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Rare Books and Manuscripts

The Library being of ancient foundation - it is first mentioned in the Inn's records in 1471 - has important collections of rare books and manuscripts, by no means all connected with the law.

For access to the rare books and manuscripts see the Who may use the Library page.

The most important are the Hale Manuscripts. They take their name from Sir Matthew Hale, Chief Justice of the King's Bench and great antiquary, who bequeathed his large personal collection on his death in 1676. The collection includes most of the Library's 63 medieval manuscripts.

The Inn also possesses an important collection of the paper books of four common law judges, covering the period 1771 to 1816. The collection contains almost 100 bundles of Paper Books that were the personal copies delivered individually to four common law judges – William Ashhurst, Francis Buller, Soulden Lawrence, and Henry Dampier. The Library is fortunate in having an index to the majority of this collection prepared by James Oldham, St. Thomas More Professor of Law and Legal History at the Georgetown University Law Center.

For an introduction to the index, click here.
To access the index for the different classes of document, click on the appropriate link:

Buller paper books
Lawrence paper books
Grose-Dampier paper books
Dampier House of Lords papers
Dampier briefs

There are well over 1,000 volumes of other manuscripts. The printed catalogue by Joseph Hunter published in 1838 remains the main guide. A copy of the later typescript addenda is deposited with the National Register of Archives. Further useful information on the manuscripts may be found in J.H. Baker's catalogue of the Library's holdings of Year Books, Law Reports and Readings: English Legal Manuscripts, vol. 2 (Zug: Inter-Documentation, 1978), and in N.R. Ker Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries. Vol. 1: London (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969).


Apart from an outstanding collection of English legal treatises and extensive collections of early civil and continental law, the Library has a large collection of pamphlets and tracts, over 2000 of which date from before 1700, and which contain important material of interest not only to the legal historian.

Note that the computer catalogue currently excludes much of the civil law and pamphlet collections, but is otherwise comprehensive. The Library's holdings are covered by Wing and STC (but not the English Short Title Catalogue), and the small number of the Library's incunabula are included in the on-line ISTC.

 

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