Treasures of Palace Green Library

Enlarged illumination from a 15th Century Psalter From Flanders

Palace Green Library is home to 100,000 books and over 100 medieval manuscripts.

Still housed in its original building, the library of Bishop John Cosin was founded in 1669 from his private collection and added to by later bishops of Durham and local antiquarians. The collection contains printed books and manuscripts on topics as varied as theology, medicine, science and history.

Alongside Cosin’s collection, the library of Martin Joseph Routh (1755-1854) was given to the university in 1855 to promote good learning. A scholar of Christianity, Routh brought together nearly 22,000 books on church history, religious controversy, and early medieval churchmen.

The Sharp family library, transferred from Bamburgh Castle to Durham University in 1958, is the third main collection. The Bamburgh Library is strong on theology, early science, and classics, giving us a window on what people were reading in the 18th and 19th centuries.

But there is much more to discover: there are book collections of female and male religious communities, personal collections on deer management, history of medicine and science, and private press printing, as well as extensive holdings of hymns.

Symeon of Durham. Cosin MS V.ii.6


The archives located at Palace Green Library are important and diverse, dating back two thousand years. As well as the ever-growing university archives, the Library is home to legal, financial and estate records relating to the Diocese and Bishopric of Durham, which are a rich resource for local history.

Francis Kilvert, Journal No. 4, 1870. Plomer MS 454.

Of international importance is the Sudan Archive, containing the papers of former officials, soldiers, missionaries, business men and individuals who served or lived in the Sudan during the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium period (1898-1955). The papers of the Earls Grey of Howick are one of England’s great political archives, while those of Malcolm MacDonald and Sir Donald Hawley give an insight into two diplomatic careers served in Africa and Asia.

There are also collections with a literary interest, including the papers and library of William Plomer, who was a librettist for Benjamin Britten as well as a novelist and poet, and the extensive Basil Bunting Poetry Archive.


Scroll down to view some highlights from the vast and diverse Palace Green Library collections. Pinch to zoom in if viewing on mobile.

Selection of items from the Palace Green Library Collections
Illuminated page from Symeon of Durham manuscript.

Symeon of Durham. Cosin MS V.ii.6

Symeon of Durham. Cosin MS V.ii.6

Two pages from Francis Kilvert, Journal No. 4, 1870

Francis Kilvert, Journal No. 4, 1870. Plomer MS 454.

Francis Kilvert, Journal No. 4, 1870. Plomer MS 454.

A Personal Letter From Roman Egypt

2nd century AD


One of a number of papyri excavated from Oxyrhynchus in Middle Egypt on behalf of the Egypt Exploration Society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The letter details news of the family and friends of a man called Abascantus, writing to Sarapion who he addresses affectionately as his brother.

Add.MS. 2067/2

Papyrus fragment of a personal letter From Roman Egypt, 2nd Century AD

Laurence of Durham, Works

Durham, mid to late 12th century


This manuscript was written in Durham, possibly as a memorial to Laurence, Prior of Durham (1149 -1154). His works include a versified history of the Old and New Testaments.

This portrait miniature possibly shows Laurence in the process of writing at a stylised writing stool.

Cosin MS V.iii.1

Illuminated page from Laurence of Durham, Works, 12th Century
Page from Thomas Hoccleve , Complaint, Dialogus cum Amico, etc.showing the signature of the author

Thomas Hoccleve , Complaint, Dialogus cum Amico, etc.

England, early 15th century


Thomas Hoccleve spent his working life as a clerk in Westminster.  He also composed a considerable number of English verse in a similar style to Geoffrey Chaucer who he may have known.

This parchment manuscript of poems was written by the author for Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland who lived with her second husband, Ralph Neville at Raby Castle in County Durham.

Cosin MS V.iii.9

An Illuminated Psalter From Flanders

Mid-15th century


This beautifully illuminated manuscript was produced in the Low Countries for the English market.

Eight of the Psalms contained in the Psalter have colourful illustrated initials – here at Psalm 1 King David is playing a harp  with God looking on in approval. Inscriptions show that this book belonged to the library of the Sharp family at Bamburgh Castle from the 17th century onwards.

Bamburgh Select 25

Highly decorated page from an Illuminated Psalter From Flanders, 15th Century
Illustration of the city of Nuremburg from Hartmann Schedel, Liber Chronicarum, 1493

Hartmann Schedel, Liber Chronicarum

Hartmann Schedel, Liber Chronicarum

Hartmann Schedel, Liber Chronicarum

Nuremberg, 1493


The Liber Chronicarum documents the world’s history from its creation to the last judgement. One of the earliest printed books, it contains an exceptional range and number of illustrations for this period.

The ‘Dance of Death’, shown on the illustration below, was a common medieval theme: a reminder that death is universal and inescapable.

