Sharon’s visit to Durham

A visit to Durham

On Tuesday the 30th of January, I took a 7 am train to go to Durham. I arrived at about 10:15 and had arranged to visit three different libraries. Fortunately, they were all close together in the centre of town. First, I went to the Palace Green Library, which is the main special collections library of Durham University.

The building in the centre of this picture is the Palace Green Library, you can see how close it is to the Cathedral.

There were some interesting items there, including MS MSP 62, an early 17th century volume with notes on Roman and English history (up to the present time) interspersed with Latin verse on important figures, such as elegiacs entitled De Thomae Cranmeri Archiescopi qui carcere detinebatur palinodia and another poem in elegiacs entitled In effigiem Boneri, carmen.

In the afternoon, I went to the Cathedral Library. I wasn’t sure where to go initially; it turned out I had to go through the cathedral to the cloisters and up a staircase leading from there.

The cloisters, near the staircase to the Monks’ Dormitory.

I then found myself in the fourteenth century Monks’ Dormitory, an impressive room with a very high ceiling with wooden beams, which has part of the cathedral’s ‘Open Treasure’ exhibition in it and also serves as a library. I went to the Barker Reading Room, a small room to the left of this dormitory. Because the cathedral collection contained most of the manuscripts relevant to our project, I returned there the next day. One of the most fascinating pieces there, was in MS Hunter 76, a late 17th century manuscript. It is a macaronic poem (partially in Latin, partially in English) in hexameters, entitled Polemo-Middiana Carmen Macaronicum, usually attributed to William Drummond. It includes words such as ‘lobster’, ‘shippas’ and ‘footus’ and has notes accompanying it on the bottom half of each page. Another manuscript, MS Hunter 27, which dates from the mid-17th century, includes Latin versions of poems by George Herbert, illustrating the close relationship between English and Latin poetry in this period.

After the library closed, and I was about to leave the cathedral, I heard the choir sing. It sounded wonderful, so I decided to stay for Evensong. Afterwards, I had a bite to eat and then went to my accommodation. It was now very windy and cold in Durham and they were forecasting snow for the next day. The snow didn’t fall. Instead, I woke up to an even colder, but beautifully sunny Durham with blue skies

The view from the courtyard to the street.

After a quick breakfast, I headed to 5 The College library, where I had my first appointment of the day. The library is hidden away in a courtyard next to the Cathedral. One of the volumes there, Add. MS 352, contains a long hexameter poem of 1290 lines about John Cosin, Bishop of Durham. There is also a curious play about Latin grammar (Add. MS 248) which includes verse and may have been written by Thomas Rud, who was headmaster of the Cathedral grammar school in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. After I finished up work there, I headed back to the Cathedral library, where I spent the rest of the afternoon looking at more volumes before taking the train back home in the evening.

It was an interesting and enjoyable visit!

Author: Victoria

I am an early modernist who works primarily upon the relationship between Latin and vernacular (especially but not only English) poetry between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. I am Senior Lecturer in Latin Language and Literature at King's College London.

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