History of the Nettleship Library (V): Canon Jenkins

This article is part of a series.  Click to read the first entry here.

Portrait - Copy
This portrait of Jenkins hangs in the Library.

Canon Claude Jenkins (1877–1959) was a historian, librarian and Church of England clergyman.  Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History and a Canon of Christ Church from 1934 until his death, he was also known as an eccentric and a bibliophile whose passion for books bordered on bibliomania.  When he died on 17th January 1959, it was a surprise to many to find his will dictate that St Anne’s College Library should have first pick of his books:

“My printed books should as far as possible neither be dispersed nor sold but kept together in as large sections as possible for the benefit of students.  I direct that the Senior Librarians of St. Anne’s College, Oxford and St. Peter’s Hall, Oxford and Pusey House, Oxford and St. Catherine’s Society, Oxford and the Union Society, Oxford and the Public Library of the Corporation of Oxford, in that order of selection, shall be given as a free gift such books as they may select for the use of their readers…”

[Extract from Jenkins’s will, as printed in 1958-9
Library report – St Anne’s College Archive]

The Sunday Express carried this provocative headline about the bequest on 1st March 1959.  Jenkins's cousin, upset by the allegation, wrote to Christabel Draper (the Librarian) to say how sure she was that Claude had not been a 'woman hater'.  Jenkins had strongly objected to women's admittance to the Oxford Union and was said to have an equal aversion to matrimony and cats.

Jenkins was a recognisable figure in Oxford with his antiquated clerical robes and shovel hat.  In 1910, he had been appointed Librarian of Lambeth Palace Library; a job which he approached with some vigour until his Christ Church Professorship in 1934.  After this point he ran the library by post, having hired an assistant (out of his own pocket) to see to the day to day affairs.  He clung to the position until 1952 and even then, remained Honorary Librarian until his death in 1959.

Extraordinarily widely read, he sat on as many as 50 committees at once to which he was a knowledgeable contributor of current affairs and anecdotes.  Senior Librarian at the Oxford Union for 20 years, he rarely missed a debate and was always heavily involved in discussing book purchases.  He lectured with an ancient alarm clock that went off at intervals and reminded him to stop or change the subject and delivered his sermons in a sweet, silvery tenor (on one occasion, managing to incorporate a recommendation for a second-hand bookshop!).

Typescript of a poem composed by W. H. Auden for Jenkins's 80th birthday. [St Anne's College Archive]

The Books

Whether driven by his work at Lambeth or an earlier interest, there is little doubt that Jenkins had an obsession with book collecting.  At the time of his death, the five-roomed house he occupied in Christ Church’s Tom Quad was full to capacity.  Estimates vary from a conservative 30,000 to the seemingly impossible 70,000 books stacked around the house.  Jenkins was known to holiday in Malvern and Tunbridge Wells, where he perused second hand bookshops, often returning with crates of books.  Below are just two of the many descriptions of his house:

“…in the corners of each room piles of books were thrown down anyhow like sand in the corner of a builder’s yard, and the bath, which was not used for its normal purpose, was a kind of dump for odd printed scraps.  It was only just possible to push one’s way up the staircase, for on every step there were piles of books extending high out of reach; in fact the view of the staircase-wall reminded me of a sectional diagram of geological strata in an atlas, and one could see how the conformation had readjusted itself after a cataclysm had occurred through a removal of the book from one of its lower levels.”

[pp.219-220, Saraband : The memoirs of E.L. Mascall]

“It was said of him that in a year or two not even he would get into his own home because of the books he kept there.  During one of his absences the decorators went in.  The canon returned while they were still at work, took one look inside the hall and sent the steward of the college a sharp note to ask that, when the decorators had knocked off from a newel post a pile of books; he would be glad if they would put them back in the order he had left them.”

[p. 4, 19 January 1959, Manchester Guardian]

His cousin, Jennie, who corresponded with St Anne’s after his death, wrote that she would “never forget (her) horror and distress when (she) visited his house 20 years ago”.

