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Observations on the plans for the new library, etc. online

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one or two important variations, from those which had
been given before : they retain the enormous Lecture Room,
which had been generally condemned as misplaced or unne-
cessary ; and they seemed to be more solicitous about the
Jacksonian Model Room and the Unpacking Rooms to the
several Museums, than the former Syndics : they deter-
mined likewise the style of the Architecture, the sum to be
expended upon the part to be immediately executed, and
likewise the number and precise position of the several
rooms to be provided.

The first Syndicate never presumed to undertake the
responsibility of any absolute distribution of the parts of the
building, contenting themselves, and I think wisely, with
pointing out the precise wants of the University : a great
number however, of that body had gladly seized a sug-
gestion of Mr. Cockerell' s, and had warmly recommended
its adoption; and it appeared in an amended plan which he
had forwarded to the University, at their request, the prin-
ciple of which was very generally known to different Members
of the University, and was, at all events, entitled to a fair and
candid consideration: it did therefore seem very extraordinary,
that the new instructions should only present one essential va-
riation from the former, in prescribing a fixed arrangement,
which, if followed, must compel Mr. Cockerell to abandon
altogether a plan, which had received the approbation of
persons both qualified and authorized to form an opinion of
its merits. It would at least have been more becoming,
in the Members of the new Syndicate, to have adhered
to the prudent forbearance of their predecessors, in this as
well as in other particulars.

The second instructions differed from the former, in
being more limited in the objects which they proposed to
effect : they said, \ve mil have a Record Room, Registrary's
Office, four Schools, three Museums, and one Lecture Room.



23

and nothing more in the range of buildings beneath the
Library, extending over a length of 520 feet. They did not
allow the enquiry to be made, whether this enormous space
would not allow a Museum of Zoology or of Comparative
Anatomy, as well as accommodation for many other objects,
of great importance to the University : and it certainly ap-
pears to me, that if the old instructions had erred in demand-
ing too much, the new instructions erred at least as much
in demanding too little.

Plans were sent in to the Vice-Chancellor, in con-
formity with the preceding instructions, by Mr. Cockerell,
Messrs. Rickman and Hutchinson, and Mr. Wilkins, and
were soon afterwards placed in the Public Library, for
the inspection of the Members of the Senate: the fol-
lowing observations will be chiefly confined to the two
first, which have almost exclusively attracted (whether
justly or not is another question) the attention of the
University.

The building proposed by Messrs. Rickman and Hut-
chinson forms a rectangle, whose adjacent sides are 200
and 137 feet, enclosing a court which is 110 feet by 63:*
its front is coextensive with that of the present Library.
Its longer sides form the prolongation of the south and north
sides of the present Library, and its west front coincides
nearly with the present front of the Old Court of King's
College: the two principal Lecture Rooms, with workshops,
and rooms for the reception of Apparatus and Models, are
placed between the Library and Senate House Passage:
the whole building, which is of a single order, is raised
upon a basement which is 7 feet high towards St. Mary's,
and 12 feet high towards Clare Hall : it is not our intention
to attempt to describe its general external character, which
is unquestionably not destitute of nobleness, but which pre-
sents no peculiar character of appropriateness either to the

" These measurements as well as others which I shall give hereafter, are
taken either from Mr. Rickman's own statements or from his plans which are
drawn to a scale : the breadth of the court as given in the plan is 68 feet, that of the
present court being 69 : I cannot possibly however give it a breadth greater than
63 feet consistently with the assigned dimensions of the Schools and Museums.



24

situation in which it is placed, or to the purposes for
which it is destined.

