Doctor Collinges and the revival of Norwich City Library 1657 1664
(scanned version)

David Stoker

PROFESSOR THOMAS KELLY has pointed to the connection between early endowed libraries in the cast of England and the puritan movement, and described how, following a reorganisation in 1656, Norwich City Library became the first subscription library in this country.1 He drew attention to a minute book of membership which was in use from the re-opening of the library until the mid-eighteenth century and which provides much information about the re-organisation of the library and its operation between 1657 and 1664.2 During this period a group of ministers turned a neglected collection of books into a scholarly reference library with a positive acquisition policy. The impetus for the transformation appears to have been the result of interest and enthusiasm displayed by the Presbyterian minister and religious controversialist John Collinges.3 This period of development exactly coincides with Collinges' membership so that when he left (probably as an indirect result of the Clarendon 'Code') the library 4 continued to function but only as a shadow of its former self.

In May 1608 the Norwich Municipal Assembly ordered that three rooms in the New Hall in St Andrew's parish should be equipped for a library for the use of local preachers and to provide a temporary lodging for preachers visiting the city at its invitation.4 The only arrangements that were made for the acquisition of books was the provision of a donors' book, but donations were soon forthcoming particularly from the aldermen of the city, and by 1617 over one hundred and twenty volumes were in the library.5 Thereafter gifts came more slowly but were nevertheless received fairly regularly until 1635 when the stock consisted of about two hundred volumes. Most of these early donations strongly reflect the puritan sympathies of many of the most powerful members of the city government; the stock included voluminous Latin works of the protestant reformers or else the Church Fathers, and comprehensive collections of the works of Luther, Calvin, Beza, Piscator, St Jerome, St John Chrysostom, Tertullian, Athanasius and Origen. The library also possessed such important works as the polyglot Bibles of Plantin and Buxtorf, a number of Latin and Hebrew concordances to the Bible and the polyglot dictionaries of Minsheu and Calepino. Works in English represented only a fraction of the contents of the library but included Foxe's Martyrology, translations from Calvin, and the works of the English Calvinists, Andrew Willett and William Perkins. Most of these were of the best available editions, many of them having been bought specifically for the library rather than donated from existing collections. Thus by 1635 Norwich City Library provided a valuable collection of reformed theology, particularly attractive to the puritan clergy.

The growth of the library seems to have stopped for some time after the gift of books by the widow of Alderman Anthony Mingay in 1635, and for more than two decades there were no further private donations. However there is no reason to suppose that the collection did not continue to be used and cared for until about 1653. In that year the Municipal Assembly agreed that the city should subscribe to the fascicules of Brian Walton's polyglot Bible for the library, paying forty shillings and a like sum each half year until ten pounds had been paid for the complete work.6 At about the same time John Carter, Presbyterian rector of St Laurence's, Norwich, included a small bequest of books to the library in the will that he was then drawing up, but soon afterwards the collection ceased to be available and in September 1655 Carter revoked his bequest in a codicil:

nowe seeinge (to my no small grief) that the library is locked up, ministers shut out of it. and that it is never like to be of publique use againe, but that the books are devoted to the wormes, dust and rotteness, to the dishonour of God, the damage of the ministry, and the wrong of the benefactors, the dead, and the living, &c.7

The reason for this closure of the library is not known but was probably to save the cost of heating, lighting and supervision in the New Hall following the suspension of municipal sermons in the Cathedral and the consequent decline in the need to lodge visiting clergy. It is, however, a little odd that the Assembly should have permitted the collection to fall into disuse so soon after they had made such an important purchase for it.

John Carter died in December 1655 and two days after his burial, a lecture sermon was preached in his church by his protege, John Collinges, vicar of the neighbouring parish of St Stephen. Collinges took as his text the passage in which the young prophet Elisha took up the mantle of Elijah,8 and during the following year he pursued this metaphor in his daily life, not only in his preaching but also by sharing Carter's concern for the fate of a valuable collection of books that was in danger of being lost through neglect. A voluminous writer and constant preacher, Collinges was convinced of the importance of the study and full understanding of the scriptures by the ministry. Through his efforts the Assembly was persuaded in January 1657 to approve the re-opening of the library under newly drawn up rules with the provision that users should catalogue and organise the collection themselves and pay for the running costs of the building.9

On 9th February 1657 Collinges chaired a meeting of eight local ministers in the library at which they agreed to be bound by the new rules and Collinges was appointed Library Keeper for the succeeding year.10 A further meeting was held a week later which included a further five local ministers bringing the total membership to thirteen. Thereafter meetings of the library members were usually held each month (at least when there was sufficient business to discuss) until 1665, after which they became markedly less frequent. From 1657 to 1665 the membership of the library usually remained at about eleven or twelve but with many changes and only six remained in membership throughout the period. Of these, Collinges and his friend John Whitefoot, rector of Heigham near Norwich, and out as having attended the largest number of meetings.