SA 0166

Illustration showing the 'dance of death' from Hartmann Schedel, Liber Chronicarum, 1493

Thomas More, Utopia

First Edition, 1516


In 1515 Thomas More travelled to Flanders where he met a group of Europeans interested in the foundation of a more secular society.

In Utopia he used his findings to paint a portrait of this commonwealth of attitudes. This society is depicted as an island, Utopia (meaning ‘no place’), in which communities shared a common culture and way of life.

SB 0300

Two pages from the first edition of Utopia by Thomas More, showing the title page and a map of Utopia

Thomas More, Utopia

First Edition, 1516


In 1515 Thomas More travelled to Flanders where he met a group of Europeans interested in the foundation of a more secular society.

In Utopia he used his findings to paint a portrait of this commonwealth of attitudes. This society is depicted as an island, Utopia (meaning ‘no place’), in which communities shared a common culture and way of life.

SB 0300

Two pages from the first edition of Utopia by Thomas More, showing the title page and a map of Utopia
Three scholars study the title page of Shakespeare's First Folio

William Shakespeare, The First Folio

London, 1623


The first publication of Shakespeare’s collected drama; the First Folio contains 36 plays.

The Durham copy is distinguished by having the longest single continuous ownership of any first folio. Purchased by Bishop Cosin when it was first published, this copy resided in Cosin’s library for 380 years.

It was stolen in 1998 but thankfully recovered and restored to the library in 2010.

Cosin W.2.11

Decorated cover of Francis Bacon, The Essayes, showing portrait of the Duke of Buckingham

Francis Bacon, The Essayes

London, 1625


This embroidered portrait binding depicts Francis Bacon’s patron, the first Duke of Buckingham. It was produced during a golden age for English embroidery, and well-preserved examples are rare.

This copy was possibly commissioned as a gift for King James I, or the Prince of Wales, as can be seen from the royal crest over the portraits.

SB 2396

Prideaux Selby, The Bee Eater

Hand-coloured engraving

Edinburgh, 1821


Prideaux Selby’s Illustrations of British Ornithology aimed to provide life-sized colour pictures of Britain’s birds.

Stuffed birds, many of which were shot by Selby himself, were used as models. Selby painted watercolours of these, and then etched each picture onto copper plates -  a very time consuming process.

Bamburgh R. 2-3

Illustration of two Bee Eater birds from Prideaux Selby's 1821 book of British Birds

William Morris, Love Is Enough

Hammersmith, 1897


One of a limited edition of 300 paper copies, this was the second book to be printed in three colours (black, red and blue) at the Kelmscott Press.

Morris founded the Kelmscott Press with the aim to produce books that were both beautiful and easy to read. He published fine editions of major works of literature, as well as his own writings.

SB+ 0815

Two elaborately decorated pages from William Morris's, Love Is Enough
Photo with a view of the Old Aswan Dam during construction in 1899

A view of the Old Aswan Dam during construction

Egypt, c. 1899


This photograph of the Old Aswan Dam is one of over 40,000 images in the photographic collection in the University's Sudan Archive.

The immense scale of this engineering project is indicated in this image, showing excavation work at the western channel. Work began in 1899, a year after the Anglo-Egyptian conquest of the Sudan, and was completed by 1902.

The image, taken by Donald S. George (1861-1944), can be found in the collection of Rudolf Carl von Slatin (1857-1932) whose long career in Sudan saw him serving the Egyptian, then Sudanese Mahdist, then Condominium governments.

SAD.A26/6


Click below for gallery-view images.

Photo with a view of the Old Aswan Dam during construction in 1899

A view of the Old Aswan Dam during construction

Egypt, c. 1899


This photograph of the Old Aswan Dam is one of over 40,000 images in the photographic collection in the University's Sudan Archive.

The immense scale of this engineering project is indicated in this image, showing excavation work at the western channel. Work began in 1899, a year after the Anglo-Egyptian conquest of the Sudan, and was completed by 1902.

The image, taken by Donald S. George (1861-1944), can be found in the collection of Rudolf Carl von Slatin (1857-1932) whose long career in Sudan saw him serving the Egyptian, then Sudanese Mahdist, then Condominium governments.

SAD.A26/6


Tap below for gallery-view images.

