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Thomas Plume's Library

Address. Market Hill, Maldon, Essex CM9 4PZ. [Map]
Address correspondence to: 22 London Road, Maldon, Essex CM9 6HD
Telephone. (01621) 85 40 51
Fax. (01621) 85 40 51

Governing body or responsible institution. The Trustees of Thomas Plume's Library
Function. Public library for education and research.
Subjects. 16th and 17th-century British and European publications generally, with emphasis on theology, history and natural philosophy.

Access. Open to the general public Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 2-4 p.m., Saturday 10-12.30 a.m. Also open to researchers at other times by appointment on written application to the Librarian. Access to the library is limited to those who are able to climb the turret stair which is its only entrance.
Special facilities. Photocopier; photography can be provided on request.
Travel directions. The library occupies a former church at the centre of the High Street. The nearest railway stations (for trains from London, Liverpool Station) are Chelmsford and Witham. Bus routes to Maldon. - There is no parking at the library itself.


1.1 The library is named after its founder, Thomas Plume (1630-1704), D.D., Archdeacon of Rochester, who bequeathed his books to the town of Maldon (his birthplace) at his death as a lending library. Previously he had paid for the demolition of St. Peter's church and for its reconstruction as a Library Room over a Schoolroom c. 1697. A combined library and school established in 1685 by Dr Thomas Tenison for St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, appears to have been the model for Dr Plume's foundation. The tower of the old church was rebuilt in traditional ``Gothic' style; the rest is a two-storey brick building in the domestic style of 1698 when it was probably completed. Plume was a founder member of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (1698) whose policy of establishing parochial libraries corresponded (on a smaller scale) with his intention for this library at Maldon.

1.2 Having been a pupil of the learned Dr John Hacket from 1650 to 1658 Plume possessed a good working knowledge of the London book market. Hacket sent him to London to buy books for him and later, as Vicar of Greenwich and an Archdeacon, Plume used the experience gained in his youth to make his own collection from the city's book market. This circumstance affects an understanding of all sections of the library's stock. Many books have manuscript accession notes on fly leaves showing they came from a second hand book stall, and have evidence of coming from earlier libraries. How continental books came there is perhaps best illustrated by a publication of 1606 (from Leiden) which is bound in vellum stamped with the armorial bearings of the Duke of Pomerania who died in 1637 and of his brother-in-law, the Elector George William, Duke of Brandenburg (†1640) and thus formerly belonged in a German library. Inside the front cover, however, is the name of a subsequent English owner (William Payne); thence, by way of another market stall, it came into Dr Plume's collection and eventually to Maldon.

1.3 Some volumes are collections of pamphlets, two or more titles bound together, occasionally with their previous owners' armorial bearings stamped on the covers. Many of this collection's unbound books were still within their original wrappers - pages of late medieval manuscripts in some cases - until these were removed for preservation c. 1903. Whilst Dr Plume undoubtedly made some purchases individually, he also bought at the London book auctions and thus acquired lots that accidentally included titles for which he had no use. His method of purchase and the lack of initial sorting have given a random character to the resulting stock in this library.

1.4 Much of the building, especially the Library Room, retains its original appearance. For the first half of the 19th century much of the building was converted to the uses of an elementary school, with an extension eastward of two bays in the same style as the original. The library suffered some disorganisation at that time but later in the 19th century it was recatalogued and the room was restored. The bookcases, panelling and portraits of English sovereigns and divines with which the room is furnished are, like the books, as they were in 1705 when the collections were brought from Kent to Maldon.

1.5 There were few accessions until the early 19th century when the series of calendars, indexes and texts of the Public Records of Great Britain and Ireland, published from 1801 to 1840, were deposited in this library by order of a Parliamentary Commission. The library of the Rev. E. R. Horwood (a Trustee, 1850-1901) was acquired at his death and contains mostly theological works of the 18th and 19th centuries. The acquisition of books from the Maldon Literary and Mechanics' Institute c. 1900, provided this library with many 19th-century publications on biography, history, geography and travel, the sciences and mechanics. Smaller donations of miscellaneous books have been received from 1900 to 1950. The Trustees of 1850-1920 purchased (or donated) calendars, directories and bound copies of journals reflecting their professional clerical interests. From the 1920s they have purchased reference works including printed catalogues of similar libraries and bibliographies. Only two books from German-speaking places are included in these later collections, so the descriptions and commentaries in Sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 below refer only to Dr Plume's bequest.

1.6 Early in the 20th century the trust relinquished its custody of the entire building to the Local Authority (now Maldon Town Council) and the Trustees, representative of the county and local authorities, have a 999 year lease of the Library Room at a nominal rent. Dr Plume's bequest had also included funds providing the salaries of future librarians; however, they need not be M.A.s in holy orders or communicants of the Church of England, as the founder's will prescribed. The policy of the Trustees continues to be the maintenance of the library as an educational facility which is open to the public without charge. They have a continuous programme of conservation work. In 1990 a comparison of the most recent with the earliest catalogue identified some 700 losses - mostly incurred before 1939 - and they have begun to purchase replacements whenever possible, assisted by donations from the Friends of Thomas Plume's Library.


