The activities of virtually all Archbishops of Canterbury between the late 13th and mid-17th centuries are recorded in the series of bound volumes known as the Archbishops’ registers, which are preserved in the Library and are among its most frequently accessed items. But the registers decrease in significance after 1660, and the survival of records documenting Archbishops’ activities is disappointingly low from then until the early 19th century.
It is highly likely that relevant records were created, but that they were considered the personal property of the Archbishop to do with as he chose. For example, Archbishop William Wake (in office from 1716-1737) left his papers to his Oxford college, Christ Church. Some material, such as from the time of Archbishop Charles Longley (1862-1868), has returned to the Library’s care after passing through the hands of descendants. It is possible that some Archbishops were prepared to see records disposed of to avoid future scrutiny.
Sadly it is believed that the correspondence of Archbishop John Bird Sumner (1848-1862) was destroyed in its entirety. Sumner was a keen artist, and as a very small consolation, the Library holds two albums of his watercolours. The first (Ref: MS 1403) was presented to the Library in 1917 by the poet and author Arthur Christopher (A C) Benson, who is perhaps best known for writing the lyrics of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. He was part of a famous literary family as one of the six children of the later Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson.
The second album (Ref: MS 4774) album contains 21 watercolour views of the parkland surrounding Addington Palace near Croydon, featuring trees, cattle, sheep, and rural labourers. Addington was the official summer residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury during the 19th century (it still stands and is used as a conference and wedding venue). Also included is a distant view of the partially reconstructed Crystal Palace at Sydenham Hill, after its move from Hyde Park. The reconstruction began in August 1852 and it was re-opened in June 1854, so the work is likely to be from between those dates.
Recent work on the project has focused on the active librarianship of Samuel Roffey Maitland from 1838 to 1848 and the work of his successors in the Victorian era. New descriptions of Maitland’s unpublished work have been added to the catalogue, revealing the extent of his bibliographical labours which went far beyond his two printed catalogues of early printed books in the Library.
Unfortunately when John Bird Sumner became Archbishop in 1848 he chose not to re-appoint Maitland and gave the post to his own son-in-law John Thomas who appears to have regarded it as a sinecure. Little was done in the Library until the translation to Canterbury of Charles Thomas Longley in 1862. Longley appointed as Librarian William Stubbs, a distinguished historian and later Bishop of Oxford, whose efforts to render the Library more accessible may be seen in the registers of readers and of loans of manuscripts which he initiated. However Stubbs’ departure in 1867 to become Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford initiated a crisis. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners declined to fund the post of Librarian and Archbishop Longley closed the Library in protest. A compromise was reached but the salary provided by the Commissioners was, in Longley’s view, insufficient to attract a candidate of appropriate standing. In 1868 he reluctantly appointed Samuel Wayland Kershaw who remained Librarian until the end of 1909, aided or supervised by a succession of honorary librarians and honorary curators. The Project has recorded for the first time the nine churchmen and scholars who held these honorary appointments.
During the Victorian period the records of the Library expand to document many aspects of its work. Special attention has been paid to a register of visitors from 1870 to 1940 (LR/D/4). Amongst distinguished visitors who signed the book were Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, George V and Queen Mary, Frederick III, Emperor of Germany, Maria Feodorovna, Empress of Russia, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Octavia Hill, Field Marshal Viscount Allenby, Admiral Louis Mountbatten, Sir Robert Borden, Prime Minister of Canada, Prince Lichtowski, German Ambassador in London in 1914, Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, and eminent church leaders from around the world. A newscutting pasted into the register describes the exhibition in the Library prepared by Kershaw for the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1874.