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Image for the news item 'William Sancroft's library' on 7 Apr 2020
Book of Hours, printed by Wynkyn de Worde, 1521; Certain Necessary Directions, as well for the Cure of the Plague, printed by John Bill & Christopher Barker, 1665

One of the great treasures of Emmanuel Library is the library of William Sancroft (1617-93), successively Master of Emmanuel (1662-64), Dean of St Paul’s (1664-77), and Archbishop of Canterbury (1677-90). Twice as large as the better-known library of Samuel Pepys, now at Magdalene College, Sancroft’s diverse book collection of 7000 items in 5000 volumes is one of the few personal libraries of the seventeenth century to survive intact.

Among its curiosities – and a moving emblem of survival and continuity – are the tattered remains of a Book of Hours printed in 1521, which Sancroft found under the Dean’s stall in the charred remains of Old St Paul’s after the Great Fire of London in 1666. That disaster had been preceded the previous year by a catastrophic outbreak of plague, and Sancroft’s library includes a topical book published in 1665 and entitled

Certain necessary Directions,

As well for the Cure of the PLAGUE,

As for Preventing the INFECTION:

With many easie Medicines of small Charge,

very profitable to His Majesties Subjects.

Set down by the Colledge of Physicians.

This book includes the instruction: ‘It is advisable that all needless Concourses of People be prohibited; that the Poor be relieved and set at work, and Beggars not suffered to go about; that all sale of corrupt Provision for Food be restrained; that Streets and Houses be as diligently and carefully as may be, kept clean …’ 

The book also shrewdly observes: ‘It is to be presumed, because everyone desireth his own liberty, that none will give notice of any suspicion of the Plague against themselves; wherefore that must be the Overseers’ care, upon any notice or suspicion of Infection, by the help of the Doctours, Surgeons, Keepers… to find out the truth thereof, and so to proceed accordingly…’

Barry Windeatt (Keeper of Rare Books)

Images by Helen Carron (College Librarian)

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