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The Old Library

Built in 1596-8, it was the first in Oxford to be designed with seats and desks between the cases. The existing pew-like seats and the lower parts of the cases date from 1596-8 but the latter were raised in the 17th century to accommodate more books. The roof was originally ceiled, concealing the irregular roof-timbers; these were exposed in 1888, when the ornate metal tie-rods were inserted to prevent the roof spreading. Until the second half of the 18th century many of the books were chained; one chained book, a manuscript copy of the College Statutes, can still be seen on the left-hand side. The Library was extended at the eastern end during the 1630s to link it with the new Inner Library (now the Laudian Library).

The Laudian Library

The Laudian Library forms the eastern range of the Canterbury Quadrangle, built in 1631-5 by William Laud (1573-1645), Archbishop of Canterbury, formerly President of the College. It was originally known as the Inner, or Mathematical Library, and housed mathematical instruments, manuscripts and other treasures, in cases which belonged to Archbishop Laud; one of these remains at the northern end, decorated with Laudian heraldry in the open-work panels. The present Gothic bookcases, together with the angels and other decorations in the roof, were installed in 1838 to designs by a local architect, H.J. Underwood. Formerly the roof-timbers were hidden above a barrel-ceiling. Two modern cases, incorporating metal panels from destroyed Laudian ones, contain books and MSS relating to the poet and classical scholar A.E. Housman.

The Paddy Room

When plans to include a science library in the Thomas White building were abandoned in 1969-70, it was decided to take over the five undergraduate sets beneath the Old Library, and this was done in stages between 1971 and 1977. The date 1965 over the Library entrance is misleading, as it refers to earlier alterations to the undergraduate rooms existing previously. The Paddy Room is named after Sir William Paddy (1554-1634), a graduate of the College, Physician to King James I and a great benefactor of the College, who gave the Library many hundreds of his books and manuscripts during the first half of the 17th century, and also endowed the Chapel (Paddy Organ Scholarships, etc.). His portrait is over the west door of the Old Library, and many of the printed books given by him, on medical subjects, can be seen there (stack "Y").

The Law Library (Holdsworth Room)

The Holdsworth Room is named after Sir William Searle Holdsworth (1871-1944), Fellow of St John's 1897-1922 and Vinerian Professor of Law, and later Honorary Fellow. His portrait in pastels by E. Plachter can be seen there.

If you would like to see some images of the library, we have some beautiful pictures on the Gallery page

Contact details

St John's College
St. Giles, Oxford OX1 3JP
Work Tel: 01865 277300
Fax: 01865 277435
University of Oxford