Anglicanism: a digression

In our Listening Lunch today we heard excerpts from Anglicanism: a very short introduction by Mark Chapman (OUP, 2006). One aspect of establishing a new church that was highlighted was the need for a service book, and so we heard about the earliest versions of the Prayer Book: 1549, 1552, and 1559.

Norwich Cathedral Library has no original copy of any of these prayer books, but we do have a set of facsimiles of these and other editions of the Prayer Book (the full set numbers six volumes), published by William Pickering in 1844. Also published by William Pickering is a facsimile edition of John Merbecke’s The Holy Communion Noted.

Pickering worked with the printer Charles Whittingham (of the Chiswick Press) to produce fine publications in terms of both typography and binding. The prayer books use Caslon Old and Old English typefaces, with printing in red and black. The books are bound in parchment with gilt embossed decoration.

In the publication of the prayer books and Merbecke’s musical notation, Pickering was not only encouraging fine book production, but also seeking to advance the revival of the Church of England.

Listening Lunches are held online every Friday at 1pm; for more details see the Norwich Cathedral website.

Memoirs of Samuel Pepys

Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, secretary to the Admiralty in the reigns of Charles II and James II comprising his diary from 1659 to 1669, deciphered by the Rev John Smith from the original shorthand, … 5 vols (London, 1828)

My thoughts went to this work because of its coverage of the plague of 1665 – an almost inevitable parallel with our present times. I wondered how similar in fact the two situations were. Opening volume to at a random page in 1665, I found myself reading about the Battle of Lowestoft, so-called because the engagement between the Royal Navy and the Dutch fleet occurred some forty miles out to see from that Suffolk town. Pepys’ narrative of current events very much takes precedence, but lurking in the background is the encroaching menace of the plague, appearing mostly in subtle phrases such as “his house was shut up”; another victim of the plague enacting what today we are referring to as “self-isolation”.

Pepys wrote his diary in a form of shorthand, an example of which is shown in the photograph above of a plate from volume one, along with an example of Pepys’s usual handwriting. It was written in note form, and that sense has been preserved in the transcription made by the Reverend John Smith.

Even a short extract of the diary gives a glimpse of a complex period in which there are clearly continuing power struggles between notable individuals who had already navigated the Civil War, Commonwealth and restoration in their own particular ways. There are examples of how news can be manipulated to present a particular version of events, as the Earl of Sandwich’s pivotal role in the battle is at first not mentioned, whilst the Duke of York and Prince Rupert are given credit for the success. And very recognizable is the sense of some people panicking, whilst others attempt to continue normal life in an increasingly abnormal context.

So Norwich Cathedral Library continues to come to you by sharing a regular “highlighted book” feature, even if you can’t come to it, and Frangipan, our resident knitted dinosaur, is nobly helping to choose the books to be shared!

Frnagipan looks at a plate picturing Sir William Coventry, who is frequently referred to in Pepys’ diary.

Musical musings

At last week’s “listening lunch” we heard extracts from Voices by the sea: the story of the Aldeburgh Festival Choir, by Wilfred J. Wren. The story he tells of the development of the choral input to Benjamin Britten’s Aldeburgh Festival would strike a chord with anyone who has sung in a choir – issues of how to fit into performance venues, the hard work of rehearsing, the wonderful sense of achievement when the concert has been a success.

Snape Maltings, the concert hall built to host the Aldeburgh Festival

The reason Norwich Cathedral Library has this book is that it belonged to the late Peter Aston, Professor of Music at the University of East Anglia, and sometime Lay Canon of Norwich Cathedral, who conducted the Aldeburgh Festival Singers from 1975. Upon his death in 2013 many of his books and musical scores came to the Cathedral Library, including this copy of Wren’s book, given to Peter Aston and inscribed by the author.

The musical theme continued as Tuesday 15 October was the 350th anniversary of the death of Richard Ayleward, organist and choirmaster of Norwich Cathedral in the 1660s. We marked the occasion on Wednesday 16 October with a symposium called “Richard Ayleward: lost and found”, brought together by the Revd John Lees. Dr Tom Roast, Dr Andrew Woolley and Dr Hugo Janacek presented different aspects of Ayleward’s life and work as a composer of choral and keyboard music. There were some conjectures about the “lost” period of his life – where was he, and what was he doing during the Commonwealth period? The afternoon culminated in Choral Evensong in Norwich Cathedral, featuring the music of Ayleward and the shining light of the next musical generation, Henry Purcell.

From one of Norwich Cathedral’s choral partbooks.

Listening Lunches are held every Friday 1.00-1.30pm; bring a packed lunch to eat in the Library whilst someone reads aloud from a book from the library’s collections. Tea/coffee provided.

If you are engaged in research relating to Richard Ayleward, we would be very interested to hear from you – please contact the Library in the first instance –, 01603 218443.

Our First Blog!

Welcome to Norwich Cathedral Library’s blog. It’s a new venture for us, so here’s a bit about the Library, its collections, and what happens here, by way of an introduction.

The Historic Library houses about 8,000 volumes of printed books, the earliest dating from 1474. The collection was moved in here in 1913.

We lost our manuscript books at the Reformation (or at least we think that’s when they went). We do have some manuscript fragments hiding among our printed books: this example is in a copy of Erasmus’ epistles.

The Library is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 9.30am to 4.30pm, so do come and visit us then.

We also have a reading room which you can use for study and a modern theology collection of some 20,000 volumes (this is a loan collection – annual subscription for borrowing rights £12). There are other things going on too: “Listening lunches” happen every Friday 1.00-1.30pm; Lectio Divina every third Friday 2.00-2.30pm; Studium – quiet study time first and third Fridays 9.30am-12.30pm. There is usually a small exhibition in the Historic Library display area.

We are planning to use this blog to tell some of the stories of the library and its collections, and to share news about what we’ve been up to and what we’ve discovered whilst caring for the collections.

Find us opposite the Refectory at the same end of the lift, or contact us :, 01603 218443,

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