Action plan to save literary treasure
BY PIERS MCGRANDLE
A GROUP OF prominent Catholics met Cardinal Hume on Tuesday evening in a last-minute effort to save the collection of books at the Catholic Central Library, Westminster, from being broken up.
Sources close to the lengthy meeting described it as "very successful and incredibly positive". It had offered "several excellent options to preserve the library in its entirety and also to honour its postal members who live all over Britain".
The delegation follows an intervention by the Cardinal in the face of increased bad publicity about the proposed closure of the library.
In the intervention, the Cardinal said that he would give any forthcoming group another three months to come up with an "action plan" to rescue the library.
The group included Cardinal Newman's biographer, Fr Ian Ker, Liberal peer Lord Alton, novelist Piers Paul Read and the Master of the The Keys Club, Anthony Tyler. It is attempting to form an alternative policy to the closure of the library, which was due to be dispersed on Tuesday.
Many Catholics were appalled at the initial proposal drawn up by Cathedral authorities, in which the collection at the library would be divided between Heythrop College in Kensington and Allen Hall Seminary, Chelsea.
Many of the novels housed in the library including first editions by Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene were to be moved to Allen Hall. "The spectre of all these great books lying in dusty boxes hangs over all of us," one subscriber said.
In an original letter to subscribers, the Archbishop wrote: "I have made four attempts to preserve the library in its present state, but have failed. A lot of money was required, not only to purchase the building, but also to modernise the library and provide adequate salaries.
"From my experience in the Church I could not risk launching an appeal which I believe would not have been successful.
"I am sure you realise that capital expenditure is one thing and running expenses another". The library is run by the New York-based Friars of the Atonement, who say they have been forced to give it up because of financial pressures.
Based in Westminster since 1959, the library which is run by three Friars has been a long-time favourite with subscribers and writers. Lady Antonia Fraser and Mary Kenny, for instance, are regular users. Its threatened closure was condemned by one member as a "breathtaking act of philistinism by the Church".
And peer David Alton, the leading Catholic and former Liberal Democrat MP, told the Herald: "The dispersal of the library would be n unmitigated tragedy and criminal folly.
"It is madness to allow a building in the heart of London to disappear."
"It is closed as far as we know," one Friar told the Herald as we went to press. The library, which houses 55,000 volumes and has more than 1,000 subscribers, was very popular with writers and students.
It was especially renowned for its valuable reference section and reference reading room.
Editorial Comment Page 4 Church's jewel Page 5