The hallway of Jenkins's house in Tom Quad.

What followed was a ‘mighty treasure-hunt’ as the librarian, Principal, Fellows and students of St Anne’s descended on Jenkins’s house at Christ Church to survey and make their selections for the library.  Electing to take somewhere in the region of ten thousand books, this still left an enormous number for the other libraries lower down his list to choose from.  Wherever Jenkins had encountered a subject, he had delved deeper to amass primary sources and reference works, background reading and translations (or originals).  In the aftermath, student volunteers helped to dust, sort and list the haul, which ranged from 16th Century rare books to popular novels and obscure local histories.

Among his own books were large numbers taken from various libraries around the world and never returned.  When sorted and boxed up, there were two whole crate loads for the Vatican Library alone.

Three bookplates from the Jenkins bequest.  Many of his books came from the libraries of other Oxford men and women.  Francis Fortescue Urquhart (right hand plate) was the first Roman Catholic tutorial fellow in Oxford since the 16th Century and other bookplates also have interesting stories to tell.
An inscription by the previous owner in an item from the Jenkins bequest: "To-day Chamberlain visits Hitler at Berchtesgaden" [Jenkins 947.06 BUCH:Dis]

Library Expansions

Even before the Canon Jenkins bequest, Hartland House’s library was reaching capacity.  The influx of thousands of new books from his bequest was enough to push through two planned refurbishments.  The North Room, already in use as a book-stack, had an iron grating added and an additional floor full of shelves installed in line with Giles Gilbert Scott’s 1930s design.   Secondly, the old SCR Dining Room on the ground floor was re-purposed as the Fulford Library (or Fulford Room) and housed French, German, Greek and Latin literature; the room being so named in recognition of a gift by Lady Catherine Fulford.

Jenkins signed many of his books simply 'Claude Jenkins' and a date.  This one carries a more interesting story – a former Bodleian Library book which had been sold as a duplicate.  The quote below from Mascall likely refers to the same book. [Jenkins 945.7 AIM:Yst]

“He once showed me a book which contained the plate of a well-known library and in which he had inserted a signed declaration that he had bought it in a shop and not stolen it from the library; otherwise, he said, someone doing research would defame him posthumously.”

[pp.219-220, Saraband : The memoirs of E.L. Mascall]

Why Jenkins offered first choice of his books to St Anne’s College remains slightly unclear, perhaps he quarrelled with all the more likely beneficiaries or thought that his collection risked being broken up elsewhere.  Marjorie Reeves, in her 1979 history of St Anne’s, puts forward a more charming hypothesis, that Jenkins had been struck by a comment made to him at a dinner party by Lady Ogilvie – the Home-Students had begun around a library.


Anonymous (2004). Jenkins, Claude (1877–1959), historian and Church of England clergyman. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 22 May. 2018, from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-37598.

Lambeth Palace Library (2016). Library Records Project 1785-1953 Update 4.  Retrieved 22 May. 2018 from https://lambethpalacelibrary.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/library-records-project-1785-1953-update-4/.

Lambeth Palace Library (2017). Lambeth Palace Library: Catalogues, Shelf Marks and other evidence for the History of the Collections 1785-1952, Part B: 1862-1952: The Librarianship of Claude Jenkins, 1910-1952.  Retrieved 22 May. 2018, from http://www.lambethpalacelibrary.org/files/library_records_1785-1952_part_b.pdf.

Mascall, E. (1992). Saraband : The memoirs of E.L. Mascall. Leominster: Gracewing. http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph010669211

Morris, J. (2001). Oxford (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph015162933

Reeves, M. (1979). St Anne’s College, Oxford : An informal history. Oxford: St Anne’s College. http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph012336645

Society of Oxford Home-Students (1911-). The Ship. http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph012374042

This article was written and researched by Duncan Jones (Reader Services Librarian) with thanks to St Anne’s alumna Margaret Davies for sharing her memories of Jenkins.