Manuscript Fragments

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 103 MS FRAG
  • Dates of Creation
      4th Century - 5th Century
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      Greek, Ancient (to 1453) Latin French English German Hebrew Dutch
  • Physical Description
      c150 items

Scope and Content

Fragments of medieval and early modern manuscripts, primarily leaves from liturgical texts including missals, breviaries, psalters, bibles and biblical commentaries, but also including fragments of popular medieval textbooks including the Codex Justinianus and Graecismus. Also includes fragments of medieval music including noted missals, antiphonaries, graduals and noted breviaries. The music section includes fragments from two incunabula.

Administrative / Biographical History

Fragments of medieval and early modern manuscripts on parchment can commonly be found inside the binding of printed works. This method of recycling was a common practice between the medieval period and the 17th century, when manuscripts superseded by printed editions were sold to printers and bookbinders. Medieval manuscripts are often visually appealing and parchment was robust but expensive, so folios from manuscripts were recycled for use as decorative covers and endpapers or to reinforce the binding of new printed works.


Arranged according to language, with a separate section for fragments with musical notation.

Access Information

Certain restrictions apply

This collection is currently undergoing conservation treatment and some items may not be available for immediate consultation. Please enquire for details.

Acquisition Information

Many of the fragments were purchased by Professor Robert Priebsch (Professor of German at University College London, 1898-1931) at a sale in Bonn in 1921(?) in order to give students practical experience of palaeography. It is not known precisely how many were purchased by him, but a collection of around 150 items has been accrued. The item MS/FRAG/LAT/30 was found with a note (in German) about a collection of manuscript fragments which were bought in 1922 and accessioned as no.23174, which may be Priebsch's original purchase. The note describes a palaeographical album containing 35 fragments in Spanish, Old French, Latin and German, some with musical notation.

Kathryn Kendall carried out a study of 18 legal and didactic fragments in the late 20th century. In her introduction she suggests that all the MS fragments were purchased at the same time, and may even have come from the same collection. However, she does not provide evidence for this. Some of the fragments are annotated with blue, purple or pencil numbers which may indicate that those with the same number were part of the same auction lot, although this is speculation.

In addition to the group of c.160 MS fragments, around 30 MS deeds and 10 printed fragments were also boxed together. It is not known why these were housed as one collection, but there is a clear division between fragments of manuscripts, many of which are German in origin, and manuscript deeds, most of which originated in France and are intact (i.e. not fragments). The deeds are now managed separately, see MS DEEDS, and for the printed fragments see PRINT FRAG.

Other Finding Aids

A full, detailed list is available on the online catalogue. Previous hard copy handlists are also available - Dorothy K. Coveney, "A Descriptive Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Library of University College, London" (London: University of London, 1935) and Kathryn Kendall, "Fragments of mediaeval text-books in the Library of University College London". These have now been superceded by the online catalogue.

The collection has also been digitised and is available on UCL's Digital Collections

Conditions Governing Use

Normal copyright restrictions apply.

Custodial History

The early provenance of the fragments is obscure, but most were removed from the bindings of other manuscripts or early printed books where they had generally been used as pastedowns or outer coverings. The origins of some can be traced to Germany, particularly the music fragments which have distinctive German or Bohemian musical notation. Other fragments have German annotation or relate to German places. A small number of texts such as fragments of works by Justinian are mostly of Italian origin and it has been suggested that they may have been sourced from Bologna, where the university was a centre of legal studies in the medieval period.

Related Material

See also MS DEEDS and PRINT FRAG for related manuscript records and fragments of early printed books.