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The Library: Advent Doors 2018

Written by Eleanor Sanger, posted on Wednesday, December 12, 2018

This door was never even meant to exist, and was added at the last minute after a sudden change of plan. But why would a building not need a door at the entrance? Because the Library, where this door is found, was originally intended to only be on the first floor of the building, with the ground floor open to the elements. Until a bequest changed everything…

The Library doorThe front door of the Library dates from around 1770, but the building was never intended to have a door like this.

Christ Church’s Library was originally located in the cloisters, but by the 1700s it was not large or grand enough for requirements, so a new library was proposed in Peckwater Quad. Building began in 1717, following a very different design to the one we see today. The books were to be put on the first floor, to avoid damp and flooding, and the ground floor was intended to be an open loggia, partly because this was the fashion of the day, but also for more practical reasons, to allow a free flow of air around the library.

However, in around 1765 work was suddenly set back by something no one could have predicted: General John Guise gave his art collection to Christ Church. And this wasn’t just any art collection – this was made up of 258 pictures and over 900 drawings. Finding somewhere to house the huge number of artworks became a slightly urgent matter, so it was decided that the loggia should be closed in to create a gallery to display them. The archways surrounding the loggia were converted into windows and doors, floorboards were laid where flagstones had been intended, and plasterers and glaziers had to return to apply the finishing touches to the brand new ground floor.

The Library was eventually completed in 1772, and the gallery would remain here for nearly two hundred years before being found a new site. These days, the ground floor houses the books and workspaces mainly used by Christ Church undergraduates. Who knows how many thousands of students have passed through these doors to browse the bookshelves within over the centuries?