Skip to main content

Notes by C.E. Sayle, B.F.C. Atkinson and A.E.B. Owen for a catalogue of medieval manuscripts, 1903 - 1960

Reference Code: GBR/0265/UA/ULIB 7/3/72

Scope and Contents

Descriptions in draft of medieval manuscripts in the collection at Cambridge University Library by C.E. Sayle, B.F.C. Atkinson and A.E.B. Owen, produced between 1903 and 1960.

In 1903, Charles Sayle began work on producing descriptions of recently acquired manuscripts in the Additional classmark sequence, supplementary to the printed catalogue published between 1856 and 1867. By 1911, his remit was broaded to include manuscripts in the Two-Letter classmark sequence, ‘examining each manuscript afresh,’ according to the Annual Report for that year, ‘and also incorporating such additions and corrections as have been noted in the various Library copies [of the catalogue] during the last fifty years’. Alongside the descriptions were kept a miscalleneous assortment of notes by Henry Bradshaw, Francis Jenkinson, Anna Paues and others. Sayle kept notes relating to his work, which suggest that his composition of descriptions ceased in late 1920. His work was later made available to M.R. James, while the latter was engaged on his own catalogue of selected medieval manuscripts for the University Library between 1926 and 1930, though not all of the information recorded by Sayle was incorporated by James into his work (see UA ULIB 7/3/74).

Basil Atkinson was appointed with responsibility for the Department of Manuscripts on 1 October 1925 and was initially involved with James’s cataloguing project between 1926 and 1930, providing basic details about each manuscript on the pre-printed sheets subsequently filled in by James (see UA ULIB/7/3/74). Perhaps during that time, but more likely thereafter, Atkinson produced descriptions himself, though in what order is unknown.

Following the appointment of Arthur Owen on 1 October 1947, further work was completed, focusing on manuscripts within the ‘Dd’ class and either filling in gaps left by James or superseding his work. Descriptions by Owen and containing annotations by Atkinson must have been completed during the former’s first period of employment at the Library, 1947-49, as must clean copies in Owen’s hand that are signed by Atkinson (which are likely Owen’s own work rather than Atkinson’s). The small number of descriptions produced by Atkinson of manuscripts in the ‘Ee’ to ‘Oo’ classes indicates that little further was achieved before his retirement in 1960. By the time of Owen’s return in 1961, a separation between the medieval and post-medieval manuscripts had become formalised and it is unlikely that descriptions of medieval manuscripts by Owen’s hand date from this period.


  • Creation: 1903 - 1960


Conditions Governing Access

From the Fonds:

Records of governance and finance are restricted for 50 and 30 years respectively by order of the Library Syndicate. Records containing personal data restricted for 80 years under data protection legislation. Restrictions are clearly indicated in catalogue entries.


4 archive box(es)


The current arrangement of the drafts by Sayle, Atkinson and Owen reflect the way in which the descriptions have been kept and used in the Department of Manuscripts during the 20th century. Descriptions of a manuscript by each member of staff are grouped together in chronological order (Sayle, Atkinson, Owen), and the body of descriptions as a whole organised in alphanumerical order according to classmark sequence, Two-Letter (Dd-Oo) followed by Additional (Add.). The miscellaneous notes gathered by Sayle are typically filed after his descriptions.


Sayle, Charles Edward, 1864-1924 (librarian)


Atkinson, Basil Ferris Campbell, 1895-1971 (librarian)


Owen, Arthur Ernest Bion, 1924-2008 (librarian)

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom