back to article Bookworms' Weston mecca: The Oxford institution with a Swindon secret

The Botanic Gardens, Sheldonian Theatre, Museum of Natural History – there’s plenty to see in Oxford. Off limits, however, was the New Bodleian Library, arguably the city’s greatest treasure and jewel in the nation's academic crown. The Bodleian is home one of the world’s oldest and greatest collections of books, maps and …

  1. Chris Miller

    And for bibliophiles

    next door (in Oxford, not Swindon!) is Blackwell's - easily the best bookshop* in the UK. (I'd say the world, except I haven't visited them all, yet.)

    * OK, the best non-antiquarian bookshop (though the fine books are very fine indeed).

    1. keithpeter Silver badge

      Re: And for bibliophiles

      Hint: The Norrington Room (what appears to be a small town bookshop holds a subterranean secret).

      While we are on the subject, turn 180 degrees and enter the Museum for the History of Science in the old Ashmolean building next to the Sheldonian Theatre. In the basement you will find (casually as you do) Fleming's agar plates and testubes, and a couple of the white enamel bedpans filled with wallpaper paste (I'm serious) used to cultivate antibiotics on a semi-industrial scale. On the staircase on the way down is a pastel drawing of the moon by John Russell, RA. This huge pastel was drawn by hand at the telescope (Herschel reflector). A smaller copy is in the Soho House Museum in Birmingham (Boulton was a staunch Methodist). Then you have a gallery full of astrolabes (the iPhone of the first millennium). Amazing.

      Round the corner and down the road from the Weston/New Bodleian is the Pitt Rivers' museum (in the back of the Museum of Natural History). Shrunken heads, canoes and Parkas. Ace.

      1. Chris Miller

        Re: And for bibliophiles

        Yes, the Museum for the History of Science is also wonderful. Apart from a few 'modern' Oxford pieces of scientific history, like Fleming, and some of Brunel's notebooks, they focus on science before 1800. They have more original astrolabes than all the rest of the world's museums put together!

        The building is (the clue's in the name) the original site of the Ashmolean Museum, which makes it the world's oldest dedicated museum building in continuous use.

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    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Very interesting.

      "El Reg readers may be interested to know that as a "copyright" library it also holds a very large collection of pornography. (Never asked for it though)"

      I believe that once it's deployed somewhere with academic overtones, it becomes known as "art".

    2. deshepherd

      Re: Very interesting.

      Open to the public? You mean people who have not sworn an oath not to kindle fire (hmm wonder if the Bodlean should send a trademark dispute to Amazon!) in the library - I expect the library in Alexandria did the same and look what happened there

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: Very interesting.

        Yeah, open to the public. How strange, having had a "readers ticket" (or whatever they were called) it was quite an odd, arcane place to visit and a world apart from your average municiptal library in just the sheer scale, feel and atmosphere in the place.

        Ah the Turf Tavern... mmm... one place that's a possible candidate for being responsible for a chunk of my student grant being "missing". Also a great place to take visiting tall people! My favourite incident (I may have an evil streak) was a 7'1" friend attempting to order at the bar and having to lean over sideways at near 90 degrees but then he had to all but crawl through the doorway and there was no way he could stand in the main bar anyway even if the ceiling there was a few inches taller than the door.

      2. David Pollard

        Re: Very interesting.

        Sadly, modernisation has relegated to history the requirement to swear the oath not to deface books, kindle fire and so forth.

        1. Scott 53

          Re: Very interesting.

          I think if I have a Kindle Fire and choose to deface it that should be my business.

        2. SA_Mathieson

          Re: Very interesting.

          Happy to say that the Bodleian Library declaration survives, just under the data protection notice on admissions form A: "I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, or to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library."

  3. Kubla Cant

    Magna Carta ... a pain to read (it’s in Latin)

    I used to have a Bodleian reader's ticket, sadly lost during the decades since I was an undergraduate. That was in Latin, too.

    The description of the stack in Swindon and the protocol for delivering books to Oxford sounds delightfully like the operation of an old-fashioned disk drive This is especially true of the part where they're considering moving popular books to the nearer shelves. I wonder if they'll start running a near cache in Broad Street.