The principal entrance to the building is by a flight of
11 steps, leading to a vestibule, which the visitor would
naturally expect to be upon a level with the floors of all the
surrounding rooms. If he proceeds onwards however he
will find a descent of 6 steps to the level of the area of
the interior court and the entrances of the Museums and
Schools. The court itself is narrow and deep,* studded with
windows of all sizes, and in all positions, some descending
from the cornice, and others rising nearly from the ground: on
his left he will find a colonnade, covering the entrances of the
several schools, and designed for the use and protection of
processions, on occasions of ceremony. It is hardly necessary
to remark that such a mode of entering a building is ex-
tremely unnatural as well as inconvenient, and is altogether
destructive of the beautiful perspective effect which a regular
and well ordered interior, on a level with the entrance, should
naturally present. It is however one of the least of the
many sacrifices which are made in this plan to the exterior
character of the building.

The Record Room, the Registrary's Office, and the four
Schools, are placed in succession on the side next to King's
Chapel, and to Clare Hall : their width is 32 feet, their height
26^. A double row of columns, extending throughout all the
Schools, divides them into three equal parts : the three first
communicate with each other by folding doors; but the School
of Arts, which is opposite to Clare Hall, is separated from
the others by a passage which leads to the gallery of the
Divinity School.

In the first place, these Schools occupy a space which is
altogether disproportioned to their importance or uses, extend-

* The height of this court is 55 feet, exceeding by 20 feet the height of
the present south Library : there are very few points in it from which the
pinnacles of King's College Chapel would be visible and still fewer from which
the sun could be seen during the three winter months : there is no court
belonging to any College in Cambridge the relation between whose width and
height is not at least twice as great : it is proper to observe however that this
is a fault of the last instructions and not of the Architect.



25

ing over a length, including walls and passage, of 220 feet. In
the second place, the columns by which they are crowded
would prevent their being used as Lecture Rooms, inasmuch
as no voice could make its way through so many obstacles.*
In the third place, they are lighted by windows on one side
only, 13 feet above the floor, many of which are placed
behind projecting columns. It would necessarily follow there-
fore that the side next the windows would be always in shade
and generally in darkness, and the rooms would be, upon the
whole, worse lighted and worse ventilated than the present
schools : this is another consequence of the exterior character
of the building, which admits of one row of windows only,
the size and position of which are determined or nearly so,
by the rules of the Order.

The Museums succeed to the Schools, and occupy alto-
gether a length of 132 feet. They do not form a continuous
range, the succession being broken by the intrusion of a
dark closet in the Museum of Mineralogy. The Geological
Museum whose length is 72 feet is blocked up on one side by
the School of Arts to the extent of 34 feet and on the other,
for nearly the same space, by the great Theatre : it is lighted
by windows on the south, descending to within 5i feet of the
ground : by similar windows on the north, looking towards a
small area adjoining the great Theatre ; and by three windows
on the west, looking towards Trinity Hall, which are 12 or
13 feet above the floor of the room : the lights from these
windows, intersecting each other in this singular manner
would produce a very strange and probably a very incon-
venient effect : and the absence of symmetry in the room itself
occasioned by such a position and distribution of the win-
dows, would be at least aukward, if not extremely offensive.
The Museums of Mineralogy and Botany, each 30 feet in
length, are lighted by large windows looking into the interior



It is proper to notice that the Architect does not think the introduction
of these columns necessary : but it does no honour to his judgement that he
should have imagined for one moment that their existence could be reconciled
either with the declared uses of these rooms or with the very imperfect and
insufficient provision for lighting them which he has made.



26

court and by others looking into two narrow courts or passages,*
which would be necessarily so dark, as to furnish no sufficient
light, even to remove the shade from cases which might be
placed so as to intercept the southern light. All the Museums
are provided with Unpacking Rooms to a much greater extent
than can be required, some of which are lighted, and. others
not: of the latter kind is a large room allotted to the Botanical
Museum, which could never be used for any useful purpose :
it is extremely doubtful likewise whether such Museums
could, with such imperfect and irregular lighting, be used
for Lecture Rooms by the Professors to whom they severally
belong.

