THE story of the way in which some of the most cherished books,
charters, records, and regalia of the City of London were secured
against possible destruction in the Great War of 1914-18 is a
romance well worth placing upon record. It was in the autumn of
1917 that the Corporation began to be disturbed about the
possibilities arising from the increasing activities of enemy
aircraft; especially, looking back upon the bygone centuries and
on the Great Fire of London in 1666, when so many of the City's
treasures were destroyed. It was thus, in no panic fears, but with
the ordinary precaution of business men, that most of the City's
valuables were packed up and sent to places of safety: some to a
remote spot, and others to a secure cache close at hand.
It came to the knowledge of the City authorities at this juncture
of affairs that the British Museum was sending the choicest of the
contents of its departments of manuscripts, prints and drawings and
printed books to Aberystwyth, there to be stored in a rock-hewn
modern chamber belonging to the Library of the National Council of
Wales. Four van-loads were packed at the British Museum; and an
offer was made to the Guildhall to take one van-load from the
City's store. This was accepted, and the principal Librarian of
the British Museum and the City Librarian travelled down together
by special train from Camden, in charge of these treasures, on May
7th, 1918. The vans were duly sealed, and on arrival their
contents were stored. Among the City's choicest things were the
charter of William the Conqueror, the Caxton and other unique, rare
and irreplaceable books and archives from the Guildhall library:
including the signature of Shakespeare on the conveyance of a house
in Playhouse Yard, Blackfriars, purchased by the City in 1863 for
LI45: five pounds more than the price that had been paid for the
property. His Majesty's Office of Works undertook the packing and
dispatching alike of the British Museum vans, and that of the City.
The City's van-load was returned on January 18th, 1919. The cost
of dispatching was £135, and of returning £145. Aberystwyth was
selected as being not only remote from London, but on advice from
the Admiralty, which regarded Cardigan Bay, on which Aberystwyth is
situated, as safe from enemy submarines operating off that coast:
the sea there being shallow and full of sandbanks.
A further large selection of the City's treasures, muniments and
records, including the City's Purse and the Lord Mayor's Sceptre,
was stored in the Post Office tube station, seventy feet down in
the earth, beneath the King Edward Post Office in Newgate Street.
That is the Post Office pneumatic tube which runs to Paddington.
Although the tube itself is of small diameter, the station is as
large as the usual London tube station. Two attendants slept
there, nightly, through this period: for not only were many of the
City's treasures here, but those also of the Heralds' College and
of certain among the Livery Companies, as well as many priceless
heirlooms of private persons.
HOW THE CITY TREASURES WERE SAVED