Chronological outline and analysis by language

2.1 The principal features of the library are, first, its size; secondly the large number of unbound publications; thirdly the high proportion of books printed in continental Europe. Where other private English collections of Dr Plume's lifetime tended to aim at about 3,000 titles, he had assembled some 7,000 by the time of his decease. They range in date of publication from 1487 to 1704, with 25 per cent dated 1500-1625, 35 per cent dated 1626-1655, and 40 per cent printed 1655 to 1695. Just over half were printed before 1650. Many of his acquisitions c. 1660-1695 were reprints of works originally published before 1660, or were purchased at book sales. Thus the library had an intellectually conservative character when it was finally set up in Maldon in 1705.

2.2 The books printed in German-speaking lands - about 650 titles - constitute 9 per cent of the total stock, their dates spread almost uniformly across the period 1530 to 1700. They were printed in at least 57 places, principally Cologne (121 titles), Frankfurt a. M. (104), Basel (82) and between 20 and 30 titles each from Heidelberg, Leipzig, Mainz, Nuremberg, Strasbourg, Wittenberg and Zürich; of the unbound titles, 19 are from German printing presses, the earliest (1585) being from Bremen. As with other countries' publications, those with imprints of German-speaking places cover a wide range of subjects and all are in Latin (or Greek, or Biblical languages such as Syriac and Hebrew, with part of their text in Latin). They form a significant portion of the books imported to England from continental presses, although there are more from the Low Countries, specially from the Plantin-Moret workshop at Antwerp and from the university towns of the United Provinces. Genevan imprints are numerous too but have not been included here.

Subject outline

2.3 Dr Plume intended to create a library of definitive theological works, classical texts, biography and history, mathematical treatises, dictionaries and grammars. He collected books to create a general reference library that would reflect the practical and intellectual concerns of his own lifetime and earlier times. His will allocated only 20 shillings yearly for future purchases. The entire book stock thus provides a substantial sample across the entire range of academic publication of the 16th and 17th centuries. It illustrates the market for German and other countries' publications in the London book auctions and bookstalls of 1650-1700.

2.4 Theology (of all kinds) constitutes over half the total stock and includes 319 titles with German-speaking imprints. 75 of those are commentaries on the Scriptures. 130 have adversarial or controversial intentions. There is only one incunable, the Biblia cum postillis Nicholae de Lyra (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger 1487). Most titles were published after 1600 and there are very few related to the first 50 years of the Reformation in the Holy Roman Empire. The theological subject matter of the tire collection reveals a remarkably ecumenical attitude among English scholars such as Plume, at a time when, in England, toleration was only tentatively practised toward nonconformist Protestants, when rabidly anti-Papal opinion was usual and (from 1702) Roman Catholics were by law excluded from the succession to the Crown. One of the earliest of the books from Cologne (in this library) was written by the bishop St. John Fisher, De veritate corporis et sanguinis Christi in Eucharistia (1527) as an official English response to German evangelical reforms. Martin Luther is represented only by one book, Tractatus de moribus, conditionibus et nequitia Turcorum (without title-page). His writings are presented only as excerpts printed outside German-speaking lands, as in Thomas Hayne's Life and death of Dr Martin Luther (London 1641). His disciples are somewhat better represented: Philip Melanchthon by 4 titles, all reprints of 1617-1647; Martin Bucer by one printed in his lifetime (Metaphrases et enarrationes ...Pauli Apostoli, Strasbourg 1536) and two posthumously published at Basel (1557 and 1577). For Ulrich Zwingli there is nothing but his successor, Johann Heinrich Bullinger, is represented by 4 titles issued in his lifetime, 3 at Zürich (1535, 1543, 1568), one at Basel (1557).

2.5 There are no bibles from German-speaking places other than that of 1487, but to assist scriptural study the library was equipped with textbooks on languages, including 17 with German-speaking imprints. Twelve are Hebrew texts, grammars and dictionaries, 7 of which were printed at Basel, 1545-1676. There is also Johann Buxtorf (Junior), Lexicon Chaldaicum et Syriacum (Basel 1622 and Basel 1676).

2.6 The library exhibits the full range of 16th and 17th-century historical compilation - chronology, ancient history, antiquarian studies, biography and regional histories. There are examples of each mode in 91 publications from German-speaking places to which may be added 25 related to the New Learning, notably editions of the works of Erasmus (3 of 1518, 1529 and 1531, all printed at Basel, and his Opera Omnia, Basel 1567), and of Poggio Bracciolini, Leonardo Bruni, J. C. Scaliger, Machiavelli, Enea Silvio Piccolomini. 16th and 17th-century European history is, however, provided mostly by English and Dutch publications. Possibly this was due to a reluctance by British readers to learn contemporary foreign languages: French literature, for example, is found only in translation, and the titlepage of The Pfaltzgrave's declaration concerning the churches (London 1657) states that it is translated from the German original.

