Document ReferenceAPL
TitleAshby Parish Library
Date1493 – 1850
Extentc. 1000 items
AbstractThe collection consists of books acquired by the parish priests of St Helen’s in Ashby-de-la-Zouch and augmented by occasional (including two large) bequests from donors with ties to Ashby-de-la-Zouch. The use of the Parish Library was usually limited to the clergy, however, occasionally access was broadened to include interested or specific sections of the local laity as was the case with the parishioners of Ashby-de-la-Zouch. The books are mainly of theological interest but humanities and lay general interest topics are also featured.
Admin HistoryThe term Parish Library is used in the 17th century. However, as early as the mid-14th century references to acquisitions of books appear in churchwardens’ accounts. By mid-15th century most churches possessed some books other than service books, likely to be chained.
Following the Reformation a number of royal injunctions and archiepiscopal directives ensured certain books were made available in churches. These were the Bible in English, the “Paraphrases” of Erasmus, Bishop Jewel’s “Defence of the Apology” and “Life and Works”, John Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs” and two volumes of “Certain sermons and homilies”. Graham Best, to whose research this record is indebted, suggests that the surviving copy of “Life and Works” found in Ashby Parish Library could be the actual copy used in the parish church at the time of the Reformation.

In the course of the Reformation Ashby-de-la-Zouch had its share of puritanical culture change. Notable Puritans of this parish were Rev. Anthony Gilby and Rev. Arthur Hildersham.
Rev. Gilby was an eminent classical scholar and strong Calvinist, an assistant to Miles Coverdale in translating the Bible for the ‘Geneva’ translation. Gilby was a friend of Henry, third Earl of Huntingdon, who presented him to the living at Huntingdon some time before 1564. Henry Huntingdon sympathised with the Puritans.
This influence was further strengthened by the appointment of Rev. Hildersham in c.1574. He was silenced and restored to his position four times and probably went to prison or paid a fine for not subscribing to the orders of the Church of England. Possibly sterner retribution would have been the case, had he not been close to Queen Elizabeth I who called him ‘Cousin Hildersham’. The predominantly puritan and dissenting tradition at Ashby was modified after the Restoration (1660).

In the 18th century parish libraries become national institutions, their promotor being the Anglican Church. The Church introduced libraries in order to assert its authority and create stability by supporting the clergy. This provision was part of a movement toward philanthropy rather than persecution as an outlet for religious enthusiasm.
The cleric Dr Thomas Bray (1656-1730) is considered the founder of the ‘Bray libraries’ - Parish Libraries as benefactions - and of the first piece of library legislation that passed through Parliament. The 1709 “Act for the better preservation of parochial libraries in that part of Great Britain called England” remains in force to the present day. It extended to parochial libraries whether established by Bray or not.

In 1705 Ashby-de-la-Zouch had 300 households and St Helen’s, under the patronage of the Earls of Huntingdon, was a comfortable living. This parish would not have been a priority case to receive a Bray library. Ashby Parish Library emerged therefore as an independent creation but in the context of the “Bray libraries”.

The beginning of Ashby Parish Library can be narrowed down to within a window of five years, between 1707-1712. In 1707 a substantial bequest of books from a private resident of Ashby to his son is conspicuous for not gifting any books to the Parish Library. It can only be assumed that this was so because a library did not exist just yet. The year 1712, however, is the earliest date of an inscription inside a book made out “to the library in the church of Ashby-de-la-Zouch” and found in the surviving Ashby Parish Library. After its creation the Library thrived intermittently depending on the interest and dedication of the incumbent. In the second decade of the 18th century there was an organised acquisition scheme which presumably became redundant when a major bequest of books was received in 1727.