Under the rules drawn up in 1656 the new City Library was to be organised as a reference library only, which could be used by members and their guests at reasonable times upon collection of the keys to the building.11 Members paid a quarterly subscription and shared other incidental expenses but only to cover the running costs; there was no provision for the purchase of new stock. For these reasons the library cannot be classified as a subscription library in the usually accepted sense. The emphasis was on the provision of comfortable surroundings in which the collection might be well used. There were no restrictions upon conversation or smoking in the library; in fact in 1657 a quantity of pipes and tobacco was purchased specifically for the use of members.

After the re -opening there were two officers; a Library Keeper and an Underkeeper. The former was elected from the membership to act as a chairman of meetings, custodian of the books and any funds, and to represent the users to the city authorities. He also undertook to purchase books and stationery which were selected by the membership. No member could serve as Keeper more than once in seven years although this did not prevent each incumbent from discharging the office for two consecutive years. Collinges was elected Keeper for 165 7 but at the end of this time he was in the process of compiling catalogues and so was asked to keep his post until this task was finished in January 1659. Thereafter every Keeper was automatically requested to serve for a second year.

The Underkeeper was a paid employee who acted as caretaker and clavor for the library. He collected the quarterly payment of one shilling from each member to cover his own wages and the cost of fuel. The appointment was the responsibility of the current Keeper and appears to have been given to able-bodied old me "n- in need of some light work. Two Underkeepers died in office in as many 1 years and was more the result of their age than the onerous nature of their duties.

The first two meetings of library members were mainly concerned with arranging for a notice of the new rules to be displayed in the library and acquiring a minute book for the monthly meetings, but by April 1657 Collinges was wanting to begin organising and improving the book stock. At this stage there were no funds for new books but there was a need for a catalogue of the existing collection. Initially four manuscript catalogues were made, each compiled by Collinges, and the membership as a whole bore the cost of the writing materials. The first was drawn up during May 165 7 on loose sheets which were then pasted either on the walls of the library or, perhaps, on the presses to indicate the contents of each shelf in the absence of any labelling or titling on the books. The two main catalogues were not completed until December 1658 and were contained in one large folio volume comprising a classified list of books in order of their shelf marks and an index arranged alphabetically by author. Shortly afterwards Collinges completed, fourthly, a catalogue of the Biblical commentators contained in the collection.

Immediately after Collinges relinquished his office of Library Keeper to John Whitefoot in January 1659, the membership began to discuss the compilation of one further list of the books in the form of a new donors' book to record recent gifts and encourage other potential benefactors. At this time Collinges drew attention to two works which had been given to the library but which were missing when he had become responsible for the collection. Discreet enquiries followed and in the following September an embarrassed John Stinnet, rector of St John Maddermarket parish, sent in one of the missing volumes, Schindler's Lexicon pentaglotton, together with a peace-offering of a number of books from his own library. The donors' book was completed in July 1659, and the members paid seven shillings to a clerk to have it neatly written up.

For almost the first two years following the reorganisation of the library no significant addition was made to the stock. The last part of Walton's polyglot Bible was eventually received in November 1658 and detailed instructions about the way in which the volumes should be bound were given to a local bookbinder, though this had been ordered many years earlier. Before embarking on the catalogues, Collinges had pointed out that the works of Epiphanius were held in both Latin and Greek, and Latin only editions, and that the latter might be sold or exchanged for other titles. He had also suggested that the copy of Andrew Willett's Hexapla in Genesin might be replaced by one of the later revised editions. However at that time there was no offer for the Epiphanius and no money to replace the Willett. An edition of Johannes Baco's Quaest' tones in quatuor libros Sententiarum & quodlibetales, was donated by John Whitefoot, however, and he later agreed to purchase the Epiphanius for five shillings.

