A Precarious Library

The Reverend Canon Claude Jenkins served as Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Christ Church, Oxford from 1934 until his death in 1959. In his will he left a collection of thirty to seventy thousand books. He directed that librarians from several Oxford colleges “be given as a free gift such books as they may select for the use of their readers.” St Anne’s alone acquired ten thousand volumes.

During his lifetime this library filled—literally—the five-room house that Jenkins occupied on Tom Quad at Christ Church. Theologian E.L. Mascall described the scene in his memoir Saraband:

in the corners of each room piles of books were thrown down anyhow like sand in the corner of a builder’s yard, and the bath, which was not used for its normal purpose, was a kind of dump for odd printed scraps. It was only just possible to push one’s way up the staircase, for on every step there were piles of books extending high out of reach; in fact the view of the staircase-wall reminded me of a sectional diagram of geological strata in an atlas, and one could see how the conformation had readjusted itself after a cataclysm had occurred through a removal of the book from one of its lower levels.

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A long and interesting article about the collection appears at the website of St Anne’s College library.


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