Photo with a view of the Old Aswan Dam during construction in 1899
Papyrus fragment of a personal letter From Roman Egypt, 2nd Century AD

A Personal Letter From Roman Egypt, 2nd century AD

A Personal Letter From Roman Egypt, 2nd century AD

Illuminated page from Laurence of Durham, Works, 12th Century

Laurence of Durham, Works, Durham, mid to late 12th century

Laurence of Durham, Works, Durham, mid to late 12th century

Page from Thomas Hoccleve , Complaint, Dialogus cum Amico, etc.showing the signature of the author

Thomas Hoccleve , Complaint, Dialogus cum Amico, etc. England, early 15th century

Thomas Hoccleve , Complaint, Dialogus cum Amico, etc. England, early 15th century

Highly decorated page from an Illuminated Psalter From Flanders, 15th Century

An Illuminated Psalter From Flanders, Mid-15th century

An Illuminated Psalter From Flanders, Mid-15th century

Illustration showing the 'dance of death' from Hartmann Schedel, Liber Chronicarum, 1493

Hartmann Schedel, Liber Chronicarum, Nuremberg, 1493

Hartmann Schedel, Liber Chronicarum, Nuremberg, 1493

Two pages from the first edition of Utopia by Thomas More, showing the title page and a map of Utopia

Thomas More, Utopia First Edition, 1516

Thomas More, Utopia First Edition, 1516

Three scholars study the title page of Shakespeare's First Folio

William Shakespeare, The First Folio, London, 1623

William Shakespeare, The First Folio, London, 1623

Decorated cover of Francis Bacon, The Essayes, showing portrait of the Duke of Buckingham

Francis Bacon, The Essayes, London, 1625

Francis Bacon, The Essayes, London, 1625

Illustration of two Bee Eater birds from Prideaux Selby's 1821 book of British Birds

Prideaux Selby, The Bee Eater, Hand-coloured engraving, Edinburgh, 1821

Prideaux Selby, The Bee Eater, Hand-coloured engraving, Edinburgh, 1821

Two elaborately decorated pages from William Morris's, Love Is Enough

William Morris, Love Is Enough, Hammersmith, 1897

William Morris, Love Is Enough, Hammersmith, 1897

Photo with a view of the Old Aswan Dam during construction in 1899

A view of the Old Aswan Dam during construction, Egypt, c. 1899

A view of the Old Aswan Dam during construction, Egypt, c. 1899

Papyrus fragment of a personal letter From Roman Egypt, 2nd Century AD

A Personal Letter From Roman Egypt, 2nd century AD

A Personal Letter From Roman Egypt, 2nd century AD

Illuminated page from Laurence of Durham, Works, 12th Century

Laurence of Durham, Works, Durham, mid to late 12th century

Laurence of Durham, Works, Durham, mid to late 12th century

Page from Thomas Hoccleve , Complaint, Dialogus cum Amico, etc.showing the signature of the author

Thomas Hoccleve , Complaint, Dialogus cum Amico, etc. England, early 15th century

Thomas Hoccleve , Complaint, Dialogus cum Amico, etc. England, early 15th century

Highly decorated page from an Illuminated Psalter From Flanders, 15th Century

An Illuminated Psalter From Flanders, Mid-15th century

An Illuminated Psalter From Flanders, Mid-15th century

Illustration showing the 'dance of death' from Hartmann Schedel, Liber Chronicarum, 1493

Hartmann Schedel, Liber Chronicarum, Nuremberg, 1493

Hartmann Schedel, Liber Chronicarum, Nuremberg, 1493

Two pages from the first edition of Utopia by Thomas More, showing the title page and a map of Utopia

Thomas More, Utopia First Edition, 1516

Thomas More, Utopia First Edition, 1516

Three scholars study the title page of Shakespeare's First Folio

William Shakespeare, The First Folio, London, 1623

William Shakespeare, The First Folio, London, 1623

Decorated cover of Francis Bacon, The Essayes, showing portrait of the Duke of Buckingham

Francis Bacon, The Essayes, London, 1625

Francis Bacon, The Essayes, London, 1625

Illustration of two Bee Eater birds from Prideaux Selby's 1821 book of British Birds

Prideaux Selby, The Bee Eater, Hand-coloured engraving, Edinburgh, 1821

Prideaux Selby, The Bee Eater, Hand-coloured engraving, Edinburgh, 1821

Two elaborately decorated pages from William Morris's, Love Is Enough

William Morris, Love Is Enough, Hammersmith, 1897

William Morris, Love Is Enough, Hammersmith, 1897

Photo with a view of the Old Aswan Dam during construction in 1899

A view of the Old Aswan Dam during construction, Egypt, c. 1899

A view of the Old Aswan Dam during construction, Egypt, c. 1899

Curious to learn more?


Many of our collections have been digitised and most material can be searched on our online catalogue.

You can also read more about the items featured here and many others in Treasures of Durham University Library, edited by Richard Gameson, Professor of the History of the Book at Durham University.

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Reading room in Cosin's Library, part of Palace Green Library, Durham

Cosin's Library, Palace Green Library

Reading room in Cosin's Library, part of Palace Green Library, Durham

Cosin's Library, Palace Green Library

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The contents of this exhibition are copyright of Durham University

The contents of this exhibition are copyright of Durham University