I love libraries. I can disappear into them and time becomes meaningless. Consequently, my heroes and heroines frequently visit libraries and bookrooms in my novels. That required many happy hours of research.
In spite of the renaissance of learning under Henry VIII, many country houses had no books at all.
Many gentlemen preferred to hawk and hunt than read. In Northumberland, in the 1560s, ninety-two out of the 146 leading gentry were unable to sign their name.
Gilling Castle Great Chamber
In 1601, Bess of Hardwick only had six books, kept in her bedchamber. Sir William Fairfax, who installed the magnificent great chamber at Gilling Castle, owned 39 books. Only two great men, Lord Lumley and Lord Burghley owned more than a thousand books.
The library at Kingston Lacy House, Dorset, England. The house was built in the 1660s, but extensively remodeled in the 1830s. This library is an exceptionally fine room, with its red wall, painted ceiling, globes and library furniture.
In the 17th Century, libraries grew more popular among the gentry. Lord Tyrconnel had a well-furnished library at Belton House. In order to fill up the vacant spaces on the shelves he invented titles for books that were carved in wood, such as, Standstill’s Travels, Block’s Thoughts, Short Proceeding in Chancery, and Dennis on the Dunciad.
By the 19th Century, some of the country houses had amassed magnificent libraries and many more were being created.
From J. Farington, Diary, Vol VIII 1812. At Felbrigg, Norfolk, the library is upstairs with a room adjoining it for Mr. Windham to engage in business or study. Alone there for weeks at a time with only a few of his family to call upon him, he slept in the a small tent bed set up in a niche in a room next to his sitting room, for the convenience of being near the library.
A letter to Sir Robert Peel in 1832 from J.W.Croker of West Moulsey, Berks:
“I wish you could see my library here. It would frighten poor Smirke (the architect) by its angles and irregularities; but is warm and comfortable, and holds 3000 volumes without diminishing the size of the room. I have besides a little den which olds 1000 volumes more, and in which I work.”
This is the library/sitting room at Althorp, the ancestral English home of the Spencer family, and the childhood home of Diana, Princess of Wales. This is a grand yet lovely space, with its traditional English Country furnishings. The white bookcases, walls, ornate ceiling and columns all serve to keep the room from looking too heavy, yet there is room to store the 10,000 or so books that are the remnant of the collection of the Second Earl of Spencer, which was at one time the finest private library in the world.
An interesting letter from Charles Greville, Memoirs, 1845.
“I went on Monday to Althorp, and was very well amused among the pictures and books, though as there are 50,000 volumes of the latter, it was only possible to look at the outside of them, and here and there examine some remarkable book or fine edition. The present lord, without being a bibliomaniac like his father, keeps the collection up and buys from time to time anything in the market that may be necessary to complete it.”
The 2nd Earl Spencer, was one of the greatest book collectors of the time.
One of my own library creations at Falconbridge Hall. Enjoy and excerpt.
THE FOLLY AT FALCONBRIDGE HALL, nominated for the Rone Award and an Amazon bestselling Victorian Gothic novel.
Vanessa remembered passing the library on her first day and located it without difficulty. She entered the room, finding it empty. It was designed for masculine comfort. Bookshelves filled with tomes covered all available wall space. A tan leather chesterfield and two chairs were grouped in front of the fireplace, and a tiger skin covered the floor in front of the hearth. The Times, The Daily Telegraph and the Penny Press lay on a table, and the aroma of cigars and pipe smoke lingered in the air.
A variety of magazines was stacked in a rack. Vanessa sorted through The Gentleman’s Magazine, Punch, The Strand, and the London Sunday Journal. She selected Punch and the Penny Press to take back to her room.
She roamed the shelves searching for suitable books and found several on botany, including one by Lord Falconbridge on Lepidoptera. She piled them onto a mahogany table, along with the books and the notes she’d fetched from her room. Searching further, she spied Plato’s Symposium and climbed the ladder. It was just out of reach. Not wishing to climb down, she leaned across. Her fingers touched the binding, and she leaned farther. She almost had it.
“You read Ancient Greek, Miss Ashley?” Lord Falconbridge asked behind her.
Vanessa jumped, and her foot slipped off the rung. She lost her balance and fell into a pair of strong arms.
He set her on her feet. The imprint of his touch remained as her heart beat madly. She hugged a wisp of hair from her eyes, sure her face was crimson. “Not with any degree of expertise, my lord.”
His lordship moved the ladder, climbed up and took down the book she’d been trying to reach. He held it out to her. “Are you all right? I’m sorry I startled you.”
Disconcerted, Vanessa took it. “I’m fine, thank you.”
He moved to the table and looked through the books she’d selected. “You are interested in reading Darwin?” He looked surprised as he put aside Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species. “You aren’t bothered by the religious ramifications of his evolutionary ideas?”
“I have not as yet read it, my lord.”
“When you do, perhaps we can discuss it further. I approve of all of these, except for this one.” He held up a favorite of her mother’s. “Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. I trust you’re not planning to turn Blythe into a suffragette?”
Discomfiture flooded her face with heat. “It is for my own pleasure, my lord.” She wasn’t aware he knew about her mother.
And before you go. Don’t forget to answer the Romantic Pursuit Trivia Game.
Question: What was just out of Vanessa’s reach on the ladder?
Facebook: Maggi Andersen Author
Research: The Country House compiled by James Lees-Milne
Life in the English Country House Mark Girouard
Images: National Trust and Wikipedia Commons
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