Episode 4: Owen McKnight, Jesus College Fellow's Library
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In this episode, we interviewed Owen McKnight, librarian at Jesus College's (affectionately known as Oxford's 'Welsh' College) Fellows Library.
Owen came to Oxford as an undergraduate studying mathematics, and then moved on to do a graduate traineeship at Christ Church College, before gaining their librarianship qualifications.
The interior of the Fellow's Library, which would have originally housed chained books - texts that were anchored to the shelves by metal chains
The view of Jesus College's Front Quad from the Porter's Lodge
Owen explains how the library was originally chained, meaning, as Alex explains, that the books would have been placed with their spines facing inwards, with titles sometimes written on the fore-edge of the pages. Owen then explains how the library came to be in its current position.
For two centuries, the college's collection of medieval manuscripts were kept in copper-gilt-fronted cupboards, before being moved to the Bodleian (although still under the ownership of the college). Owen goes on to describe the formation of the college's Celtic library, and its connection with the college's distinctly welsh identity and books!
'I like to think of this collection as a collection ... of collections'
Owen's 'wildcard' choice was a copy of the Jesus College statutes, used to govern the college, from 1732. Rather than being printed, the book was written by in the extremely accomplished hand of William Parry, who copied the neat and precise letter forms of print. Owen speculates that Parry didn't copy this from a printed book, but created it from different letterforms and layouts himself.
'...a very curious object, perhaps not immediately appealing...'
Lastly, Owen's 'Librarian's Choice': a unique survival of a sixteenth-century English ballad, 'The History of Two Dutch Lovers', which was found as a support in the binding of a philosophy book. Telling the tale of a young woman who tests the strength of her lover's affection by dressing as a man and questioning him. Unfortunately, the results are disappointing, but this pamphlet certainly isn't!
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Living Libraries podcast! For more information about the libraries and collections of Jesus College, and for guidance on visiting, please see
Owen seated in the Fellow's Library with their literary offerings!