Two significant book bequests contributed to the development of the Ashby Parish Library: the bequest from Rev. Thomas Bate in 1727 and the bequest from Rev. Peter Cowper in 1778.
In his 1707 will Mr Thomas Bate, the aforementioned private resident, left his son Thomas Bate Junior the pick of his books. Thomas Bate senior had moved to Ashby before 1675 and lived in no. 63 Market Street. He was a self-educated man and a mercer by trade. His monument on the south wall of the church praises the “excellencies” of his mind among which “were conspicuous a burning love and reverence for the English liturgy”.
Thomas Bate Junior became Rev. Thomas Bate, chaplain to Sir John Harpur of Calke and later Vicar of Swarkestone. He bequeathed in 1727 c.445 volumes to Ashby Parish Library of which 80 volumes were probably inherited from his father. This can be gleaned as both Thomas Bate Senior and Reverend Thomas Bate signed the books they owned with “Thomas Bate” and this signature appears twice on a number of books in two distinct handwritings. Rev. Thomas Bate set out in his will (dated 23rd October 1727): “All other my bookes excepting manuscripts I give unto the Church of St Helen in Ashby de la Zouch in the County of Leicester desireing they may be placed in the vestry Chamber for the use of the parishioners and others according to such rules as the Trustees for the preservation of the Bookes or the major part of them for the time being shall appoint and make.”

A second significant agent in the development of the Library was Rev. Peter Cowper, Vicar at St Helen’s between 1729 and 1783. His incumbency was a period of growth for the library; book benefactions increased and the Reverend himself made a large bequest in 1778 when he gave c.120 volumes to the Parish Library. Rev. Cowper’s overall care for the Library can be seen for instance with the purchase of John Wilkins’ “Of the principles and duties of natural religion” published in two volumes, 1676 and 1693 in London. Interestingly, Rev. Cowper seems to have acquired the first volume (1676) because the Library already had received the second volume (1693) through the Bate bequest.

In 1730 Rev. Cowper built a library building in the nearby vicarage garden. The library building no longer exists, however, in one of the vicarage walls still standing in the 20th century was a large slate tablet which must have at one time been situated over the door of the library building. It read:
“Deo O.M. Gloria
Quod bene Feliciterq. vortat
Ecclesiae, bonisq Literis,
Bibliothecam hanc donavit
Thomas Bate S.T.B.
Pia munificentia surrexit AEdificum
Anno Salutis Humanae
(To God be the best and greatest glory.
Because it may augur both well and happily for the church, and for good learning, Thomas Bate, Bachelor of Divinity, gave this library. Through his pious munificence, this building arose in the year of the Salvation of Mankind 1730). The purpose-built building may have stood for nearly 100 years. The historian John Nichols (1745-1826) mentions it in 1804. Some time between 1804 and 1852 the library building was demolished.
Custodial HistoryIn 1852 the library was moved into the vicarage and it would remain on the move over the next 100 years as the books were transported into the church and back into the vicarage depending on the preference of the incumbent. In 1969 the Ashby Parish Library was moved to the Rare Book Room of Loughborough’s School of Librarianship (part of Loughborough Technical College, later University). In 2013 the Ashby Parish Library was officially deposited at Manuscripts and Special Collections, University of Nottingham. The Collection is closed, and no works will be added to it.
DescriptionThe books of the Ashby Parish Library date mostly from the 17th and 18th century, but there are substantial holdings in the Collection from earlier centuries. The earliest book is an incunable printed in Venice in 1493, a breviary “Breviarium secundum usum ecclesiae Eboracensis” from the bequest of Thomas Bate. According to Graham Best this copy is the most complete copy in this country. It is printed in red and black on two-column leaves but was rebound in modern calf and suffered some cropping of the head-lines.

From the time of the Reformation date a number of printed editions of writings by classical theologians such as John of Damascus, here represented with a 1531 Greek edition of “Ekdoseis tes othodoxou” printed in Verona. This was also in the bequest of Thomas Bate. Reformist writings feature in the collection such as a 1565 edition of the works of John Calvin which may have been acquired by the Reverends Anthony Gilby (c.1510-1585) or Arthur Hildersham (1563-1632). Rev. Gilby was an eminent classical scholar and strong Calvinist.
A copy of a book authored by Arthur Hildersham and with an explicit local connection is preserved in the Library: “108 lectures upon the fourth of John, preached at Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire : 152 lectures upon psalme 51 preached at Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire”. It was published in the last year of the author’s life though the present second edition appears to be reprint from 1635.
The Reformation is also represented with its underground and illicit press. One “Primer and Almanac for XXII yeres” published in London in 1545 is an example of one of the earliest in English to be authorised by Henry VIII and prepared under his supervision. The Primer bears the following colophon: “Imprinted at / London, in Fletestrete at the / signe of the Sunne, over / against the con=/duyte, by Ed,/ward Whit=/churche, / the / XIX day of / Iune / MDXLV”. According to research by Graham Best, the printer, John Hereforde, was investigated by Thomas Cromwell for printing a heretic book ‘a lytell boke of detestable heryses’, which had the colophon “here endeth the boke of the / bande and free wyll of / man. Imprinted at / saynt Albans.” The pastedowns in the binding of this Almanac appear to be taken from this book – of which no copies survive. It is not known what punishment Hereforde received for printing it.