An opportunity to improve the collection came in December 1658 when Collinges and two other members were able to report that they had received a gift of twenty pounds from Alderman Paine, which was to be used for the purchase of books for the library. This was the first of four major gifts of money, which with a number of smaller gifts of money or of books (some of which were exchanged), provided the library with sufficient funds to fill major gaps in the collection.

The method of book selection was apparently democratic, although it appears that the Library Keeper often took the initiative in suggesting titles for inclusion. Following the receipt of Alderman Paine's money there was some discussion as to how it should be spent and Collinges was asked to contact his stationer in order to ascertain the prices of various works by Johann Gerhard. Collinges visited London before the next meeting and came back armed with the prices of Gerhard and a large number of other titles that he wished to suggest. In like manner, John Whitefoot had a very large say in the choice of books purchased with a further twenty pounds donated by the widow of Mr William Brooke in 1659. However the pattern of book purchase remained unchanged. The library bought the best editions available of some of the major Protestant theologians and Church Fathers and particularly aimed at buying large and expensive works which might have been beyond the means of individuals. Usually the books purchased were either new, or else had been published in the previous two decades, but occasionally they would buy older works in order to have a particular title or author, such as the works of the late medieval Spanish theologian Alfonso Tostado, published 1615. They were not averse from purchasing Roman Catholic authors of the counter-reformation as their acquisition of works by such Jesuits as Azor, Filliucius and Toletus indicates. A good deal of thought was given to the quality of these editions. When considering the purchase of the works of Gerhard, care was taken to specify the Rotterdam edition of his Harmoniae Evangelistarum continuatio, and purchase of the remainder of his commentaries W as deferred pending the publication of a folio edition.

By an unfortunate coincidence, the library received no fewer than three donations of Walton's polyglot Bible in ten years. The first of these, which has already been mentioned, was eventually bound and placed in the library in January 1660. In May 1662, Alderman Francis Norris donated a second copy, which he agreed might be exchanged for other books. Robert Harmer, the Library Keeper at that time, had no difficulty in exchanging the volumes with the London bookseller George Thomason for books to the value of fourteen pounds. Even allowing for the cost of binding the second set, this represented a substantial increase over the published price of ten pounds. Unfortunately, the Bible was sent to London in January and suffered from exposure to the weather during the journey, but the members were nevertheless able to exchange it for the fourteen volume set of the commentaries of Tostado. The third set of the polyglot Bible was given by Alderman Man in May 1664, but on this occasion Collinges offered to exchange it for thirty-eight older folio volumes from his personal collection; who had the better bargain may be questioned.

Between 1657 and 1664 Norwich City Library acquired one hundred and twenty-eight volumes, most of which were large folios. This naturally caused a space problem in a library which had hitherto housed only about two hundred books, and so the members agreed to petition the Council for the addition of a room to the library and for better shelving. The petition was presented in July 1664, but was presumably not successful, and there is no further reference made to the project.

Collinges was not one of the two representatives chosen to deliver that petition, as he undoubtedly would have been a few years earlier. Although he was the driving force behind the re-organisation and operation of the library in the first few years, by 1664 he was taking a less active part and beginning to miss some of the meetings, and at the same time other members gradually meet less frequently. Collinges last attended a meeting in July 1665 and thereafter allowed his membership to lapse, although he continued to live in or near Norwich until his death in 169i. The other members continued to meet intermittently until May 1666, and then allowed thirteen months to elapse before their next meeting. Thereafter, the membership pulled itself together and met somewhat more regularly, although for more than a decade there was little further development other than occasional small donations. The loss of Collinges appears to have brought to an end a remarkable example of early librarianship, in which an existing collection was taken over and developed to serve the needs of a small group of like-minded clergy.

The reasons for Collinges' departure are not hard to find, and stem from political pressures, rather than any dissension among the members of the library, or loss of interest on his part. As a well known Presbyterian, who found himself unable to subscribe to the Act of Uniformity, he suffered from the progressively harsher legislation of the Clarendon 'Code' and the change of public opinion against non-conformists. Although a strong supporter of the Parliamentary cause in the Civil War, by 166o he was in favour of the Restoration and the recall of Parliament. In the following year, he was a Commissioner to the Savoy Conference, which unsuccessfully tried to bring about a reconciliation with episcopacy. Following his failure to subscribe to the forms of the Church of England, he was ejected from his living as vicar of St Stephen's parish, on St Bartholomew's day 1662, when he was still a regular member of the City Library, but there is no indication in the minutes to suggest that his life was immediately affected.

