The Codrington is open to all members of the University of Oxford, and to researchers needing to access its extensive collections. The College was founded in 1438 and the earliest collections, originally of law and theology, were exclusively for the use of the Fellows; medical books and books in other subjects were given throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries until the Old Library was over-flowing. The “new” library was built after Christopher Codrington left both money and books at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and the collections were moved into Hawksmoor’s distinctive building – combining a gothic exterior to match the adjacent chapel with a classical interior – in the 1750s.
In 1867 a new reading room was added and the Library opened its doors to external readers and researchers. Unusually for a College library, the Codrington continues to serve the wider University community, originally as a precursor to the Law and History Faculties’ libraries, and its modern collections remain particularly strong in these areas. Fellows continued to present books, and purchasing on a more regular basis began in the second half of the eighteenth century with a conscious effort to create a strong research collection. Individual items were bought, but the Library also subscribed to many of the more expensive and extensive, often multi-volume, works.
The early printed collections, all catalogued onto the University’s online catalogue (www.solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk) and reported to the USTC, now cover almost all subjects comprising both English and Continental imprints.
Catalogue records contain a full bibliographic description as well as copy-specific information: imperfections, binding descriptions, bookplates, inscriptions and provenances, whether there are annotations or colouration, and any other notable features. All books received into the Old Library bear a college inscription, either stating simply that the book belonged to the College, or adding the name of the donor who was almost always “Ex dono … hujus Collegij socij” to the collegiate phrasing. This practice ceased in the eighteenth century, and institutional bookplates replaced the inscriptions; provenance was less well recorded and is often only evident if the previous owner had placed their own bookplate into the book, or had written their own name into it. Although there is a Benefactors’ Register, this rarely includes titles, and provenance information is only that which appears on individual books.
It is necessary for researchers to make appointments in advance when wishing to visit, though some enquiries can be answered via email, depending on the extent of investigation necessary. More information can be found on the Library’s website www.asc.ox.ac.uk/library, or by contacting us directly: www.asc.ox.ac.uk/library-contact.
I. Maclean, All Souls Library 1438-2008: buildings, collections, donors (Oxford: All Souls College, 2008).
A. Watson, ‘The Post-Medieval Library’ in Unarmed Soldiery: Studies in the Early History of All Souls College (Oxford: All Souls College, 1996).
E. Craster, The History of All Souls College Library, ed. E.F. Jacob (London: Faber, 1971).
N. Ker, Records of All Souls College Library, 1437-1600 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971).