Monday, 7 November 2011

Canon J. M. Wilson and the Cathedral Library in the Early Twentieth Century

One of the most distinguished figures associated with Worcester Cathedral Library is Canon James Maurice Wilson (1836-1931).  Wilson was a mathematician, astronomer, historian, theologian, educational reformer and philanthropist (see our ‘Book of the Week’ below); in short, a true Renaissance Man!  Wilson read Mathematics at St John’s College, Cambridge and was afterwards appointed Maths and Science master at Rugby School. He remained at Rugby for 20 years before taking up the position of headmaster at Clifton College, Bristol.  During this time he composed lectures and treatises on morality and Biblical studies as well as work on geometry and double star formations.  He rarely struggled to reconcile scientific knowledge and religion, believing the former to be a revelation of divine power.  Indeed, he put up a passionate defence of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  In 1890 Wilson resigned his place at Clifton in order to enter the Church, firstly as the vicar of Rochdale, then archdeacon of Manchester, and finally canon of Worcester in 1905.  In 1907 he was appointed librarian of the Cathedral, and was reborn as a cataloguer, archivist and medieval scholar.  For 17 years Canon Wilson worked tirelessly to clean, classify, and in some cases transcribe and translate, a number of the Library’s manuscripts and documents.

The following photograph is a view of the Cathedral Library in Wilson’s time.  It was taken in 1906.  If you compare it with the snapshots I took below it you can see that the library has acquired a good many more books and shelves!  However, there are also a number of elements which have not changed, including the wheeled ladder which is still kept in the same place today.

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