Four hundred and five years ago today the Bodleian Library at Oxford University opened its doors to the public.
The Bodleian had existed for a century or so before that, first as a small collection of chained books, then as a private library. But it was Thomas Bodley who donated his personal library and urged the university to open the collection to ‘the world of the learned.’
The Bod is not the oldest library in the world – that honor belongs to the Bibliotheque National in Paris, which was started in 1368, though it did not open to the public until 1692. Nor is it the largest, the Library of Congress holding that title.
But it is the gold standard for scholars, with its four copies of the Magna Carta, papers of Sir Francis Drake, letters of Percy Shelley and the oldest Coptic Gospel in the world. Since it has grown piecemeal, it also has some stunning examples of various architectural eras, notably the Radcliffe Camera (former home of the Science Library), 1737. and the Clarendon Building of 1711, the original home of the Oxford UP.
The most interesting thing about the Bod is that in four hundred years, it has had only 24 head librarians – not a lot of turnover. In 2007, it acquired its first female head, Sarah E. Thomas, and here’s the kicker – she’s an American, the first foreigner to head the Bodleian.
The Bod is a favorite movie location – the Divinity School appears in ‘The Madness of King George’ and the original Duke Humfrey library is the library in the Harry Potter series.
One more bit of library trivia: it’s not the biggest, the oldest, the best or the most beautiful – in fact, it doesn’t fall into any superlative category at all, but the Peterborough Library in Peterborough, New Hampshire, is proud to point out that it is the oldest public library in every sense – it was the first ever to be supported by public taxation.
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Forty-year-old Richard Bingham drove off in a borrowed Ford Corsair on the night of November 8, 1974, and was never seen again. Bingham is better known as Lord Lucan, the seventh Earl, and the best guess is that it was he that killed the nanny, mistaking her for his wife.
Apparently the Lucan marriage was not a happy one – his wife, covered in blood, ran into a local police station screaming and accused her husband of the murder of the nanny and of attacking her when she discovered the body.
It’s all pretty film noir and you can find more details here. Oddly, Lord Lucan is more famous for having disappeared than for having committed a murder.