John Neuton's Book Bequest and the re-founding of York Minster's Library: Research for online resource

Posted on 11 August 2014

This year marks the 600th anniversary of the re-founding of York’s Minster Library, when in 1414 the cathedral’s treasurer, John Neuton, bequeathed his book collection.

A page from the Neuton collection

There had been a library connected to York Minster before: Alcuin is well-known for his part in building up the cathedral’s library in the eighth century. However, this library was destroyed when the Danes sacked the city in the late ninth century.

Neuton was the son of a local merchant, and probably attended school in York before going on to study law at Cambridge - he may well have been taught at the Minster school. He was clearly an avid book collector: at the time of his death he had built up a collection of around 100 manuscripts. He left a large proportion of these to the Minster, but some also went to his old college, Peterhouse, in Cambridge. The books he left to the Minster show his wide range of intellectual interests, including theology, history and law. Over the centuries this collection was added to, but unfortunately few of the original manuscripts now survive.


Neuton's bequest stimulated the creation of a library building to hold the cathedral’s books. The original medieval library building, completed just a few years after Neuton's bequest, was attached to the south transept, above what is now the gift shop. The ground floor was used for the Minster school. In the nineteenth century the library was moved to the Old Palace, where it remains today and the space is now used for choir practice.

To mark this anniversary, an online resource is being created, covering Neuton’s life and his bequest, and the wider context of late medieval York and the Minster. There will be contributions from various academics; images of the few remaining manuscripts that belonged to Neuton; and the website will aim to put Neuton and his bequest in context of the longer-term history of the Minster Library. Some very interesting and cutting edge research has already come out of the project. In a great piece of detective work, Sarah Brown, head of the York Glaziers Trust, has identified where in the Minster she believes Neuton was buried.

The website will be an excellent opportunity to view images of medieval manuscripts, which are normally not that accessible for the wider public, and to learn more about the long and rich history of the Minster Library.

Hannah Jeans

Hannah Jeans

MA Early Modern History
Public History Placement‌