Parish Libraries Collection

Ref: Special Collection

Title: Parish Libraries Collection

A collection formed from four surviving ecclesiastical parochial libraries of the Sheffield diocese of the Church of England, consisting of titles dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

Dates: 1500-1854 (mainly 16th to 18th centuries)
Extent: 1026 volumes

Name of creator: The ecclesiastical parishes of Bradfield, Norton, Tankersley and Worsbrough

Parish Libraries Collection

Administrative / biographical history:

The four parochial libraries which form the collection are the remnants of libraries originally attached to the parish churches of Bradfield, Norton, Tankersley and Worsbrough, which today all lie in the Sheffield diocese of the Church of England. Libraries such as these existed primarily, but not always exclusively, for the use of the local clergy, being in some places also intended for the use of parishioners. However, as far as the libraries in this collection are concerned, two (Bradfield and Norton) and perhaps a third (Tankersley) appear to have been personal collections belonging to and for the use of incumbents, whilst the fourth (Worsbrough) is unusual in that it served for much of its life as the library of Worsbrough Grammar School, the incumbent there having also the office of schoolmaster.
Although books would have existed in parish churches before the Reformation in England such earlier books were generally ejected at the time of the break with Rome; however, pre-Reformation titles might reappear in libraries at a later date. In 1538 an Injunction of Henry VIII ordered the provision of an English Bible in all churches, but given the varying religious allegiances of following monarchs it was not until the reign of Elizabeth that this requirement became permanently established, with the provision of other works such as Foxe┬┤s Book of Martyrs subsequently also being given official backing. Where substantial collections arose, generally from the later 16th century onwards, bequests and donations played a major role in their formation. Although theology and Biblical studies naturally formed the major focus of such libraries, educational books such as classical works and philosophy are also often represented, especially where the library played an educational role, as at Worsbrough. Early books would be for the most part in Latin, with the growth in the printing of English texts reflected by later acquisitions.
The histories of the individual libraries in this collection have been chequered, especially in later times, and it is fortunate that these collections have survived even in a depleted state. In 1947 for example the Tankersley library was rescued from the cock-loft of Worsbrough vicarage. Although a proportion of books are in a satisfactory physical condition, many are not, and their present poor physical condition reflects the treatment afforded to ancient volumes which, with the passage of time, had become largely irrelevant to the concerns of clergy or parish. Consequently not all volumes are now in a fit state to be consulted, and some are incomplete. Most of the bindings are of early date and historically of great interest, but many have received very rough and unsympathetic usage, and their restoration will be an expensive undertaking. Funding for restoration work is being explored as the opportunity arises.
The size of the individual collections varies greatly, reflecting both their original size and the degree of loss of volumes at later times. Figures for volumes still extant are: Bradfield (39), Norton (390), Tankersley (41) and Worsbrough (556).
A separate catalogue, with a brief history (except in the case of Tankersley), exists for each collection, and records are currently being incorporated into the University Library catalogue.
The collections were received on permanent loan by Sheffield City Libraries circa 1960 and transferred to the University Library in 1993.
[Notes partly based on: Central Council for the Care of Churches: The Parochial Libraries of the Church of England (1959), and individual catalogues of the collections]

  • Related collections: Rare Books Collection
  • Source: Transferred from Sheffield City Libraries 1993; on permanent loan from individual parishes
  • System of arrangement: Chronological within each collection
  • Subjects: Church of England; Libraries, Church - Great Britain
  • Names: Bradfield (South Yorkshire); Norton (South Yorkshire); Tankersley (South Yorkshire); Sheffield (South Yorkshire); Worsbrough (South Yorkshire)
  • Conditions of access: Available to all researchers, by appointment
  • Restrictions: According to physical condition
  • Copyright: Not applicable
  • Finding aids:Listed in separate catalogues, and currently being added to the University Library catalogue.