Maldon's oldest library is one of its heritage assets: now the people of the town could help secure its future

  Posted: 25.08.20 at 12:03 by The Editor

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STANDING in the middle of Maldon town centre and a familiar landmark for shoppers is the antique library that looks like a church. Hidden away in the upper section of the building that was built 321 years ago to house the collection of books and the local school, Thomas Plume's Library is an extraordinary part of Maldon's heritage - and its future now needs protecting. Here's how people and businesses in the town can help.

MALDON folk who have in their possession any old, leather-bound books could check the front pages to find they are overdue for return to a local library – by anything up to 100 years.

For Maldon has one of the oldest libraries in the country, right in the centre of the town. Thomas Plume was a philanthropist born in Maldon in 1630. He went on to become archdeacon of Rochester and vicar of Greenwich, but chose the site of the medieval Church of St Peter, on the corner of the High Street and Market Hill, to build his unique library and provide a home for the grammar school for local boys.

The church was no longer used as such when Plume took over the site, with the tower needing significant repair. The building adjoined to the tower, where the library is housed upstairs, was built by him in around 1699, with the boys school established below.

Thomas Plume’s Library, with its collection of more than 8,000 books was left to the town when he died. However, for decades from the 1900s through to the 1930s, visitors and townsfolk were able to come and take away books from the precious collection and, it seems, many were never returned. When a librarian checked all the remaining books against an original list in the 1950s, more than 700 were missing.

Over the years since, the team caring for the collection has managed to find replacements for some of the rare books – and, in some extraordinary cases, to find a few of the originals which bear the signature of Thomas Plume or the Plume Library mark inside. In one case, one of the originals was discovered in a bookshop in California and posted back to its home town.

The interior of the historic library

Plume librarian, Dr Helen Kemp, said: “We are always on the lookout for replacements for the missing books and know exactly what we want. If any of the books are out there, we would really welcome them back.”

The library is open to visitors by appointment and the books can be viewed – on site only. The antique books are on a range of subjects, including theology, church history, philosophy, science, geography and astronomy. An antique celestial globe is on display between the shelves.

The room is also home to Plume’s small collection of paintings and some fascinating historic documents detailing the apprenticeship agreements of some of the boys from the school, which continued after he died. In around 1848, a girls school was added in an additional upper room.

There is an online search facility for the entire collection – and anyone interested in family research might well find documents relating to ancestors who once studied at the school.

Assistant librarian Paula Thomson said: “Anyone can come in to visit by arrangement and I can help them use the search facility here – or they can use it from home.”

One of the antique apprenticeship indentures for pupils from the school downstairs

Students from the modern-day Plume Academy, nearby in Fambridge Road, are brought on visits to the library to gain an insight into the history and heritage of their town.

Now the ceiling needs urgent replacement and while grants from various bodies might come in time, the library is raising funds to help preserve its future through the ‘Sponsor-a-Shelf’ scheme, where individuals or businesses can make a donation, with a suggested minimum of £50 per individual or group. Names of the sponsors will be included on a list displayed in the library and they will receive a certificate of thanks. Other items in the collection can also be sponsored.

To make an appointment to visit the library call 01621 854850 or email the Thomas Plumes Library.

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