The Friends of Thomas Plume’s Library were formed in 1988 by a group who were concerned about the number of books that had gone missing from the Library since it was founded in 1704, some 700 of them. There was also concern about the condition of some of the books, especially their bindings. The Trustees of the Library had carried out repairs but their funds were barely sufficient to maintain the Library and extra funds were urgently needed.
The Friends originally had the simplest of constitutions, but because of the great financial advantages, in 2003 the society applied for, and was granted charitable status for the advancement of the education of the people of Maldon and surrounding areas by providing support and assistance to Thomas Plume’s Library. The charity now benefits from an extra income of several hundreds of pounds each year from better interest rates and tax refunds on donations.
Since 1992, the Friends have contributed over £57,000 to the Library and included in this is the purchase, with the Trustees, of approaching 200 books. Very occasionally we are able to buy the original book that went missing; one such turned up at auction in New York some years ago and thankfully we were able to acquire it. Also included in the above total is over £3,500 towards the restoration of books and over £4,600 towards the computerisation of the catalogue and for the purchase of an up-to-date computer to run it and nearly £3,000 for cataloguing and storage of Dr Plume’s manuscripts.
Since the Friends were formed, the cost of 17th century books has risen dramatically and some of the most desirable ‘missing’ books are now quite beyond our means – they can go for as much as £10,000. It is also the case that we are sometimes outbid at auction.
The Friends have a membership of around 145, who each pay an annual subscription of £5 and we encourage them to enhance this by donation. I am very pleased to be able to record that most of them do this. We send out two newsletters each year; just before Christmas and in the late spring. We usually hold a social evening in February to lighten up the dark days. We have had many evenings of readings from the Library accompanied by music and, sometimes, supper. One year, at one such occasion, we held a competition for the best plate of cakes baked according to recipes from one of the ‘missing’ books recently purchased by the Friends. We found the cakes delicious. By way of a change we have recently held Quiz evenings which as well as being very enjoyable have raised much needed funds for the Friends.
In May we hold our AGM, usually in the Octagon of St Mary’s church and when we have disposed of our essential business, we have refreshments, followed by a talk. These are on diverse subjects, but always interesting, such as The Port of Maldon, by Bronwen Cook, The Maldon Embroidery by the late Humphrey Spender, and Robert Nightingale, the Maldon painter by Hugh Scantlebury.
In the summer we have an outing to a place of particular interest, often to a library to which the public have only have limited access, if ever. In this way we have visited the libraries of Hatfield House, Rochester Cathedral, Magdalene and Christ’s Colleges, Cambridge, the Getty Library in Buckinghamshire, and the Founder’s Library in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge.
In recent years the Friends have twice ventured further afield. This began with a three day visit to Antwerp in July 2013 for an organised tour of the Plantin-Moretus Museum of Printing. The Plantin brothers were major printers in Europe during the seventeenth century and numerous books in the Plume Library were printed by them. This was followed by a four day visit to Dublin in 2015 where the Friends were treated to guided tours of Trinity College Library and Archbishop Marsh’s Library. The Marsh Library, opened in 1707, was the first public library in Ireland and very similar in appearance to the Library of Thomas Plume. Both trips were very successful and it is hoped to organise more like this in the future.
The Friends of Thomas Plume’s Library History Prize totalling £50, is awarded for the best pieces of work by Plume School pupils in year 8. The overall winner receives £20 and a plaque and his or her name is entered on a shield. Three runners-up get £10 each. This prize has led to over 250 13-14 year-olds visiting the Library in each year. We receive many positive comments regarding the library from the pupils and the staff who accompany them. The teachers comment that this is clearly a beneficial experience for many of them.
Each year, on Heritage Open Days in September, the Friends provide the stewards for the Library’s extended opening hours. This is an excellent opportunity for members to gain much closer knowledge of the books from the themed exhibitions and to see the library bustling with visitors.
By joining the Friends of the Library, you will be materially assisting the continuation, and, indeed, the continuing development, of this very rare survival of the seventeenth century for the benefit of future generations.
We hope you will be sufficiently interested to complete an application form and we hope to be able to welcome you at one or more of our events in the future.