The Plumian Lecture Room is placed in the north-east
corner of the Building : it is 32^ feet square, 26 feet high,
and lighted by three windows, which are 14 feet above the
floor where the Lecturer is placed, and which are also
placed behind projecting columns, which are themselves
masked by an advanced colonnade ; under such circumstances,
the Lecturer would be placed in the shade, and the little light
there was would be thrown upon his audience : it is proper
to observe however that the Plumian Professor thinks that
such a room would sufficiently answer his purpose in case the

* These two courts form a passage between the Plumian apparatus room,
the small Lecture room, the Jacksonian model room on one side and the
Plumian Lecture room, the Botanical unpacking room and the Botanical
and Mineralogical Museums on the other : on the East, there is a doorway
and the passage of communication between the Library and Librarian's
room : on the West there is the great Theatre : it is divided into two courts,
by the connection between the Library and the room for the Library Syn-
dicate : the general width at the bottom is 10 feet, but the court in front
of the Mineralogical Museum expands to the width of 18 feet, at the height
of 12 feet from the ground : there is not one of the buildings enclosing
them which is less than 45 feet in height, and the reader may from thence
form some notion of the quantity and direction of the light which can
descend through them to the adjoining Museums. They would admit of no
kind of ventilation, and unless carefully and constantly cleansed, would
become a nuisance to every room in their neighbourhood : in case of a snow
storm from the north or north-east, it would inevitably intercept all the
snow which would be driven against the upper part of the Library, and
would very probably inundate the adjacent Museums before it could be
Cleared away.



27

present disposition of the benches was changed and the
Lecturer placed in the north of the room.

We now return to the principal entrance, and to the
two grand staircases, occupying altogether 63 feet in length
by 54 in depth. An area of such magnitude, devoted to
such a purpose, would naturally excite expectations of an
approach of truly royal magnificence. Let the visitor, how-
ever, conceive himself placed in the vestibule, a room of no
great dimensions and only 19 feet high, with a narrow passage
before him, leading into the interior court and presenting for
reasons which we have mentioned before, an extremely mean
and unnatural perspective : he may then ascend two steps
on the right hand or on the left, and he will find himself
in a dark room at the foot of a noble staircase, which is
perfectly similar and equal to its antagonist on the opposite
side; but which, from no point of view, can be seen at
the same time. Observing however, that the mere dupli-
cation of these staircases, does not contribute to increase
the magnificence of the entrance, he will naturally conclude
that they possess important and distinct uses, leading to
different parts of the Library, or calculated to introduce
him most advantageously to the perspective of long and
noble rooms ; unfortunately however he will be again dis-
appointed in this very reasonable expectation ; he will find
that they conduct him into two points of the same room,
merely 44 feet apart from each other, into spaces where
he will see neither windows nor sky-light, where he is
enclosed by projecting cases on his right hand and on his
left, with similar projections surmounted by a blank gallery
of books immediately before him; and he will probably
conclude that it would have been more prudent at least
to have contrived a less ostentatious approach to so mean
a termination.

Underneath these staircases, are provided an Unpacking
Room for the Library and a robing room for the Doctors
and Professors, which might easily be converted to other and
more useful purposes : the whole of the remainder of this
enormous area of nearly 3000 square feet, is occupied by



28

the entrance and the two staircases, one of which only could
serve any useful purpose or be allowed to be used in case it
was provided.*

The Library itself is 32 feet wide by 24 feet high, a rela-
tion of height and width, which may be pleasing in a room of
50 or 60 feet in length, but which must cease to be so,
when its length is twice or three times as great. It is
fitted up with projecting cases, with a gallery above those
which are attached to the exterior wall. There are no
external windows, except in the north-west corner where they
do not interfere either with the frieze or cornice, or with the
Lecture Rooms which abutt against it : but there are windows
looking towards the Court, extending from a height of 6^ feet
from the floor to the cornice of the cieling, and a sky-light
over each of the four angles of the Library, and one in
the centre of the principal front.