    1. Dr Paul Taylor

      Magna Carta in Latin

      The handwriting is probably rather tricky to read, but the text looks like pretty simple Latin and a great deal more comprehensible than Norman French or Anglo Saxon would be. That is the reason why people continued to use Latin for important documents up to c1800, after which the Tower of Babel took over. In 800 years' time, when people speak some language whose current roots we now consider to be pidgin, they will no doubt complain that 21st century stuff is written in a dead language called "English".

      Excellent article nonetheless

      1. Jonathan Richards 1

        Re: Magna Carta in Latin

        > a dead language called "English"

        I had occasion recently to review* an ebook edition of The Voyage of the Beagle (Darwin, C; 1839). One of the other reviews stated that the book was hard to read, since it was written in "Old English". I suppose this to mean that it uses both words of more than four syllables, and grammatically correct sentences of many lines.


        *I gave it only one star, not because Darwin's prose is anything but sublime, but because whoever had generated the ebook had totally butchered the formatting.

  4. Richard Taylor 2
    Thumb Down

    Colour me naive but surely most of those photos are not. They are rendered 'impressions'. Or are my eyes really so bad?

    1. SA_Mathieson

      My photos are all photos, and the Bodleian says the same is true of the ones it provided. It's true that the BSF and the new Weston look rather like computer simulations at the moment. Give it a few years.

  5. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    surrounded by hundreds of thousands of books, there is near silence.

    What? You can't hear the scritch scritch scritch of them reading themselves?

    1. Woza

      Re: surrounded by hundreds of thousands of books, there is near silence.

      I just hope they've taken precautions against the .303 bookworm.

      1. harmjschoonhoven

        Re: precautions against bookworms

        The Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana has its unique pseudoscorpion species to handle that. Don't know about the Bodleian.

  6. keithpeter Silver badge

    SOLO needs a bug tracker

    Nice write up, well done...

    SOLO perhaps (I say tentatively, as I have been out of the scholarly world for many decades) may need some proof reading.

    Try a search for Edmund Neison's The moon and the condition and configurations of its surface, published 1876. Neison basically redrew great chunks of the Born and Madler moon map and added his own annotations and detail.

    SOLO has an entry for the book but not available online. A second entry is available as a PDF but when downloaded appears to be a review of Neison's work in German, with many pages scanned blank.

    In the first entry for the actual volume, Neison's name is spelled Beison in one bibliographic field, but spelled correctly in another. Neison reverted to the family name of Neville Neville a couple of years later.

    As you may have gathered, I'm into 19th Century astronomy. Other semi-retired gentlefolk (the mainstay of Wikipedia) may share other enthusiasms. This could all be crowd sourced and harnessed with a little push.

    Now, what we need is a bugzilla or a github issue tracker for this stuff. There is a 'reviews and tags' function. I may set up a login...

    Pint: for all involved. In the Lamb and Flag of course.

    1. John Gamble

      Re: SOLO needs a bug tracker

      I don't know if it completely meets your needs, but there is a "Gitenberg" project, for tracking e-books with git.

  7. Scott 53

    Does it have an English dictionary?

    I suggest you borrow it and look up "principle" and "principal".

  8. L'Ecossais

    Source code of liberty?

    It got annulled by the pope three months later and was only re-issued after John's death by the Regent Council (That would be the Barons then!) in charge of the under-age Henry III.

  9. Bigbird3141

    Your own Bodleian

    Seems to be a long loop, rather than a live feed, but I still find this conducive to a good day's work:

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nice article

    Good effort Reg, nice to see you can still produce a classy article. Ars Technica is good at writing articles of general nerd interest, and this was a pleasant surprise.

  11. Stern Fenster

    I recall Blackwells in '73 having a blackboard inside the entrance, saying they were sorry but because of the increasing thefts they were going to have to cease their former practice of allowing you to wander off with whatever books your train of thought required and paying for them at some time in the future. That would be the hippies "liberating", of course. I rather regret the passing of that little patch of innocence.

  12. Pulsehx

    I have one more question - is it true that there are a lot of antiques books in the library of Oxford, I was awared of about it on That's why I wanna to visit GB so soon. My sister graduated historical course and it was incredible for her. I need to find out the first edition of biblical postulates, Hope so.

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