“Would I Were In Grantchester” and the Lambeth Palace Library

My “Destinations To Visit” folder has two new entries: London’s Lambeth Palace and Grantchester in Cambridgeshire, England.

It all started last winter, when I watched “Grantchester,” a six-episode PBS MASTERPIECE Mystery! series.  

Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of SinsThe programs are based on the Grantchester Mysteries, a series of cozy murder mysteries by James Runcie in which a young vicar named Sidney Chambers becomes an amateur sleuth in solving murders that take place in the English country village of Grantchester, a couple of miles from Cambridge. Six books are planned and a new volume comes out every May, until 2017. Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death was published in 2012; Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night followed in 2013; Sidney Chambers and the Problem of Evil was released in 2014; and Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins is this year’s installment. The books begin in 1953, the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, and are planned to continue through the mid-1970s. A second Grantchester television series is planned.

Runcie modeled Sidney after his late father, Lord Robert Runcie, who was the 102nd Archbishop of Canterbury from 1980 to 1991. Like Sidney, Lord Runcie fought in World War II before he was ordained as a minister in 1950.

Lord Runcie may have been the first Archbishop of Canterbury to host a visiting Pope and to lead the Anglican church through controversial issues such as the ordination of women to the priesthood, but all loyal Lady Diana Spencer fans remember him as officiating at her July 29, 1981 marriage to Prince Charles. That’s what caught my attention and prompted me to learn more about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official residence in London, Lambeth Palace, and the special collections in its library. My mother knew this was a special place when she snapped this photo of it on a 1963 visit to London.Lambeth Palace

Lambeth Palace was acquired around 1200 and was rebuilt in 1663. The Lambeth Palace Library, the official library of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was established in 1610 and is one of England’s earliest public libraries. It began when Archbishop Richard Bancroft bequeathed his collection of books to the Archbishops of Canterbury successively forever, on the condition that if establishing the library did not have the support of his successor and of the King, the collection would pass to Chelsea College or Cambridge University Library. In 1646, Cambridge University petitioned the House of Lords to transfer 9,000 Lambeth Palace Library books to its library; when the monarchy was restored in 1664, the books were returned to Lambeth.

Bancroft’s collection included over 5,600 volumes, such as Bibles, Protestant and Catholic theology, sermons, dictionaries, and works on law, the humanities and history. Later, the collection included books once owned by monastic libraries, scholars, and noblemen, including Henry VIII, who owned a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle, a treatise on indulgences commissioned by Katherine of Aragon, a Venetian atlas, and a Latin grammar book. Other Lambeth Palace Library treasures include the MacDurnan Gospels, a pocket-size Gospel book produced in Ireland during the early Middle Ages; a circa-1465 blockbook; the 15th-century Chronicles of England, a manuscript of British history; the circa-1420 Hours of Richard III; the copy of the warrant for the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots; the diaries that British Prime Minister William Gladstone kept from 1825-1896; and records of the Queen’s Council about the physical and mental incapacity of King George III from 1811 to 1820.

Lambeth Palace Library is also the main special library for the history and affairs of the Church of England, with responsibility for maintaining a record repository and research center. This part of the collection contains monthly accounts for the rebuilding of the west end of St. Paul’s Cathedral, signed by Inigo Jones between October 1639 and September 1640. The Registers of the Archbishops of Canterbury is series of bound parchment volumes recording the administrative activities of each Archbishop from circa 1279 to 1928. The library also holds archival material for all coronations since the 17th century.

Grantchester also has literary connections worth exploring. In 1851, the owner of the Old Vicarage at Grantchester created a garden, built a romantic castle ruin, a Gothic-style “folly” where he set up a printing press, a summer house, and a Swiss cottage. In 1868, apple and cherry trees were planted at The Orchard, the house next to the vicarage. The next year, a group of Cambridge students asked if they could take tea beneath the blossoming trees, rather than by the house, and it became a popular tradition with Cambridge University students that continues today.

When he was an undergraduate at King’s College, Cambridge, English poet Rupert Brooke rented rooms in The Orchard during the summer of 1911. A year later, when he was in Berlin and was feeling homesick, Brooke wrote the nostalgic poem, “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester,” which contains the line, “Would I were in Grantchester, in Grantchester!”

The novelist Jeffrey Archer and his wife, Dame Mary Archer, moved to the Old Vicarage at Grantchester in the late 1970s. Dame Mary included the home’s history in her book, The Story of The Old Vicarage Grantchester.

For more on Lambeth Palace’s library, see Lambeth Palace Library: Treasures from the Collection of the Archbishops of Canterbury, edited by Richard Palmer and Michelle P. Brown. Learn more about Grantchester in The English Vicarage Garden, by Piers Dudgeon, and “Rupert Brooke at Grantchester,” a chapter in The Writer’s Garden: How Gardens Inspired Our Best-Loved Authors, by Jackie Bennett, with photography by Richard Hanson.

James Runcie has prepared a walking tour of Sidney’s world that you can follow if you visit Grantchester.  You can see the Church of St. Andrew and St. Mary, the church that was founded in 1352 and where Sidney is Vicar; the Vicarage; Grantchester Meadows; the Eagle Pub; and other places featured in the Grantchester Mystery books and the television series.

Click here for information on visiting Lambeth Palace , here for visiting the Lambeth Palace Library, and here for taking tea in the Orchard Tea Garden – all of which I hope to do on a future trip to England.

Have you been to Granchester or the Lambeth Palace Library?  If so, leave me a comment and tell me about your visit.

You’ll also find this post on Special Connections, the blog of the Ohio Library Council’s Subject and Special Collection Division.  

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