Manuscript Studies Collections at Senate House Library

The Collections

The Manuscript Studies and Palaeography collection began development at the Library in the 1920s to support the study, teaching and research of all aspects of Western Manuscripts at the University of London and beyond. The collection is of national importance in its coverage of the subject as well as distinct for housing material on the subject in one discrete collection with much of the printed material easily accessible on open shelves. It continues to be housed in the space built for the collection on the Library’s 4th floor, familiar to many users as the Palaeography Room.

The collection covers the history of western manuscript production and use from late antiquity to the early modern age. Monographs and secondary works in the collection cover subjects including guides, histories and specimens of scripts and hands, documents and diplomatic, sigillography, manuscript illumination and illustration, codicology, including all aspects of manuscript production from parchment and inks to binding, medieval libraries, textual transmission and works on individual manuscripts. A main strength of the collection’s resources are the catalogues of collections, medieval libraries, illuminated manuscripts, exhibitions and surveys such dated and datable and Chartae Latinae.

Facsimiles of medieval manuscripts have also been an essential element of the Manuscript Studies collection since it’s beginnings. They provide a means for teachers, researchers and students to compare multiple manuscripts from of different types and locations in one place. The facsimiles continue to be housed on the open access shelves of the Palaeograpy room alongside catalogues and critical works ensuring both reproductions and tools for using them are at hand in one place. Facsimiles in the collection range from early photozincographic reproductions in the 19th century, key series of working facsimiles to fine art productions that reproduce the original manuscript in all aspects.

The Library’s Special Collections include a small number of medieval manuscripts, fragments and documents. These come from several different sources including purchases, donations, from early bindings and from major collections gifted to the library.

Highlights of the manuscript collection include MS 1, a 13th-century manuscript of the Life of the Black Prince, two versions of the ‘C text’ of William Langland’s Piers Plowman from the Sterling Library: the Ilchester Manuscript (SLV/88) and the Clopton Manuscript (SLV/17) (left), the Fuller Collection of documents and seals with examples from the 12th century onward and MS657, a 15th-century paper manuscript compilation of sermons in a contemporary binding often used to teach codicology.

The Clopton Manuscript (SLV/17)

The collection also includes many manuscript fragments and one of the most significant is a 14th-century bifolium from the Auchinleck Manuscript (MS 593).

In addition to the medieval material, the papers of several palaeographers are held including Julian Brown and Francis Wormald.

As well as providing a research resource, many manuscripts and fragments were purchased or donated for the purpose of teaching a range of principles in manuscript studies, particularly palaeography and codicology.

Find out more about the collections here.

Online resources

The Palaeography collection is fully catalogued online and can be searched via the Library catalogue.

A guide to the Library’s palaeography archives and medieval collections can be found here.

The Library subscribes to a wide range of databases and e-resources relevant to manuscript studies. University of London staff and students can access many of these offsite or they can be accessed in the Library. Resources include the International Medieval Bibliography and Bloomsbury Medieval Studies which includes manuscripts and incunabula digitised from the Library’s collections. A list of databases can be found here.

Accessing the Collections

The Collections can be used by any member of Senate House Library and are also accessible to attendees of IES Summer Schools. Students and staff of University of London can join the Library as well as academic staff and research students registered at UK and overseas higher education institutions. More information on membership and access can be found here.

As of September 2020, the Library will offer limited access to some study space, a click and collect service for printed books, reprographics services for material that cannot be loaned and continued access to e-resources offsite where possible. The Library will gradually re-open allowing for safe use by library members and staff and appropriate social distancing. Current access arrangements can be found on the Library website.

For general enquiries, please get in touch via email:, or using the Library Live Chat service, accessible from the Library website.