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This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

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Lambeth Palace Library

Lambeth Palace Library is the historic library of the Archbishops of Canterbury and the principal library and record office for the history of the Church of England. Founded in 1610, it is situated within the grounds of the Palace and its collections are freely available for research.

Lambeth Palace LibraryThe official papers of the Archbishops of Canterbury are among the Library's most significant collections, documenting political and social issues as well as ecclesiastical history in Great Britain and more generally throughout the Anglican Communion. Apart from correspondence the papers include diaries, sermons and newspaper cuttings. They are made available following a thirty year closure period.

The Library's overall focus is on ecclesiastical history, but its rich collections are important for an immense variety of topics, such as architecture, colonial history, local history and genealogy. The Library contains over 4,600 manuscripts and immense quantities of archives, dating from the ninth century to the present, amongst which are some 600 medieval manuscripts.

Printed books in the Library number almost 200,000, including some 30,000 items printed before 1700. Many are unique, or are distinguished by their provenance or by special bindings. In 1996, the Library's holdings were augmented by the transfer from Sion College Library of c.35,000 printed books published before 1850, together with the Sion College collection of manuscripts.

The Great Hall

The Great Hall at Lambeth Palace has been built and re-built many times over the centuries and currently houses much of the Lambeth Palace Library.

The Great HallIt was in the first Great Hall that Erasmus and Holbein were welcomed by Archbishop Warham and where Henry VIII was entertained by Thomas Cranmer.

The Parliamentarian Colonel Scot ordered the demolition of the building following the English Civil War and the more valuable materials were sold off at auction. The Civil War also saw much alteration to the remains of the Palace as the main buildings were divided into two for the use of two Parliamentarian leaders. Many other buildings in addition to the Hall were destroyed.

It was not until the Restoration that Archbishop Juxon was to rebuild the Great Hall. He used much of his own money to complete the works and attempted as much as possible to replicate the original medieval style. In his diary of 1665 Samuel Pepys described a visit to see "Bishop Juxon's new old-fashioned hall".

In spite of Juxon's splendid restoration the Great Hall was rarely used until the early nineteenth century, when as part of the renovation of the Palace by Blore, the Hall first became a home for the Lambeth Palace Library.

The hammer beam roof of the Great Hall was completely destroyed during the blitz. As part of the post-war restoration work Archbishop Juxon's original design was replicated exactly, although many of the books and furniture damaged in the blast could not be restored or replaced.

As well as being home to the Lambeth Palace Library the Great Hall is often used (during the warmer months) for receptions and events.

Exhibitions at Lambeth Palace Library

  • Royal Devotion  - Monarchy and the Book of Common Prayer

Library Exhibition1st May - 14th July 2012

A celebration of the religious life of the monarchy in an exhibition marking the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and the 350th anniversary of the revised Book of Common Prayer. The exhibition charted the relationship between Crown and Church and its embodiment in the history of the Book of Common Prayer, one of the most important books in the English language.  

Visitor Comments:

S Parker from Loughton “I so enjoyed the human touch to be found in these manuscripts. A beautifully presented exhibition”
Caroline from East Grinstead “Thank you for this powerful and moving exhibition”
Susie from Chiswick “A mind-blowingly wonderful exhibition. Very uplifting”
Andrew from Twyford “ … History, politics, religion and faith all in one”


  • Celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Version

25th May - 29th July 2011

This exhibition sets in historical context the translation of the sacred texts of the Bible into the languages of everyday life. At the centre of the exhibition is the 1611 edition of the King James Version, set in the context of the scholarship which created it.

Visitor Comments:

Frank from Surrey  “A wonderful display tracing the history of the book which has contributed so much to English language, literature and culture”.
Richard from Dallas USA “A privilege to see this work - very well explained”.
Carrie from Malaysia  “Impressive collection and excellent interpretation”.
Kerry from Surrey  “Another excellent exhibition provided by Lambeth Palace Library”.
Lorraine from Canada  “Breathtaking! A touching exhibition”.

  • Treasures of Lambeth Palace Library - 400th Anniversary Exhibition 1610–2010

17th May – 23rd July 2010

Lambeth Palace Library is one of the earliest public libraries in England, founded in 1610 under the will of Archbishop Richard Bancroft. In celebration of its 400th anniversary in 2010, the Library is opening a fascinating exhibition to the public in the Great Hall of Lambeth Palace.

Visitor Comments:

Susan from St. Louis USA  “Truly a treasure”.
George from Nottingham  “A first class exhibition. Thank you”.
Mr and Mrs Brooks from Devon  “Wonderful thought provoking history. Beautiful.”
Malcolm from London  “A privilege to see such remarkable manuscripts”.
Elizabeth from Kent  “A wonderful, eye-opening exhibition”.