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Unpublished descriptions of the western medieval manuscripts at Cambridge University Library by H.L. Pink (1902-1988) and R.A.B. Mynors (1903-1989)


Between 1903 and 1970, a succession of Library staff and scholars undertook the task of describing many of the western medieval manuscripts in the collection at Cambridge University Library. Initially, the intention was to supplement the information that had been made available through the publication between 1856 and 1867 of the five-volume Catalogue of manuscripts preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge, by providing descriptions of manuscripts among the Additionals classmark sequence that had been acquired since that time. However, in 1911, Cambridge University Library’s Annual Report noted of the nineteenth-century catalogue that ‘although it contained much excellent work, it needs revision and correction to bring it up to the standard now expected of such catalogues’. This set in motion the first of several attempts to produce fresh descriptions of the western medieval manuscripts among the Two-Letter (Dd-Oo) classmark sequence as well, and (without success) to produce a new catalogue of the whole of the Library’s collection. Only with a further four decades’ work after this was the Library’s original objective realised, with the publication in 2009 of a summary catalogue by Jayne Ringrose.

H.L. Pink’s and R.A.B. Mynors’ descriptions

After plans to publish M.R. James’s draft descriptions had been abandoned, the next concerted attempt to produce descriptions of the University Library’s manuscripts began in 1948, when Harold Pink was tasked with revising James’s drafts. He worked first on manuscripts in the Additionals classmark sequence, under the guidance of Roger Mynors, who himself contributed a number of descriptions between 1948 and 1953. Pink then went on to produce descriptions of manuscripts within the Two Letter classmark sequence, working on these until his retirement in 1970.

Pink’s descriptions remained in the Department of Manuscripts after his retirement and, for a period, were made available to readers in the Manuscripts Reading Room. In total, according to reports submitted just prior to his retirement, he had produced descriptions of some 344 manuscripts in the two-letter classmark sequence and 220 in the Additionals, with Roger Mynors contributing a further 95 in the latter sequence – amounting to 659 descriptions in total, approximately a third of the Library’s collection of western medieval manuscripts.

The original, handwritten copies of Pink’s and Mynors’ descriptions have been accessioned into the University Archives (under UA ULIB 7/3/75). At some stage, photocopies were made of the entire stock of handwritten descriptions produced by Pink and Mynors. These have now been scanned and are available for download as pdf files from Apollo.

Researchers are welcome to reference these in their work, on the proviso that the person responsible is duly credited. The following is the recommended citation (the date is usually given as part of the transcription):

  • UA ULIB 7/3/75: H.L. Pink, unpublished description of Cambridge, University Library, MS [classmark], c. 1948-70
  • UA ULIB 7/3/75: R.A.B. Mynors, unpublished description of Cambridge, University Library, MS [classmark], c. 1948-53

Further information

For further information concerning these and other unpublished descriptions produced during the 20th century, see:

James Freeman, ‘Unpublished descriptions of western medieval manuscripts at Cambridge University Library’, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society (forthcoming, 2021).

Jayne Ringrose, Summary catalogue of the Additional medieval manuscripts in Cambridge University Library acquired before 1940 (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2009), pp. vii-viii.

Jayne Ringrose, ‘The Legacy of M.R. James in Cambridge University Library’, in The Legacy of M.R. James: Papers from the 1995 Cambridge Symposium, ed. by Lynda Dennison (Donington: Shaun Tyas, 2001), pp. 23-36.

For further information, please contact: Dr James Freeman, Medieval Manuscripts Specialist,


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