The Library at Middle Temple was founded in 1641 with a bequest of approximately 5,000 titles donated by Robert Ashley (1565-1641). Ashley was a lawyer, translator, and bibliophile who curated a collection of books that has since become a spectacular representative of the Renaissance scholarly library. Ashley’s collection contained some fascinating books, such as a second edition of Copernicus’s famous work on the model of the universe, Jesuit accounts of countries such as China, India, and Japan, and of course, the largest holdings of John Donne’s (1593-1683) own personal library. 

In 2007, the Library created a book sponsorship programme. This programme enables members of the Inn to sponsor the repair of a rare book or manuscript, many of which come from Ashley’s collection. The Rare Book and Manuscript Collection, as it is now known, contains all the Library’s books published prior to 1800, and approximately 300 manuscripts (mostly legal and legislative titles). Over the course of 381 years, these books and manuscripts have suffered their fair share of damage and decay, having survived the Great Fire of 1666, two world wars, numerous book moves, and poor storage conditions.

We currently have a list of 205 titles in need of repair: some requiring more urgent care than others. Sponsorship of a book is commemorated with a personalized bookplate placed in it, before-and-after photos, and a thank-you letter. Sponsors can choose from one of the books on our list, or they can speak to the Librarian to identify another book to sponsor, as not all books in need of repair are on our working list of titles. 

The conservation and repair of a rare book or manuscript is a specialised task that is carried out by a trained conservator registered with The Institute of Conservation. Depending on the amount of work involved, and the size of the book, it can cost anywhere between £400 to £2,000 to repair a rare book or manuscript. 

Herein I list a sample of books currently in need of urgent conservation work:

  • De manus inspectione, by Antonio Piccioli is one of the surprising number of books on chiromancy (palm reading) from Robert Ashley’s collection. It was printed in Bergamo in 1587. It is missing its binding entirely and has been water damaged. It is bound with two other books – one on celestial mechanics and the other on optics. The estimated cost of repair is £500.
  • A two-volume manuscript, consisting of case reports from the Court of Common Pleas, dated to circa 1603. The first folio is headed: ‘De termino … anno primo Jacobi Regis in communi banco’. The binding is damaged, but intact, and both volumes need to be cleaned. The estimated cost of repair for both volumes is £1,000, but it is possible to sponsor only one volume.            
  • Jacques Davy Du Perron’s Replique a la response du serenissime roy de la Grand Bretagne, a folio book published in Paris in 1620 with marginalia in Robert Ashley’s hand. This is a work of Catholic Church doctrine and a reply to James I. The estimated cost of repair is £800.
  • Guy de la Brosse’s De la nature, vertu et utilité des plantes, printed in 1628. This is a book on medical botany and the ‘Jardin du roi’ (now known as the ‘Jardin des plantes’) in Paris. The binding is missing, and the paper has become brittle and fragile due to this loss. It has marginalia in Robert Ashley’s hand and the estimated cost of repair is £1,000.
  • Musladini Sadi Rosarium politicum, by Saʻdī- a Latin translation of a book of Persian literature published in 1651 in Amsterdam, in folio size. The estimated cost of repair is £700.

In addition to these books, there are several other rare books and manuscripts in need of sponsorship, including works on Byzantine history, agriculture, and folly and vices. 

If you would be interested in sponsoring one of these books, or would simply like more information about the programme, please get in touch with the Librarian, Renae Satterley, on: 020 7427 4830, or by email: [email protected].

Members are also welcomed to donate smaller amounts to our restoration fund: All the funds raised through this page go towards the restoration of the rare books and manuscripts. 

Renae Satterley

Renae Satterley is the Librarian at Middle Temple, where she has been working since 2006. In addition to managing the Library, she is studying part-time for a PhD at Queen Mary University of London. The topic of her thesis is, of course, Robert Ashley and his magnificent library.