The most superficial examination of this plan, would
shew that this provision for lighting the Library, is altogether
insufficient. The windows, rising at the height of 6^ feet
from the floor, would leave all the portions of the wall
beneath or between them constantly in shade; and when
the effect of the projecting cases in intercepting light is
considered, it is very obvious that there would be many
positions in the Library in which it would not be possible
to read even the titles of the books on the shelves. In the
Bibliotheque du Roi at Paris, there are windows on one
side looking into a court, as in the present plan : the win-
dows are proper French windows, rising from the floor
to within three feet of the cieling, and the rooms are
totally free from all projecting cases, the books being ar-
ranged upon the flat surface of the walls: yet even in the
bright sky of Paris, there is only just sufficient light to
fill the room, whilst the books between the windows are

* In the present Library, one of the two entrances only is allowed to be
open generally, for reasons which it is not necessary to explain : and it is an
arrangement of no small importance that persons entering or leaving the Library
should pass through the room where the Library Tceeper is stationed and where
the tickets arc deposited.



almost entirely invisible.* It is very easy to imagine there-
fore the very inconvenient darkness of the proposed room, in
the ordinary state of our atmosphere during the winter months.

The front Library however is in a much more deplorable
situation with respect to light than those we have just been
describing: in this space extending 137 feet in length from
north to south and 53 upon each of the returns, making
altogether 245 feet upon the external wall and 167 feet upon
the central line, there are only three windows between the
entrances which are placed immediately beneath a roof which
projects more than 20 feet beyond them and three small sky-
lights : in the spaces near the entrances and upon the returns,
it would be impossible to read a word without the aid of
artificial light.

If we now proceed to the north-west corner of the
Library, we find three external windows introduced, which
may be considered as a confession on the part of the Architect,
of the serious sacrifices made by their exclusion from all
other parts. Their existence however in their present
position, whilst it unquestionably improves the lighting of
the West Library, interrupts the range of the gallery, and
destroys the uniformity of plan and arrangement, which
might otherwise have been pleaded as a merit.

It may be worth while to trace more particularly the alter-
nations of light and darkness, which present themselves in
passing round this Library: suppose a spectator upon en-
tering at the north door, to walk from the dark space before
him until he comes underneath the north eastern skylight:
he will then find himself at the distance of more than
45 feet from any window or skylight whatever : upon
advancing down the north Library, through a space of
25 feet without a window on either side, he will find the
light constantly increasing until it reaches its maximum at
the north-west corner with its skylight and three external
windows : upon turning down the west Library, he will be
surprized that the wall opposite to him is not pierced by

* The quantity of light required for a Library is generally greater than
that which is required for an ordinary room, in consequence of the dull colour
of the books on the walls from which very little light is reflected.



30

windows similarly to that behind him; and when he reaches
the south-west corner, he will be struck by the contrast
between the quantity of light in the two ranges of the
Library before him: in passing through the south Library
round the south-east corner, he will traverse similar dark
spaces to those which he found upon his first entrance; and
after passing beneath the central skylight and before the
obscure windows between the doors, he will find himself
in the same dark space from which he commenced his
circuit.

Though the capital defect of this Library is its deficient
lighting, yet it possesses many others which are almost
equally discreditable to the taste and skill of the Architect.
If we wish for a good example of effecting the transition
from one room with projecting cases, to another at right
angles to it, a problem of no small difficulty, I would refer
to the Manuscript Room of the present Public Library, and
to the beautiful expedients by which Mr. Cockerell has
effected it in the corners of the Library which he has pro-
posed. If on the contrary we should wish for a good ex-
ample of a similar transition, effected without skill, I would
refer to every corner of the present plan : for inasmuch as
the projecting cases upon the external wall cannot be continued
round the corner, without impinging upon each other and
forming a dark closet, they are discontinued on one side
of it only, where there is no architectural reason for the
selection of one side in preference to the other : such an
occurrence is extremely embarrassing, when as in the case
before us, a choice must be made and when the arrangements
which follow, though under perfectly symmetrical circum-
stances, cease to be symmetrical: no attempt however
is made to evade this very serious difficulty in the plan
before us*.