In fact Collinges did not suffer greatly from his ejection. For many years he had been living as the chaplain to Sir John Hobart, and latterly to his widow Lady Frances, and had not accepted tithes from his parish.12 A room in the Hobart's house had been converted into a chapel, and Collinges held weekly lectures there, and accepted contributions from his congregation. In theory the Conventicle Act of 1663 should have silenced these lectures, but Lady Hobart died in 1664 before any such action was ken by the authorities. This left Collinges without a home and one of his means of support. Finally the Five Mile Act of 1665 forbade him to live in, or visit, Norwich after Lady Day 1666, and this is the probable reason for the lapse of his membership of the library. Yet by 1669 at the latest he was once again living in the city, and preaching to a Presbyterian congregation in the parish of St John Maddermarket.13

Unfortunately there is no evidence to indicate the religious partisanship of the library members in the decade following the departure of Collinges. He made no attempt to rejoin the library on his return to Norwich and perhaps his nonconformity was unacceptable to his colleagues or to the City authorities. Some slight change is however noticeable in the character of the donors to the library during this decade. These included Thomas Tenison, vicar of St Andrew-the-Great, Cambridge (later Archbishop of Canterbury) and the physician and author Thomas Browne, who were both moderate men within the Church of England, whilst another donation was forthcoming from William Oliver, a bookseller and the publisher of some violently anti-Presbyterian sermons.


1. T. Kelly, 'Norwich, pioneer of public libraries', Norfolk Archaeology, vol. 34 (1966-9), pp. 215--222.

2. Norfolk Record Office, MS. 4226.

3. For an account of Collinges, see D.N.B. and A. Matthews, Calamy revised (1934), p.128.

4. G. A. Stephen, Three centuries of a city library (1917), p. 4.

5. See the list of benefactors in F. Kitton, Catalogus librorum in Bibliotheca Norvicenis (1883), pp. xiii-xv. Earlier catalogues of the collection specify which volumes were given by each donor.

6. Norfolk Record Office Assembly Book vii (1642-1668( under 20th August 1653.


8. J. Collinges, Elisha's lamentation for Elijah (1657). The text is in II Kings 2.

9. Stephen, op. cit., p. 6.

10. Norfolk Record Office MS. 4226.


12. Matthews, op. cit., p. 128.

13. ibid.



Books purchased, sold and exchanged by Norwich City Library, 1657-1664.

1. BACO, JOANNES Quaestiones in quatuor libros Sententiarum & quodlibetales. 2 VOIS. Cremonae, 1618. Donated by Rev. John Whitefoot, 12th December 1657.

2. Biblia sacra polyglotta, ed. B. Walton. 6 vols. London, 1657. Subscribed by city of Norwich; 8th November 1658, bound by G. Crotch, Norwich

3. GERHARD, JOHANN Loci theologici. 10 vols in 4. Francofurti & Hamburgi, 165 7. Items 3-10 were purchased from Robert Littlebury, London; item 3 cost 3. 13.0.

4. BASIL Opera omnia Graece et Latine 2 vols. Parisiis, 1618. 1. 14.0.

5. OECUMENIUS Commentaria in hosce N. Testamenti. 2 vols. Lutetiae Par., 1631. 1.4.0.

6. THEOPHYLACT Commentarii in quatuor Evangelia. Lutetiae Par., 1635. Items 6 and 7 together, 1.2.0.

7. - In D. Pauli epistolers commentarii. Londini, 1636.- See item 6, above.

8. PHILO JUDAEUS Opera. Lutetia Par., 1640. 0. 16.0.

9. GERHARD, JOHANN In harmoniam historiae Evangelicae. Francofurti, 1622. 0.7.6

10. - Harmoniae Evangelistarum Chemnitio-Lyserianae continuatio. 1.3.0.

11. SCHINDLER, VALENTIN Lexicon Pentaglotton. Francofurti, 1612. Missing copy returned by Rev. William Stinnet, 12th September 1659.

