by Louisa Cornell
Me, poor man, my library
was dukedom large enough.
The Tempest
William Shakespeare

I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these.
Fitzwilliam Darcy
Pride and Prejudice

When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.
Jane Austen

One can hardly envision an English stately home without a library somewhere about the premises. Think of all the murder mysteries without a place to discover an inconvenient corpse if this were not true. Or what about all of those Regency romance heroes and heroines searching for a respite from the tedium of a ball, only to discover the one lurking about in their host’s barely lit book room? One shudders to think!

It is surprising to discover large private libraries were rare in England before the 18th century. Before then, they were more likely to be found in the hands of kings, great lords, monasteries, and universities. However, a number of occurrences related to the Reformation of the 16th century – the spread of book printing, country houses began to take the place of monasteries and castles, the libraries of said monasteries were dispersed in sales as the monasteries were closed, and universities in the throes of humanist zeal purged their libraries, also in sales, all of which led to the acquisition of books by aristocrats eager to build their own book collections. Some of these aristocrats were genuine scholars and book lovers eager to preserve England’s and the world’s intellectual heritage. Others simply wanted to keep up with the neighbors. In three or four hundred years, very little has changed. Never underestimate the power of the male ego to turn Mine’s bigger than yours. into a competition.

The fashionable bar for libraries in country houses was set in the 18th century by Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford. His elegant library at Wimpole Hall, designed by James Gibbs in 1730, consisted of a huge room built to house his collection of over 50,000 books and 350,000 pamphlets and three small cabinet chambers leading into the library which housed his collection of coins, seals, antique cameos, and manuscripts. Unfortunately, his debts forced the sale of the entire collection on his death in 1741. Or perhaps his heir simply wasn’t the bookish type and opted to get rid of the library rather than land or other assets. Whatever the reasons for the dispersal of the library, the Earl of Oxford fired the starting shot across the bow of every aristocrat in England. The race was on to amass the largest and most unique and valuable collection of books and to erect the most spectacular temple to the written word in which to house them.
 Far end library – Wimpole Hall 
I will be covering a great deal more about the advent of libraries in stately homes in my follow-up post. (Yes, there will be a follow-up post. There is a reason I write novels and not short stories.) The library in an English country house was made up of a beautifully constructed room designed for the specific purpose of housing books. Once the room was designed, crafted, and finished it was filled, of course, with books. However, there was another, little studied, aspect of creating those beautiful libraries which I would like to address in brief in this post. After all, if you are going to dispose of a body it is helpful to have a few things in the room behind which to hide it. A dead body is so much more effective if it is found suddenly and results in screaming servants or fainting ladies. And remember those heroes and heroines meeting in the library? What happens if there is nothing on which, against which, or behind which to tryst? I’m all for romance, but carpet burns, even on a very expensive Aubusson carpet, do tend to ruin the mood.
Thus begs the question, what sort of furnishings might one find in his lordship’s library? What started out as an ostentatious room to display one’s intellectual snobbery soon became a refuge for the man of the house. His lordship could invariably be found “hiding” in his library when any number of unpleasant events occurred, including, but not limited to – his wife. Over the years it eventually morphed into a sort of living area for the family. This may be responsible for the sheer size of such rooms. Family togetherness was all well and good, but lets not becom
e too bourgeoisie about this. By the late Regency it would not be unusual to find his lordship at his desk, her ladyship reading before the fire, the daughters at the piano at the far end of the library, and the sons perusing maps on a library table or sneaking a peek at grandfather’s naughty books shelved on the top shelves at the far end of the library.
Here are a few items one might have found in the stately home library to facilitate the room’s many purposes.

Library Steps –

Most libraries included shelves going nearly to the ceiling. Every inch of space was utilized. If a mezzanine balcony was not added to access those shelves at the higher levels, library steps were used to peruse the shelves above one’s head. The set below includes a post with which to steady oneself when descending with an armload of books.
19th Century Mahogany Library Steps
A sturdier version, also mahogany 19th century.

