The Underground Bookstore in construction

The Grade I-listed Bodleian Library Underground Bookstore was built between 1909-1912 as a two-floor overflow book storage facility for the Bodleian’s collections. Constructed beneath Radcliffe Square between two of Oxford’s most historically important Grade I listed buildings, the Old Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Camera, it links to these buildings as well as the New Bodleian Library to the north via tunnels. The Gladstone shelving within the Bookstore was an early attempt at dense book storage on rolling bookshelves.

The Underground Bookstore

Our Oxford studio devised a scheme to convert the Bookstore into an open access library, creating improved access from Radcliffe Camera and the Old Bodleian Library and retaining some of the technologically-interesting Gladstone shelving. The refurbishment design respects the industrial heritage of the space, providing a mix of fixed opens-tack and mobile shelving capable of housing 240,000 books as well as informal study areas for readers. Our Heritage Consultancy team initially prepared a Heritage Impact Assessment to analyse the effect of the proposals on the Underground Bookstore’s significance and on important adjacent buildings.

The changes preserve a historical display of the Gladstone bookshelves which were originally manufactured at the local Eagle Ironworks in Jericho and used on the first floor of the bookstore. These shelves, which are designed to hang on rollers from the ceiling, were so-called because they were suggested by W.E. Gladstone, Victorian Liberal Prime Minister and Oxford graduate. The refurbished area and the tunnel is now known as the Gladstone Link in his honour.

The Old Bodleian Lift

Having worked in Oxford for many years, we drew on our background knowledge of the city and university to ensure changes were as sensitive as possible including those made to add lifts into the Radcliffe Camera and Old Bodleian. The installation of a lift in the Old Bodleian used an existing shaft which formed part of the conveyor delivery system. The work required some alterations to the existing shaft space, but the finished lift now enables readers with limited mobility to use some of the world’s most famous reading rooms. Additionally, it allows viewing of a portion of the frieze in the Upper Reading Room which was interrupted by masonry partitions when the conveyor was installed in the 1940s.

The Radcliffe Camera platform lift

The Radcliffe Camera is Grade 1-listed and was the first rotunda library built in England in the mid-eighteenth century. A new platform lift enables readers with limited mobility to access the Radcliffe Camera for the first time. The new route used the Old Bodleian access point to the tunnel and Underground Bookstore. The platform lift was designed to respect the grandeur and magnificence of the Radcliffe Camera by being as non-invasive as possible, using glass to avoid restricting the through view to the windows on the Lower Reading Room. A new staircase wraps around the platform lift, providing safe access to the Gladstone Link and replacing a very steep staircase that was installed during the creation of the Underground Bookstore.

Tunnel and Conveyor

The tunnel was previously used for transporting books on a 1940s conveyor from the New Bodleian to the Old Bodleian Library and for transporting books by trolley to the Radcliffe Camera. The University’s new academic strategy of providing more books on open shelving, and the planned development of the New Bodleian into the Weston Library, meant that the conveyor would no longer be used. The section of the tunnel between the Old Bodleian and the Radcliffe Camera has been refurbished for use by readers. A section of the conveyor has been preserved in the New Bodleian tunnel as a historical artefact.