Experience Salisbury's 5 Questions With.....

At the heart of our Traditional Original city is the towering Salisbury Cathedral. 

You may not be able to miss the spire standing proud over the city centre but there are aspects of the Cathedral that remain a mystery to many. 

The library is one of those areas not many people know about. It is like Hogwarts come to life! The room is a real secret space, hidden by an unmarked door. Climb the stone staircase and you enter a special space full of the smell of old leather and paper. 

Ahead of a week of open afternoons that will give visitors a fascinating insight into the library - called Beyond the Library Door - Experience Salisbury has been speaking to Cathedral Archivist and Head of the Library Emily Naish as part of our 5 Questions With series: 

Emily Naish in Salisbury Cathedral library

Emily, the library has a massive collection, with more than 10,000 volumes, do you have a favourite book out of all those? 

"NO! I can’t be showing favoritism, can I?! We have quite a collection of hand written manuscripts, those are the ones that were written before printing was invented, but actually, the main part of the collection are the printed books. That's the part of the collection we’re really trying to understand better and when people come to the open afternoon it’s all about the printed books.  

"Some of these books are really old, before 1500 - from the 1470s and 80s. They’re really from the beginning of printing and they’ve got a special name. They’re incunabular, which is the Latin word meaning the birth or the cradle of something. We have a fabulous collection of 43 of them and we’ve just finished cataloguing them all. That’s one of my faviourite parts of the collection but there are so many weird and wonderful things in here as well. We have a book about how to organise a coronation from 1687, a book on cider making, books on medicine, science and plants. There are all sorts of things." 

Is there a fact about the library, maybe from one of the books, that has surprised you?  

"I’m going to have to tell you about the mouse because it is a surprising thing in a book! Everybody always loves seeing our mouse. In the 19th century the Cathedral choristers, the boys at the time, seemed to have taken to keeping mouse skins in their books, which they were supposed to be using to learn Latin. One of the mice is still there in a book and lots of people find this really quite fascinating, some are revolted by it, but others are ‘wow’!"

The Cathedral's dead mouse in a book

It sounds a fantastic job to do? 

"Yes, it is. You don’t take it for granted but you have to just live with all these fabulous old things around you all the time, you can’t be thinking how amazing it is all the time, you’ve got to be a bit level headed otherwise you wouldn’t get anything done! You can’t just sit there reading the books all the time. Our job is to catalogue the books properly and record all the information we can whilst making sure we look after them properly with the right environment and being handled carefully. We also facilitate for other people to see the books.  

"We have people who come for academic studies, but also, we just want to share to as many people as possible this lovely collection we have here, with all its quirks. We are responsible for looking after it to make sure we can pass it onto someone else in the future. What I love is finding writing in a book that’s 200 years old or older. We’re always told now not to write in books but maybe it’s actually not a bad thing to write in a book because in the future someone is going to find that and have a glimpse into a past life. A personal touch." 

What would you write in a book for someone in 200 years to find? 

"Oh goodness, I’ve never thought about that! One would want to write something quite profound, but you’d probably end up writing something quite silly like ‘I was here’! No, I’d probably go for ‘look after this book and don’t turn over the pages’... that sort of thing!"

Salisbury Cathedral library

What’s the best thing about Salisbury? 

"I’m a bit biased because I work in Salisbury Cathedral and this place is great! I’ve lived in Salisbury since 1998 and I think it’s a great place to bring up a family. My children have grown up here and there are lots of parks and fun things to do for children. It’s close to the New Forest and close to the sea with lovely friendly people people too – who should all come to the library open afternoons! 


Delve into the magic of the Salisbury Cathedral library in ‘Beyond the Library Door’ which will run from 25th to 30th October. You can find more information about the FREE event here. 

Be inspired...

28 Sep 2021

5 questions with.... David Christie

David Christie is the man behind Salisbury's newest exhibition space, The Vanner Gallery. He's an art lover who was looking for a more fulfilling career. Experience Salisbury meet him to ask 5 questions.

02 Oct 2021

Get creative with Salisbury's Christmas workshops

Whether you want to create something Christmassy for yourself, or a gift for a loved-one, there is a workshop to suit in Salisbury.

Sign up to our mailing list for exclusive offers, news and events.