Archives and Modern Manuscripts Image of the Month – Book storage tunnels under the Senate House lawn

By the time the decision was taken in March 1921 to build an entirely new home for the University Library west of the river, several more modest schemes to relieve overcrowding on the central Schools site had been considered and rejected. This is E.S. Prior’s unsolicited suggestion in March 1920 that a scheme of up to ten watertight telescopic concrete tubes be laid under the Senate House lawn at the front of the Library. Each one could accommodate 60,000-80,000 books and would take only three weeks to construct with no disruption to the Library, or lawn.  

Edward Schroder Prior (1852-1932), Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, was Slade Professor of Fine Art, 1912-32. He was also a working architect with several Cambridge commissions to his name; the University Medical School for instance, built in the 1890s. His domestic designs took an experimental approach to form, favouring reinforced concrete, deployed again here.  

No evidence has been found in the University Archives that his proposal received any support. Undaunted, in the same year he drew a plan for laying out King’s Parade as a war memorial, doubtless stimulated by the local initiative to honour Cambridgeshire’s war dead. In October, the organising committee settled on Robert Mackenzie Tait as memorial sculptor and a road junction near the railway station as memorial location.

The catalogue record for the tunnel plans can be found on ArchiveSearch, as can the plans for the war memorial.

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