Library chairs –

Once one had retrieved the books one wished to read, a comfortable chair in which to read them was necessary. Of course, most libraries included one or more fireplaces for heat and chairs and sofas were often arranged around them for reading and conversation. These items – chairs, sofas, and even chaises for those inclined to recline and read – might come from other areas of the house. (Trysting on a chaise is far more comfortable than trysting on a library table or worse. Remember the carpet burn?) More often, chairs ordered specifically for the library were put into use. Here are some examples of chairs designed for use in the library. 
19th Century English Leather Library Chair
This looks to be a very comfortable chair and has the added advantage of wheels should one wish to move it closer to the fire or away from noisy family and guests. The chair above is in fantastic condition considering it is over 200 years old. Craftsmanship, ladies and gentlemen. Craftsmanship.
19th Century Leather Library Chairs  
These two were undoubtedly used on either side of a library fireplace. The sides might shield one from the prying eyes of others, or in the case of two people sitting before they fire they might shield a private conversation from others in the library.

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English Regency Library Chair

I find this particular chair fascinating. The shelf on the back can be made to lay flat or can be dropped to the back of the chair completely. One can only assume it was made for someone to kneel in the chair and read over the back or perhaps the shelf was for the reader to stack extra books. No matter its function it is a uniquely designed chair and in all design books and catalogues it is listed strictly as a library chair.

19th Century Rosewood Library Chair

This chair represents the evolution towards comfort and relaxation in Regency era furniture, an evolution which started in those items designed for both the library and the bedchamber. A clear indication, perhaps, of these rooms being viewed as those where one might be more at ease than in the more public and formally social rooms of the house.

Bookcases – 

Of course,  the walls of libraries were lined with built-in shelves, inset bookcases or free standing bookcases pressed to the walls. In addition to these large shelving units for books, a library might contain other places in which or on which to house books. There were smaller bookcases, library tables, and even movable cases on which to organize one’s books for further use.

This lovely piece is a Regency era mahogany bookshelf with castors on the bottom to enable it to be moved easily about the library. The drawers were for manuscripts or folios. I would imagine a butler or footman might have found it useful in returning books to the shelves after his lordship left them scattered about the library.

The above is a Regency era parcel gilt lacquer circular bookcase, and, yes, it spins. In the photograph, it is used to hold sets of books. One might imagine it next to a comfy chair with a few days’ or weeks’ worth of books on it within reach of his lordship or her ladyship during a long winter’s reading season.

Library Tables –

Library tables were present in any 18th and 19th century library. They were used for a variety of purposes. They were designed to be placed in the middle of a room as surfaces to spread out maps, folios, or a selection of books. It is important to remember whilst these were family libraries, they were also resources for local vicars, magistrates, scholars, and anyone from the estate and local villages who might want to make use of them with his lordship’s permission. They were often used to look over design plans for houses, gardens and estates. These rooms were not simply for show. Most, if not all, were used every day for every sort of pursuit today’s public libraries might encounter.

Library Globes –

A final item to complete the furnishing of the stately home library might be a globe. They were used to plot a journey, check the location of an investment property, or perhaps to plan a young man’s Grand Tour. There were terrestrial globes and also globes of the constellations for those with an astronomical bent.

Pair of 21 inch Regency Globes – Terrestrial and Constellations for those with Navy affiliations.
Rare Regency Era 36 inch terrestrial globe by Cary’s of London

There you have it, a few of the odds and ends, unique pieces designed and created for use in the magnificent libraries of those exquisite country houses. They created and continue to create an atmosphere of elegance and intellectual pursuit. They gave these spaces a personal touch, often an indication of the family’s character, attitudes, and even their relationships with each other. These pieces are also markers in the evolution of the views of houses as homes rather than simply showplaces. Items previously designed with an eye to their ability to stress the owner’s wealth, success, and power began to morph into pieces crafted to be practical, to blend in with their surroundings, and to promote concepts of ease and relaxation. Books became escapes as well as instruments of learning. Reading became a pastime enjoyed by all, rather than a strictly scholarly pursuit. As much as we owe the owners of these libraries for the preservation of our literary heritage, we also owe them thanks for making reading more than simply a search for knowledge, but also an endless source of joy.


Number One London Tours selected by VisitBritain

We’re thrilled to be able to share the news that VisitBritain (The British Tourist Authority) has invited Number One London Tours to be one of the selected international travel buyers at the ExploreGB ConferenceVisitBritain’s flagship annual event, beginning on March 1 in Brighton. The event offers invitees an invaluable opportunity to meet and network with Great British and Irish tourism suppliers and destinations across the UK. VisitBritain is the Official Tourism Website for UK Travel and we are humbled by the recognition extended to Number One London Tours and look forward to networking with destination representatives and travel suppliers who will no doubt add immensely to our Tour itineraries through 2018 and beyond.