Again, let us look at the few straggling columns intro-
duced towards the same parts, though accompanied by no

* It is very difficult to imagine where the lock-up classes are to be placed :
if upon the exterior wall they will receive no light : if upon the interior wall,
they will intercept the light which is absolutely necessary for the portion of the
Library opposite to them.



31

corresponding variation in the Architecture of the room, which
should lead us to expect them in one place rather than another.

I have now examined nearly all the rooms contained in
the principal building, with particular reference to their
uses and destination, and I think I have very sufficiently
shewn, that there is not one of them which has not been
more or less sacrificed to the exterior character of its
Architecture. I have likewise shewn that there is a total
want both of simplicity and of symmetry in the internal
arrangements, a most extravagant waste of space, and a
consequent failure in providing the quantity of accommo-
dation which the extent of the building admits of, and
which the University requires. Above all, I have pointed
out in a more especial manner, the nearly universal want
of light, an objection which should alone be fatal to the
adoption of this plan, if the other conditions proposed had
been completely and satisfactorily fulfilled.

Some of the admirers of this plan, while they admit the
existence of its defects, contend that it is proper to allow the
Architect an opportunity of amending his plan and of remo-
ving some at least, if not all, of these causes of complaint.
But I would beg leave to observe in reply, that the present
plan is a second attempt, the first having been rejected almost
unanimously by the Syndicate appointed to examine it, and
chiefly for defects similar to those above noticed; that the
Architect was fully sensible of the nature of those objections,
and that his want of success in attempting to overcome them
now, affords no great promise of his being able to do so
hereafter; and, lastly, that the question at present to be
decided is not the extent and nature of his possible resources,
but whether he has fairly beaten his competitors in an open
competition, to which they were publicly invited by the
University, upon a solemn promise and understanding that
equal justice would be done to them.

But, without discussing the probability of torturing* this
plan into a form which may satisfy even the reasonable scru-

* I use this term advisedly, inasmuch as I feel satisfied that unless the
whole principle of the plan is abandoned, there exists no reasonable prospect of
its being adapted, by any modification, to meet the wants of the University :

the



32

pies of its admirers, I will again call the attention of my
readers to some other parts of it as it exists, which have not
hitherto been noticed. Let us look at the elevation next
to Clare Hall, and its magnificent basement 12 feet in height;
if we should venture to pierce it for windows, the character
of solidity, which constitutes the principal beauty of the
building, is from that instant destroyed : yet such win-
dows might light a basement story, extending underneath
the whole front, which would be applicable to a great variety
of useful purposes. The Architect himself has alluded to the
possibility of providing such a basement story, but he has
suppressed all mention of the mode in which the light must
be provided : if it come from the interior court, the base-
ment story can only extend for 50 feet on the west side, and
must be discontinued at the very points where its existence
would be most useful. The impossibility of admitting the
light externally for such an object is another proof how
completely irreducible such a building is to the purposes
for which it is intended.

Again the height and character of this basement, as well
as a due respect for the symmetry of the elevation above it,
which would admit of an entrance in the centre of the front
only,* do not allow the existence of a passage of communica-

the fact is, that it bears every mark of having been formed in the first instance
without any proper reference to its object and every contrivance to reduce it
afterwards to suit more completely its specific destination has the appearance of
being forced and unnatural : in the first plan which was sent in, the Library
was lighted from the roof entirely, an expedient which suited precisely the
external character of the building : when however the unhappy experience of a
similar attempt made in the new building of the British Museum, which was
also of a single order, compelled its author to abandon it, we find a new artifice


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Online LibraryGeorge PeacockObservations on the plans for the new library, etc. → online text (page 3 of 6)