Oxford University - Old library (Duke Humfrey’s). Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Old library (Duke Humfrey’s)

Duke Humfrey’s Library, also known as the Old Library, stands as a jewel within the historic confines of Oxford’s Bodleian Library. This venerable institution, dating back to the 15th century, exudes an aura of intellectual legacy and scholarly grandeur. Named after Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, a benefactor whose vision shaped its early years, the library has become an iconic symbol of Oxford’s rich literary heritage. 

Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester, founded the Duke Humfrey’s Library in 1447 after donating 281 books to the library after his death. It is the oldest reading room at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, sections of the libraries were restored and expanded, adding a second floor, east wing, and west wing. The library currently serves as a reading room for the Bodleian Library.

Do you like ghost stories? Did you know there’s a pretty good one relating to Duke Humphrey’s? 

Read The Ghostly Librarian at Duke Humphrey’s >

Why Should You Visit the Old Library in Oxford?

Duke Humfrey’s Library, with its ageless charm and literary riches, beckons those seeking a connection to the past and an appreciation for the enduring power of knowledge. It stands not only as a repository of books but as a living testament to the enduring spirit of intellectual curiosity that defines Oxford’s legacy.

So, why should I visit it, you ask? Let’s see:

  1. Historic Elegance: Duke Humfrey’s Library is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. Its wooden shelving, dark oak paneling, and soaring arched windows evoke a sense of historic elegance. As you step into this literary sanctuary, you are transported to a bygone era where books were cherished treasures.

  2. Literary Treasures: The library houses an impressive collection of rare and ancient manuscripts, making it a haven for bibliophiles and scholars alike. The shelves are adorned with volumes that span centuries, including priceless illuminated manuscripts, early printed books, and literary artifacts that whisper tales of the past.

  3. Harry Potter Connection: Duke Humfrey’s Library gained international fame as it served as one of the filming locations for the Hogwarts library in the Harry Potter film series. Walking through the same aisles where Hermione Granger pored over magical tomes, visitors can feel the magical ambiance that permeates this hallowed space.

  4. Reader’s Retreat: Traditionally a reading room for scholars, Duke Humfrey’s Library continues to be a retreat for serious researchers. Its quiet ambiance, combined with the scent of aged parchment, creates an immersive environment that fosters focused study and intellectual exploration.

  5. Architectural Marvel: The architectural details of Duke Humfrey’s Library are a testament to the craftsmanship of the medieval period. The intricate carvings, vaulted ceilings, and the warm glow of reading lamps contribute to an atmosphere that seamlessly blends the medieval with the scholarly.

The Bodleian Library - Entrance. Image courtesy of Billy Wilson.
The Bodleian Library - Entrance. Image courtesy of Billy Wilson.
Oxford University - Old library (Duke Humfrey’s). Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
The Bodleian Library - Duke Humphrey's Library. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
The Bodleian Library - The ceiling of the old library or Divinity School.
The Bodleian Library - The ceiling of the old library or Divinity School. Image courtesy of Peter via Flickr Commons.

Where is the Old Library (Duke Humfrey’s)? And Can you Visit It?

The library is located on Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BG. 

Website: https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley

While many areas of the Bodleian Library are only accessible to students and people with a valid library card, Duke Humfrey’s Library is accessible as part of a guided tour.

  • Guided tours £9 for a 30-minute tour, £12 for a 60-minute tour, £18 for a 90-minute tour.
  • Self-guided audio tour: £4.50

  • Admission to Divinity School: £2.50.

  • Admission to Blackwell Hall: Free.

  • Admission to the Old Schools Quadrangle: Free.

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