Construction of a £23.5m library that will rehouse an important collection of religious documents began at Lambeth Palace today.
With the completion date set for 2020, the new library aims to provide enhanced preservation and improved access to more than 200,000 printed books, 10,000 metres of archives and 5000 volumes of manuscripts, some of which are over 1000 years old.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby kicked off the construction – the first new build on the site for over a century – with a ground-breaking ceremony this morning at Lambeth Palace, his official residence.
Speaking at the ceremony, Archbishop Welby said: “This is an incredibly exciting moment.
“It marks the beginning of making sure that what the head of the National Archives described as ‘the second most important ancient library in Europe’ gets a proper home: a home where it can be looked after, and where scholars can come and it can be used properly.”
Currently the ecclesiastical collection of rare books and manuscripts are split across the largely medieval Lambeth Palace buildings and the Church of England Record Centre warehouse in south east London.
But with a range of important historical documents, some of which date back to the ninth century, stricter moderation of temperature and humidity as well as significant protection from fires and flooding are necessary to preserve the collection.
As well as ninth century MacDurnan gospels, the Lambeth Palace Library is home to other cultural artefacts such as the only surviving copy of the warrant for Mary Queen of Scots’ execution in 1587, and the Bible used at the Queen’s coronation in 1953.
The Archbishop added: “The library’s collection tells us a huge amount about the history of the nation, particularly in the pre-Reformation period.
“And it testifies to generation after generation of disciples who loved and followed Jesus Christ.
“That speaks volumes about the centrality of faith in the life of the nation over its history.”
Declan Kelly, Lambeth Palace Library Director of Libraries and Archives, said that the new building aims to be more inviting to the general public by having the main entrance located on Lambeth Palace Road opposite Evelina London Children’s Hospital.
He said: “We will be able to not only protect and preserve the collections but provide greater access to them than ever before.
“It will be more open and public than it has been in the past and it will have a nice welcoming entrance.”
The nine-story tower will be the first new building on the site for over a century, in contrast to the current Lambeth Palace Library which ranks as one of the oldest public libraries in the UK.
Before the Lambeth Palace Library was founded in 1610 it had been a medieval banqueting hall, and Mr Kelly hopes that it will revert back to a similar purpose once it has been emptied of the collection by offering a space for lectures, exhibitions, and increased church-related use.
Due to the fact the site hadn’t been built on in over a century, 12 archaeological pits had to be dug before construction could begin, during which they found some Saxon lead weights which are now at the Museum of London.
The project is being funded by the Church Commissioners for England.
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