12. FORSTER@ JOHANN Dictionarium Hebraicum novum. Basileae 1564., Items 12-15 donated by Rev. William Stinnet, 12th September 1659.

13. AINSWORTH, Henry Annotations upon the five books of Moses. London,1627. See item 12, above.

14. MAZZOLINI, SILVESTRO Summae Sylvestrinae quae summa summarum merito nuncupatur. Lugduni, 1593. See item 12, above.

15. WECKER, HANSS JACOB Antidotarium speciale. Basileae, 1574. See item 12, above.

16. EPIPHANIUS [an old Latin Epiphanius] Sold for 5s. to Rev. John Whitefoot, 14th November 1659.

17. THEOPHYLACT [an old Latin Theophylact} Sold for 4s. to Mr. Harmer, 14th November 1659.

18. ALLEN, THOMAS Chain of scripture chronology. London, 1659. Donated by the author, 14th November 1659.

19. HUGO DE SANCTO CHARO Repertorium apostilorum utriusque Testamenti. 6 vols. Basileae, 1504. Donated by Rev. Dr. John Collinges, 12th March 1659/60.

20. CALVIN, JOANNES Lexicon iuridicum iuris Caesarei simul et canonici feudalis. Genevae, [?16531. Possibly an earlier edition; purchased for 12s., 9th April 1660.

21. BONACINA, MARTINO Opera omnia, Parisiis, 1633. Purchased for 14s., 9th April 1660.

22. AZOR JOANNES Instituniones morales. 3 vols. Coloniae, 1613. Purchased for 1.1.0, 9th April 1660.

23. CAMERON, JOHN Opera. Genevae, 1658. Purchased for 12s., 9th April 1660.

24. ARMINIUS, JACOBUS Opera theologica. Francofurti, 1635. Purchased for 7s., 9th April 1660.

25. TOLETUS, FRANCISCUS Instructio sacerdotum. Rothomagi, 1619. Purchased for 3s., 9th April 1660.

26. FEGUERNEKINUS, ISAACUS Enchiridion locorum communium theologicorum. Londini, 1588. Purchased for 2s., 9th April 1660.

27. VAN DEN STEEN, CORNELIUS Commentarii in IV Evangelia. Lugduni, 1638. Purchased for 1.0.0, 9th April 1660.

28. FILLIUCIUS, VINCENTIUS Moralium quaestionum de Christianis officiis. Coloniae, 1629. Purchased for 1.0.0, 9th April 1660.

29. SUIDAs Lexicon Graece & Latine. 2 vols. Coloniae, 1619. Purchased for 1.8.0, 9th April 1660.

30. SCHMIDT, ERASMUS Novi Testamenti Graeci. Wittebergae, 1638. Purchased for 15s., 9th April 1660.

31. JOSEPHUS [works in Greek] Purchased for 18s., 9th April 1660.

32. SANCTIUS3 GASPARUS In Isaiam prophetam commentarii. Lugduni, 1615. Items 32-40 all purchased for a total of 4.8.0, 5th July 1660.

33. - - In Jereiam prophetam commentarii. Lugduni, 1618. See item 32, above.

34. - - In Ezechielem et Danielein prophetas commentarii. Lugduni, 1619. See item 32, above.

35. - - In duodecim prophetas nzinores et Baruch commentarii. Lugduni,162I. See item 32, above.

36. - - In quatuor libros regum et duo Paralipomenon commentarii. Lugduni, 1623. See item 32, above.

37. - - In libros Ruth, Esdrae, Nehemiae, Tobiae, 7udith, Esther, Machabaeorum commentarz'i. Lugduni, 1628. See item 32, above.

38. - - In librum Yob commentarii. Lugduni, 1625. See item 32, above.

39. - - In Canticum canticorum commentarii. Lugduni, 1616. See item 32, above.

40. - - Commentarii in Actus Apostolorum. Lugduni, 1616. See item 32, above.

41. PAREUS, DAVID Operum theoloicorum. 2 vols. Francofurti, 1647. Purchased for 2.8.0, 5th July 1660.

42. RIVET, ANDRE Operum theologicorum. 3 vols. Roterodami, 1660. Purchased for 3.18.0, 5t11 Julv 1660.

43. PEARSON, JOHN Critici sacri. 9 vols. London, 1660. Purchased for 14.15.0, 9th October 1661.

44. FULKE, WILLIAM The Text of the New Testament with a confutation. London,1633. Donated by Rev. John Smith, 11 th November 1661.