The 17th century publications similarly are concerned with theology but also lay subjects. There are classics of Byzantine theology such as “Dionysii poemation de situ orbis. Excusum in usum Schole Regioe Etonensis” published in 1668 in London as well as Western reformist classics such as “Desiderius Erasmi, Rot. Moriae Encomium […] epistolae aliquot in sine addite” published in Oxford, also in 1668.
There are examples of professional literature in English such as R. H. Counsellor’s “The young clerk’s guide, or, an extract collection of choice English presidents” (London 1649) and books on other lay subjects such as logic, grammar and foreign politics – Franco Burgersdijk’s “Institutionum Logicarum” (Cambridge 1680); Charles Hode’s “The Latine Grammar fitted for the use of schools” (London 1665); and Paul Rycaut’s “The present state of the Ottoman Empire” (London, 1668) a second edition but nonetheless a rare book since nearly the whole first edition of this work was destroyed by the Great Fire of London.

In the 18th century the holdings of the Library begin to branch out into the domain of general interest literature with editions of fiction classics such as a Greek Iliad by Homer (1714, London) and writings about English history such as a two-volume edition by Edward, Earl of Clarendon on the Civil War (Oxford 1707).
Unsurprisingly with a library that has been owned and curated in this way, many of the books have acquired a paratext that adds to their historic value. The benefactors have not only inscribed the books, they have used them and in doing so they have left doodles and markings. There is even a portrait in pencil that is presumed to belong to Rev. Thomas Bate, on the end page of “Philanax Anglicus : or a Christian caveat for all kings, princes and prelates” (London 1663). This books was a donation from Rev. Cowper and raises the question whether the two benefactors, Bate and Cowper, may have met, though it is more likely that an amateur portraitist in the parish drew the likeness from memory. Other examples of books that are enhanced by paratextual extras are Demosthenes’ “Selecte Demosthenis orationes”, Cambridge 1642, which has pastedowns that appear to come from a prose version of the “Duchess of Malfi” and is curiously inscribed at the back “A copy of a jury taken before Judge Dodderill of ye Azzises holden at Huntingdon July 1619” followed by an appended handwritten list of names; and John Locke’s “An essay concerning human understanding”, 2nd edition 1694 which includes a manuscript letter written in defence of Locke’s argumentation possibly by a vicar of the parish.

Benefactors’ names are often inscribed in the books they gifted which means that the history of the library can be traced. The earliest inscribed book is dated 1712. It is Bishop John Jewel’s collected works (1609) and the inscription reads “Ecclesia Sta Helena Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Comit: Leicestriae Hunc Librum D.D. Maria Dunisthorpe de Packington An.o Dom: 1712”
The latest date found among the inscriptions is 1745 and records the gift of Theophilus, seventh Earl of Huntington, who gave four folio volumes of David Wilkins’ “Concilia magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae an 1350 ad 1545”. The Earl died the year following his benefaction.
Between 1712 and 1745 there are 32 names written into books by benefactors. Donors were vicars of St Helen’s, rectors, curates in the neighbourhood, a chemist, a dyer, a bookseller. In this period four incumbents held the living at St Helen’s. According to Graham Best the donation can be segmented in the following way:
20 donations from laity and 11 donations from clergy
7 of the lay benefactors were women
2 donors call themselves “Gentleman”
2 donors add suffix “Armiger” to their names
2 donors represent leading families (Earl of Huntingdon and Sir John Harpur of Calke)
MgtGroupLibraries of other institutions
ArrangementThe collection is arranged by Library of Congress classification.
TermChurch libraries - England -Ashby-de-la-Zouch
ReprodnNoteReprographic copies can be supplied for educational and private study purposes only, depending on access status and the condition of the documents.
ConditionSome items are fragile, particularly the bindings, many of which are original.
Related MaterialColeorton Parish Library, Oakham Parish Library, Elston Parish Library, Queen Elizabeth's School Library, Loughborough Parish Library
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