Until 1937, when Durham University was gifted Cosin’s Library, Martin Routh’s collection of 15,000 volumes was the most significant early printed book collection the University owned. Nearly half of the books printed before 1500 that the University possessed, came from his collection.
But unlike Cosin or the Sharp Family, Martin Routh had no connection to Durham. He had been born in Suffolk, and after he graduated from Queen’s College, University of Oxford, in 1770, he never left. Routh was an Oxford fixture. President of Magdalen College for 63 years, he never left his house without wearing his full gown and wig (which we have in the collection here in Durham). He was a Classicist and spent much of his life studying early Christian writers. His book collection also included manuscripts, books and pamphlets on a wide range of subjects relating to English history, as well as religious controversies and travel.
His death in 1854, at the age of 99, reputedly came when he collapsed while trying to get a large book from a high shelf. His last words were allegedly "A worthless volume, sir! A worthless volume!". Given his status and attachment to Oxford, it was thus a significant surprise when, on clearing the papers in his study, his executors found instructions to change his will, leaving his books to the fledgling Durham University.
His books arrived in Durham in 1855 and are still housed on the top floor of the Exchequer Building, in the bookcases which were made for them more than 160 years ago.
View of the bookshelves in the Routh Library in the Exchequer Building.
Plaster bust of Martin Routh on one of the walls in the Routh Library.