Balliol College Library: the lampshades

Balliol Library oak lampbase and 'linen' shade

Balliol Library oak lampbase and ‘linen’ shade

I recently retired from my job in Balliol Library and it made the seamstress in me very happy that my last job was mending the lampshades. Until a couple of years ago lamps in both libraries were variants on that shown above – sturdy oak bases with parchment-like linen shades. The ones in the Old Library were replaced a couple of years ago because they were a bit unstable on the smaller desks and, regularly knocked over on to the iron radiators behind the desks, were constantly in need of replacement  bulbs. (See here for the lamps when they were in the Old Library pictured next to a view of  James Wyatt’s stunning library shelves of 1791-4.) The then Librarian opted for anglepoise style lamps. I would have preferred fixing the wooden lampstands to the desk in some way but it was not my decision. Students, it was said, preferred the old lamps but I’ve no idea how many felt this. (The lighted lamps certainly looked better from the quad outside looking in when it was dark.)

Balliol Library: the Reading Room before installation of the mezzanine in 1962

Balliol Library: the Reading Room before installation of the mezzanine in 1962

As with the library chairs, the origin of the lamps is equally mystifying. A photo of the Reading Room before its rebuilding in 1962 shows one of the lamps quite clearly. It seems likely that they were introduced when electricity was put into the library sometime in or after the 1930s, which their Home Counties Arts and Crafts style also hints at. What is indisputable is that the lamps are at least 55 years old and possibly a few decades more than that.

Balliol Library: Reading Room 2014

Balliol Library: Reading Room 2014

Anyway, our current Librarian wanted to maintain the look of the Reading Room (once the dining room and at right angles to the Old Library). She decided that the lamps in this part of the library were in sound condition but in need of a bit of a facelift. She first looked into replacement shades but they were expensive (especially when multiplied by 13 to include those in the Law Library). A more thorough look at the shades indicated that in places the stitching had rotted away and caused the shade to buckle and cave in here and there. I decided the easiest thing to do was to re-sew the lampshade fabric to the frames and to use stitches closer together than before. A good brush down with a badger hair shaving brush and new braid (a card costing £33 did all 13 shades with enough for a couple more if needed) and the lampshades look good for another 50 + years (by which time both shade and base should be over 100 years old)!

Last week I returned to the library and added the new braid. Having forgotten my camera, a photograph of the fully refurbished shade will be appear here later.

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  1. Posted October 18, 2014 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations on your retirement Mary, I hope it is long, happy, healthy and fulfilling. Very nice to think you have lighted the way for future students both metaphorically and practically. X

    • Mary Addison
      Posted October 18, 2014 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for your very kind thoughts, Penny.

  2. Becky
    Posted October 18, 2014 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Happy retirement Mary. I hope they gave you a good send off. A good time of year to retire, I think that you will have plenty of work to fill your hours. Love to you and yours. Bx

    • Mary Addison
      Posted October 20, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Thank you, I had a lovely send off – well 2 actually. Filling hours will not be a problem!

  3. irene pert
    Posted October 20, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    what a lovely lasting contribution, to leave in the library. the old lamps are so in keeping with the surroundings. I wish you a long and happy retirement and hope you have hours of pleasure creating more wonderful embroideries.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted October 21, 2014 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

      What kind comments – thank you for your encouragement.

  4. Posted October 25, 2014 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    May you have a long, happy and contented retirement – I am sure you will fill it with wonderful adventures and beautiful stitches. How perfect that you mended those elegant lampshades. A rare sight to see oak bases these days and put to such excellent use – as one of the previous comments has so aptly said – the students and their studies will have just that bit more clarity on the page thanks to you.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted October 25, 2014 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

      It’s always good to repair things with lots of life still left in them, especially as the lamps are so in keeping with the bookshelves the other fittings. Already days are going by very quickly but it is good to be able to get on with the embroidery for the altar frontal. Your good wishes are much appreciated.

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