The University Roll of Service, published in 1920, included the names of some 820 Trinity men who had served in the War. 153 of these died during their service.
In July 1919 the President of the College, Herbert Blakiston, convened a meeting of non-resident college members to discuss what form a permanent memorial to the dead should take. It was agreed that, in additional to a simple memorial board, an appeal should be made for a ‘really large’ sum to make something of permanent benefit to the college undergraduates. Blakiston suggested a library, something which had been his long held ambition.
In March 1920, once the location of the library had been decided and a small amount of extra land bought, he started sending out appeal literature, each accompanied by a printed Roll of Honour and a personal letter. By September 1921 £15,000 had been pledged and by 1923 the fund was large enough to ensure that the project would go ahead. Plans were completed the following year by the architect, Joseph Osborne-Smith, with much input by Blakiston. Building work, by Parnell & Sons, started in 1925, construction proceeding slowly as there was great difficulty in procuring enough Clipsham Stone – blocks of which were needed for the columns. Blakiston’s own greatest concern was for the symbolic trophy to be placed over the entrance. This was later removed to make way for the Cumberbatch building in 1964-6.
Interior fitting of the library began early in 1928, and the six long elm tables were donated by H.C. Moffatt from wood felled on his own estate. In the September of 1928 some 10,000 volumes were shelved, comprising the contents of the existing library in the Jackson building alongside large sections of the more modern and useful books from the Fellows’ (Old) Library. The book stock was further augmented by numerous donations of books, and money for purchases, from college members and their families. Opening hours were set at seven and a half hours a day.
The library was opened on Saturday 10 November 1928, with a service in Chapel where the Roll of Honour was read. This was followed by a procession to the new library where Michael Furse, an Old Member and now Bishop of St Albans, opened the building and dedicated the memorial panel. This listed names of the dead with a Latin inscription from a funeral oration by Pericles: ‘By giving their lives they gained the renown that grows not old’ (Thucydides, book 2, chapter 43). A further memorial, to the men killed in the Second World War, was later erected at the south end of the library.
In 1954 the capacity of the library was increased by one third by the construction of a gallery along the eastern side. In 2004 the Chalmers Law Library was created out of a room in the north end of the library basement.
Over the past few years a pastel portrait of spitfire pilot Richard Hillary (by Eric Henry Kennington, 1942) has been displayed outside the library entrance. This has been joined by a sculpture of Captain Noel Chavasse, V.C. and Bar. The bronze sculpture is by Tom Murphy and is a scale replica of his original, on display in Liverpool. It was given to Trinity by Old Members and friends of the college.