An extract from a report to the Friends of St Davids Cathedral by the former Dean of St Davids, Bishop Wyn Evans, and Development Officer Mari James, September 2017
St Davids Cathedral is full of all sort of wonderful things. Among them, but not as obvious or as well known, is the Cathedral Library.
The Library is among the jewels in the crown of St Davids Cathedral. Hidden up a mediaeval spiral staircase off the North Choir Aisle, it is the only Library of the six Welsh Cathedrals to survive on site.
Over the centuries it has been located in various parts of the Cathedral, but for the last half century it has found its home in what was the Chapter House, and the Cathedral Treasury above. They formed the second and third floor of a three storey building with St Thomas’ Chapel on the ground floor.
The fourteenth century Library chamber is of itself well worth a visit. The original fireplace in the west wall is flanked by two light brackets, both of which look appear to be thirteenth century.
The east window, the triangular window in the gable, the side window with its pair of stone window seats are also of the fourteenth century. The room itself has undergone many changes: it housed the cathedral grammar school in the mid nineteenth century, when the floor between the Chapter House and the Treasury had been removed.
The fittings, the book cases and bays look like those of a mediaeval library; and the doors on the central bays look seventeenth century, but they are not. The library room and fittings as they stand are entirely of the twentieth century. Moreover, the library, as a collection of books, is not a creation of the middle ages either.
The library shelving and fittings arise from the refurbishment of the room in 1956 /1957 when the library was created as a memorial for Bishop WT Havard who died in 1956, as the inscription on the wooden platform at the bottom the stairs makes clear.
The doors on the two central bays are even more recent. Having, when I was Secretary to the Library Committee in the 1980’s, seen Archbishop Marsh’s Library next to St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, I suggested to the Dean that we should have similar doors made for the Cathedral Library. Peter Bird, the then cathedral architect designed them and Friend Wood made them in the early 1990’s.
There are in the region of 7,000 books in the Library, covering an amazing range of topics. When Mrs Mary Buckland, the redoubtable Keeper of the Library in the 1950s reported to Chapter in around 1957, she stated that there were 4500 volumes which had been classified and shelved under the following sections: Archaeology; Architecture, Botany, English Literature (Secular), History & Documents Reprints Law, Periodicals and Reports. Sciences and Philosophy, Theology, Topography, Welsh Texts.
In the showcases were
- Lyndewode Parochiale 1505,
- Calvin’s Sermons 1574
- The History of Cambria and Camden’s Britannia 1600
- Parry’s Welsh Bible 1620
- Dr John Davies’ Dictionarium Duplex of 1632;
- Dodoen (1578)
- Gerrard’s Herbal (1636)
- Works of Charles I and a copy of
- Browne Willis’ Survey of St David’s 1717 (copy).
In the collection, today are books which were once the property of Deans, especially James Allen, (Dean 1878-1895) who bequeathed his books to the library, Bishops, Bishop John Owen 1897-1926 and clergy dating back to the sixteenth century.
Alongside those there are collections of photographs relating to St Davids and the peninsula. The subjects covered by the collection are varied and wide ranging, covering the Patron Saint, St Davids, Wales and the History of the Church in Wales. There is a useful local history section and many photographs of the Cathedral in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; as well as prints from an earlier period.
The creation of the Library in its present form owes much to The Pilgrim Trust who made a substantial grant to the Library, as part of the more general post war restoration and refurbishment which Dean Witton Davies undertook between 1950 and 1956. The Trust had enquired and noted both the contents and the use made of the library notably by research students and writers of post graduate theses.