When I pulled it off the shelf, I was astounded to see that it was a first edition of John Wood's 'Description of Bath', printed in 1742, with pull-out and unfolding engravings of various maps, buildings and planetary diagrams. I was even more astounded to see that it was in the lending library, and not the reference library under lock and key. I withdrew it and took it home.
John Wood was Georgian Bath's principal architect, responsible for many of the world-famous buildings that tourists flock to see every year as they have done for hundreds. He was also something of an Antiquary - the first amateur scientists to take a close look at Britain's prehistoric remains, and he incorporated some of their assumed attributes into buildings like 'The Circus'.
He was also a Freemason, in the days when freemasonry was more than just a friendly society and closer to a secret society with all it's ritual and pagan trappings. The book also served as an advert for his home city, and - in publishing it - he became one of the first of the many tourism promoters that Bath have produced over the last 250 years.
Bath is called a 'city', simply because it has an ancient abbey at it's centre, and this is all that remains of a vast monastery which stretched all the way to Wells and Glastonbury. The first king of all England was crowned here in the 900s, which also helps with Bath's status as a metropolis, but - in reality - Bath is a small town or a large village, depending on your viewpoint.
It was even smaller in John Wood's day, after he had knocked down almost all of the medieval buildings within the city walls to make way for his neo-classical ones, and he would have been a familiar sight walking around the few square hundred yards that encircle the Guildhall, on the streets that follow the old medieval pattern, but had been re-named by him and his cronies.
The are three adjoining streets near here called 'Quiet Street', 'John Street' and Wood Street'. One night in the Guildhall, the City Fathers were discussing various business (as they still do there today - worse luck), when John Wood interrupted the proceedings by asking loudly, "What are we going to call my three new streets?"
The chairman put him down by shouting back, "Quiet, John Wood!" and that is how they were named.
Anyway, back to the book. I took it home and, for the next few weeks, read it every night, poring over the huge illustrations. Then I put it on the shelf - and forgot about it for around a year...
When I finally remembered it, I took it back to the library with some trepidation, expecting a huge fine, but the librarian's eyes lit up when she saw what I was carrying, and she called her colleagues over to see what I had returned. They were so delighted to get it back that they waived all fines and almost treated me as a hero, vowing to never let it out of the building ever again. I was the last person to extract that rare volume, and it's a good job it was me, otherwise it could have been torn up and framed in pieces, like so many other 17th and 18th century books were over the last hundred years. It now resides - under lock and key - in the city's archives, and they look over your shoulder when you read it, wearing white cotton gloves.
I saw a facsimile copy of it in a charity shop a few weeks ago, and when I went in to buy it, I saw the price tag of £50, so changed my mind. I went home and looked it up on the net, finding a 'print on demand' version for about £12, so I ordered it and it arrived yesterday.
Of course, it's nothing like the original, but it still has all the words about this town in facsimile, (badly copied from micro-film) written by the old necromancer himself, a matter of a few hundred yards away from where I write this.
Let me know if you want to see some scanned pages with local interest, and I'll post them up. They make fascinating reading - for me, at any rate.