2.7 European editions of Byzantine and post-classical manuscript histories appear to have been a special feature of the London book market. Many are Patristic but the German press is also represented by many editions of medieval chronicles including Commelinus's Rerum Britannicarum ... scriptores vetustiores (Heidelberg 1587), Bede's Ecclesiasticae historiae (Cologne 1601) and excerpts from manuscript sources of medieval British history (in Latin, Frankfurt a. M. 1603). Four manuscript histories, including a Life of Charlemagne and Roland and a chronicle by Sigebert of Gembloux, were published by Simon Schardius in Germanicarum rerum ... (Frankfurt a. M. 1566) and 71 medieval treatises by Melchior Goldast (Hanover 1611 and Frankfurt a. M. 1614). Four narratives of Spanish and Portuguese exploration were, according to the title-page, published for the first time in Rebus Hispanicis ...et Aethiopicis (Cologne 1602) and the national and regional histories in the library were also based on chronicles concerning Bohemia (Heidelberg 1587), Silesia (Wittenberg 1571), Bavaria (Ingolstadt 1636), Hungary (Cologne 1685), Friesland (Cologne 1588) and the Livonian Knights of the Sword (Wittenberg 1701). A history of Scotland by George Buchanan (Frankfurt 1594) was, however, his own account of recent events.

2.8 The third major part of the library offers readers a comprehensive array of books on natural philosophy, from astronomy to practical mechanics, medical theory to veterinary practice, chemistry, physics and mathematics. Because Dr Plume founded the Chair of Astronomy and Natural Philosophy at Cambridge University (and created that university's first observatory), and because the first Royal Observatory was built at Greenwich whilst he was vicar of that parish, it has often been assumed that science and mathematics were of especial interest to him. There are, however, no grounds for assuming that he was an active amateur in the natural sciences. His collection displays the widening gulf between traditional, classical-based ideas and the scientific method and advanced use of mathematics by 17th-century scientists. 58 books printed in German-speaking places contribute examples of the varied schools of thought which existed within the principal disciplines. Astronomy includes Arab astrology (al-Shaibani, Libri de iudiciis astrorum, Basel 1551), the Copernican system in, especially, 3 books by Johannes Kepler (Linz 1618; Frankfurt a. M. 1634 and Strasbourg 1672), a reprint of publications of Tycho Brahe (Frankfurt a. M. 1625). Eight works on medicine range from Galen (Basel 1568) to André du Laurens, Historia anatomica humani corporis (Frankfurt a. M. 1636), a beautiful book which represents the finest quality in 17th-century European printing, as does Conrad Gesner's Historiae animalium ...de quadrupedibus (Zürich 1551) for the 16th century.


3.1 Modern general catalogues

Deed, S. G.: Catalogue of the Plume Library at Maldon, Essex. Maldon 1959

[only Dr Plume's collection]

Author/title card catalogue

[of all the printed collections]

Shelf inventory

[of all books on all the shelves]

3.2 Historic catalogues

Catalogus impressorum librorum in Bibliotheca Bodleiana

[Fol., titlepage missing in this library's copy. This copy has Plume Library shelf numbers added by early librarians and manuscript additions for books not entered in this catalogue.]

Catalogue of the books now found in the Plume Library

[MS, compiled by R. Hay, 1761]

Catalogue of bound volumes

[MS, compiled by R. P. Crane, 1854]

Catalogue of pamphlets (unbound books)

[MS, with indexes, compiled by Dr Andrew Clark, 1903]


Herrmann, Frank: The emergence of the book auctioneer as a professional. In: Property of a gentleman. The formation, organisation and dispersal of the private library 1620-1920. St Paul's Bibliographies. Winchester 1991

Markham, Sheila: Printing and the mind of Thomas Plume. A visit to the Plume Library at Maldon in Essex. In: Book Dealer 1161 (30 June 1994) pp. 8-10

Herrmann, Frank: Maldon's treasure. The library of Thomas Plume. In: Antiquarian Book Monthly 253 (June 1995) pp. 12-16

Herrmann, Frank: The Plume Library. A new chapter. In: K. J. Neale (ed.): Essex `full of profitable things'. London 1996


There are none related specifically to material of German origin.

Clark, Andrew: The Plume pamphlets at Maldon. In: Essex Review 12 (1903) pp. 159-165

Petchey, W. J.: The intentions of Thomas Plume. Maldon 1985 (privately published by the Trustees of the Plume Library)

[The present report has been based on this survey.]

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ...2nd ed. London 1997, p. 80

October 1997

William J. Petchey

Quelle: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Digitalisiert von Günter Kükenshöner.
Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien 2003.