We can scarcely trust ourselves to think, much less to write, of the calamity which has befallen Birmingham, by the destruction of its great library of reference, with the special collections, of priceless value, included in it. The occurrence was so utterly unlooked for, the danger so remote and the loss so complete and absolute, that it is hardly possible to realise what has happened.
(Birmingham Post Monday 13th January 1879)
January 11th 1879 was a grim day for Birmingham library as a huge fire ripped through the building destroying most of the 50,000 books in the Reference Library. Stories of daring rescues of precious volumes abounded – but only a handful of its unique manuscript collections were saved, notably the Guild Book of Knowle, a fifteenth century illuminated manuscript, which is still preserved in our collections here at Birmingham Archives and Heritage. Amongst those things which were lost was the manuscript containing the Coventry Mystery Plays. A fund to establish a new library for Birmingham was established shortly after the fire and the second Birmingham library opened in 1882. The third library followed in 1974 and we look forward to moving to the fourth library in 2013.