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July 2017 Item of the Month

Restoration at Palace Green

The Diocese of Durham was in a poor state of repair in 1660 when Charles II was restored to the throne. During the Civil War and Commonwealth periods bishops had been on the losing side and had become obsolete with no place in government and no territories to administer. When John Cosin was appointed bishop of Durham in 1660 he had to re-establish the establishment, both in Durham and England. In Durham and Northumberland he had to regain control of the bishopric estates, which had been sold or leased out by those who had sequestered the diocese. In London he worked towards re-establishing the role of the bishops in governing Britain by the restoration of their block of seats in the House of Lords. This meant that Cosin spent much of his time in London, but needed to control business in Durham. Fortunately for us, this was managed by a regular series of letters to his administration in the north, much of which has survived in the Cosin Letter Books.

These letters provide great detail of the unexciting negotiations involved in managing a great estate, but as can be the case in archival records, it is the footnotes that provide a parallel route into the mind of the correspondents. For, amid all the great works of reconstruction, Cosin had a construction project in hand that was especially close to his heart, the establishment of his library on Palace Green, and it is in the postscripts added to his letters that the progress of the work can be tracked. In this example, the addition has been made down the margin of the original letter of 4 October 1670.

“I looke for some account from you in every one of your letters of the progress that John Langstaffe and his workmen make about the additionall room to the Library. I pray take care that they pass not through the great Library as I gave you warning before, and advise with John Langstaffe whether or no it will be best to leave a door on one side of the window whereby the workmen may enter from the garden & afterwards when all is done either to be wall'd up againe or to have a wooden door there answerable to the press on the other side of the window for the bishop when he pleases to enter the more privately thereinto through his own garden when he will give the library keeper notice thereof who must open that door for him and stand (charged with all the books in both the rooms).”
Letter from Bishop John Cosin to Miles Stapylton, 4 October 1670. Cosin Letter-Books (Ref: COS 4B, 96).

This refers to the room now known as Little Cosin which leads in to the Exchequer Building and Bishop Cosin's Library from the more recent buildings of Palace Green Library. As we reach the end of the refurbishment work on this building complex in the summer of 2017 we look back to Cosin's postscript with sympathy. The bishop had anticipated one of the problems of site management - how do you carry on building works without disrupting the functions of the existing building - that we have, we hope, coped with here over the last decade of building work.

Every month we showcase here an item from our Heritage Collections.