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St John's College

To Cambridge, and went first to St John's College, well built of brick, and library, which I think is the fairest of that University"

John Evelyn's diary, 1654. 
St John's College

The foundation charter of St John’s College was sealed on 6 April 1511 by the executors of the will of Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII and patron of education and the arts, who initiated the process of transforming the ancient hospital of St John the Evangelist into a college for students of the liberal arts and theology. Its original library was in First Court, but the donation of William Crashaw’s fine collection of over 1000 printed volumes, together with some 200 manuscripts, prompted the building of a magnificent new library during the 1620s on a scale hitherto unseen in Cambridge. Built in large part thanks to the generosity of John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, the Upper Library now holds some 30,000 early printed books, while the Special Collections as a whole include further printed collections associated with Members of the College, 270 medieval manuscripts, several hundred post-medieval manuscripts, plus extensive collections of personal papers, artefacts, photographs, maps, and artworks. 

Selected items from the Special Collections will be made available here in digital form. The first of these are the earliest printed Chinese books in the Library, which were digitised in 2017 thanks to a grant from the College’s Annual Fund.  For further information about the Library and its collections see or contact