image available

Journalists are welcome to visit the Church

For media enquiries contact:

Mike Addelman
Media Relations Officer
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881 567
michael.addelman@manchester.ac.uk