Tribute to a rewarding resource

Today we have a guest post by Anthony Paice, author of The Professional Beggar (2009), who shares with us some of his memories of using Lambeth Palace Library over the past fifty years.

In August 2014 I will ‘celebrate’ fifty years of readership at Lambeth Palace Library.  During the summer of 1964, just after graduating in history from King’s College, London, I worked as a researcher for the BBC’s Great War Series.  Still in black and white it captured the imagination of the watcher and its twenty-six programmes attracted a strong following.  I remember one elderly ‘Old Contemptible’ writing in to say that, despite his misgivings over whether the subject should be screened at all, he felt the programme-makers had treated it with “reverence” and in “a holy way”.  Like all media work, however, it could be hectic.  One morning I was sent post-haste in a taxi from Lime Grove to Lambeth to devil for Episcopal statements on the course of the war.  Rather belatedly, the producer felt that the forthcoming edition lacked coverage of the growing doubts during 1916-7 about the concept of total war which, of course, included the use of what we now call weapons of mass destruction.  At the time it was poisonous gas; my grandfather died eventually of its lasting effects in 1936.

Outside it was a warm and busy day.  Inside the reading room it was quiet and cool.  The staff – one middle-aged lady, if I remember rightly – were helpful; I spent an hour or so copying out sermons by Arthur Winnington-Ingram (1858-1946), bishop of London (1901-39), who had expressed in September 1914 according to Herbert Asquith, “jingoism of the shallowest kind”.  In the opening days of the Great War he was no different from nearly everyone else, including the vast majority of the clergy.  But what Wikipedia does not say is that two years later he followed Archbishop Davidson’s lead in questioning the brutalisation that hostilities had induced.  He was prominent in condemning the bombing of civilian targets in 1917, when many would have agreed that the Germans deserved what they got.

I re-visited the words of both prelates years later when preparing my biography of the Reverend Cuthbert Hamilton (1880-1948), the very model of a good Anglican priest, who steered his parish through two world wars and the Great Depression.  Indeed, for a number of years now, I have been a regular visitor to the Library researching into the lives of the bishops of Winchester which I hope to publish in three volumes.  The reading room is more heavily used than it was in 1964 and there are more young ladies and gentlemen around to assist the researcher.  But the ambient calm has hardly changed, albeit mutterings and gasps of discovery can still be heard.  And please bring some paper handkerchiefs if you have a cold!  What was it that Gerard Hoffnung said about the echo in the reading room of the British Museum?

Lambeth Palace Library is a haven for the specialist student.  Its store of books on religious history and biography ‘out-amazons’ Amazon.  The wait for a tome is shorter than the several county record offices I visit which are also noisier.  And it lies just a short and free bus ride from Waterloo station.  I look forward with gratitude to many more years in the reading room researching the post-Reformation bishops of Winchester, having now almost completed my work on the Anglo-Saxon and Medieval divines.

Anthony Paice

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