45. PAGNINUS, SANTES Thesaurus linguae sanclat. Lugduni, 1575. Purchased for 17s., 11th November 1661.

46. BASIL [an old Latin Basil]. Sold for 8s. to Rev. Dr. Collinges, 13th April 1662.

47. THEOPHYLACT [in Latin, 2 little octavos]. Sold to Rev. Dr. Collinges, 13th April 1662,

48. Biblia sacra polyglotta, ed. B. Walton, 6 vols. London, 1657. Donated by Alderman Francis Norris, 12th May 1662; subsequently to be exchanged for books to the value of 14.0.0, but damaged in transit.

49. TOSTADO, ALFONSO [Opera omnia]. 14 vols. Venetiis, 1615. Exchanged for item 48 and 2. 10.0, with George Thomason, London, 13th July 1663.

50, ESTIENNE, HENRI Thesaurus Graecae linguae. 4 vols. [Geneva], 1572. Items 50 and 51 purchased for 5.0.0 from G. Thomason, 13th July 1663.

51. - - Glossaria. Genevae, 1618. See item 50, above.

52 Biblia sacra polyglotta, ed. B. Walton. 6 vols. London, 1657. Donated by Alderman John Mann, 13th June 1664; subsequently exchanged for items 53-74 by John Collinges.

53. VASQUEZ, GABRIEL Opera theologicae. Antverpiae, 1621. Items 53-74 exchanged for item 52, 13th June 1664.

54. BUXTORFIUS, JOHANNES Lexicon Chaldaicum, Talmudicum et rabbinicum. Basileae, 1640. See item 53, above.

55. CHRYSOSTOM Opera Graece. 8 vols. Etonae, 1613. See item 53, above.

56. GOMARUS, FRANCISCUS Opera theologica. 3 vols. Amstelodami, 1644. See item 53, above.

57. SYLBURGIUS, FRIDERICUS Etymologicon magnum, 1594. See item 53, above.

58. SIGONIO, CARLO Historiarum de regno Italiae. Francofurti, 1591. See item 53, above.

59. - - Historia de rebus Bononiensibus. Francofurti, 1604. See item 53, above.

60. - - Fasti consulares. Basileae, 1559. See item 53, above.

61. - - Historiarum de occidentali imperio. Francofurti, 1593. See item 53, above.

62. - - De antiquo iure civium Romanorum. Francofurti, 1593. See item 53, above.

63. WALTHER, RUDOLF In Evangelium Iesu Cliristi secundum Joannem homilae. Tiguri,. 1568. See item 53, above.

64. - - In Acta Apostolorum homilae Tiguri, 1569.. See item 53, above.

65. - - In Evangelium Iesu Christi secundum Marcum homilae. Tiguri, I570. See item 53, above.

66. - - In prophetas duodecim quos vocant minores homilae. Tiguri, 1572 See item 53, above.

67. - - In D. Pauli epistolam ad Romanos homilae. Tiguri, 1572 See item 53, above.

68. - - In D. Pauli ad Corinthios epistolam homilae. Tuguri, I572. See item 53, above.

69. - - In Evangelium Iesu Chrz'sti secundum Lucam homilae. Tiguri, 1573. See item 53, above.

70. - - In D. Pauli ept'stolam ad Galatas homilae. Tuguri, I576. See item 53, above.

71. - - In Isaiam prophetam homilae. Tiguri, I583. See item 53, above.

72. - - Homilarum in Evangelium Iesu Christi secundum Mathaeum Tiguri, 1583 See item 53, above.

73. - - Homilarum in Evangelia dom nicalia a vigilia nativitatis Domini 2 vols. Lugduni Batav., I585- See item 53, above.

74. FUNCK, JOHANN Chronologia Witebergae, 1601.. See item 53, above.

75. LUDOLPHUS DE SAXONIA Vita Iesu Christi. Antverpiae, 1618. Donated by Rev. T. Morley, 13th June 1664.

76. MARBECKE, JOHN A Concordance[to] the whole Bible. London, 1550. Donated by Mr. Samuel Fromentell, 9th October 1665.