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Book printed in 1482 loaned to library

HISTORY LESSON: (left to right) Jill Kirk, Margaret Knight and Alan Sugden hand over the book to Cathedral librarian Sarah Gray and Canon Richard Marsh
HISTORY LESSON: (left to right) Jill Kirk, Margaret Knight and Alan Sugden hand over the book to Cathedral librarian Sarah Gray and Canon Richard Marsh

A MEDIEVAL history of the world, one of the earliest books to be printed in England, has been loaned to the Cathedral library at Canterbury.

The book is a 1482 William Caxton printing of Polychronicon by Ranulph Higden, a Benedictine monk who wrote the original in Latin, around 1360.

Polychronicon was translated into English by John of Trevisa, chaplain to Lord Thomas of Berkeley in 1387.

This copy is Canterbury Cathedral library's first of any work printed by Caxton, England's first printer.

The loan is permanent. Tenterden Town Council, which has ownership of the book, has not got the storage facilities to preserve it correctly to ensure its longevity, while still allowing people to view it.

Roughly translated as 'tales of many times', Polychronicon was popular in medieval times as a chronicle of world history from Adam and Eve to the Black Death of 1348.

This edition, printed at Westminster, is notable for Caxton's revisions to Trevisa's text and continuation of the chronology to 1460.

It is also the most substantial example remaining of Caxton's own creative work.

The words in Polychronicon read as clear as the ones in this newspaper; added punctuation marks in blue and red ink, penned by hand after the pages had been through the press, still remain vivid.

At the unveiling of the book in the Cathedral library last Friday, assistant librarian Sarah Gray said: "It's wonderful to have such an early work, especially as we have not previously had anything printed by William Caxton in the library.

She said: "Caxton was a master craftsman. He brought the first hand press to this country, which had a similar impact then to the arrival of the Internet today it brought knowledge to the people. It really is that important."

It is believed Caxton was born near Tenterden, which is why a generous American bookkeeper named Boies Penrose gave it to the town authority in 1928, since when it has been stored in a safe in the town hall.

Cllr Margaret Knight, of Tenterden Town Council, maintained the book was being handed over only in body, not in spirit.

She said: "However, I must stress that it will always be Tenterden's and the people from Tenterden, just as from here and from elsewhere, will still be able to come and see it."

The Cathedral library is open to readers by appointment from Monday to Thursday, 9am to 5pm, and on the mornings of the first and third Saturdays of every month.

To arrange an individual or group appointment, contact the library on 01227 865287 or email library@canterbury-cathedral.org

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