We are already working on our 2018 Tours

April 2018 – The Georgian Tour
Explore Georgian England on a truly immersive tour that begins with four days in London and includes a four night stay in a period townhouse in Bath.

May 2018 – The Upstairs, Downstairs Country House Tour
Visit magnificent stately homes offering authentic examples of how both halves of the social spectrum would have lived and worked within their walls. See the servants quarters and stables at Audley End, join us for a living history tour at Ickworth, while Petworth and Uppark House both offer period examples of kitchens, housekeepers rooms, dairies and various other domestic spaces.

September 2018 – The Western Scottish Tour
Spend ten days with your guide, author Sue Ellen Welfonder, on a tour through the wild and romantic Western Isles, including the Isle of Mull, Iona, Skye and the Isle of Lewis.

September 2018 – The Ireland Tour
An eight day tour that includes stops in Killarny, Bunratty, Connemara, the Cliffs of Moher, Inishmore in the Aran Islands and Galway. Highlights include castles, gardens, stately homes, prehistoric hill forts, Irish music and stunning scenic drives. Time for shopping, too!

Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest news regarding future tours!

Number One London will be attending these upcoming events

  • Barbara Vey Reader Appreciation Luncheon – Milwaukee, April 28 – 30, 2017
  • The Romantic Times Booklovers Convention – Atlanta, May 3 – 8, 2017
  • The Beau Monde Conference – Orlando, July 26, 2017
  • The Romance Writers of America Conference – Orlando, July 26 – 30, 2017

It Isn't Hoarding if It's Books ! And Music !! The Role of Georgian and Regency Women in the Preservation of England's Musical Heritage

Henry Purcell (10 September, 1659 – 21 November, 1695) is considered England’s greatest composer of the Baroque Era. Named one of the first British composers of significance, he was often called “Orpheus Britannicus”and his contribution to the musical heritage of his native land is immeasurable.

Henry Purcell
Imagine then, the excitement stirred in the musical world in 1964, when Nigel Fortune, Purcell scholar, announced the discovery of a previously unknown ode by Purcell in a four-volume manuscript collection of the composer’s works at Tatton Park in Cheshire. ‘The Noise of Foreign Wars’ is preserved as a fragment in a bound collection first copied by Philip Hayes (1738-1797) Professor of Music at Oxford. After Hayes’s death, the collection was owned by Samuel Arnold (1740-1802) composer and conductor of the Academy of Ancient Music. In May of 1803, the collection was purchased by Mark Masterman Sykes of Sledmere in Yorkshire.

Sledmere House – Yorkshire
How did it end up in the music room at Tatton Park? How did all of these men – a music professor, a composer and conductor, and a wealthy landowner in Yorkshire manage to save such a treasure so that Nigel Fortune might unearth it three hundred years after it was written? They didn’t. Well, they didn’t do it by themselves. It took….
A woman.
In the late seventeenth century, gentlemen of means began to collect books and art to display in their homes as a mark of their wealth and status. After all, no young man returned from his Grand Tour without some sort of souvenirs. (Preferably the sort for which one did not need to visit one’s physician.) Long galleries in which to display paintings and works of art and libraries became essential parts of the Society town-house and the country “ancestral pile”. Some homes were even designed or redesigned to feature these architectural aspects prominently.
In 1809, the biographer Thomas Frognall Dibdin called the obsessive collection of books by the nobility ‘bibliomania’. In 1812, an exclusive bibliophile society, the Roxburghe Club, was formed. One of its founding members? Mark Masterman Sykes. He was best known for his collection of books and engravings. By the end of 1810, his library at Sledmere was considered one of the finest in England.
And in 1807, Mark Masterman Sykes gifted his four-volume collection of Purcell’s music to his newly married sister, Elizabeth Sykes Egerton, of Tatton Park.  (You thought I was never going to get there, didn’t you?)

Elizabeth Sykes, (Mrs Wilbraham Egerton), c. 1795
portrait miniature by Abraham Daniel of Bath
Elizabeth Sykes was an accomplished musician at an early age. As a young girl, her music collection was like that of any musically inclined lady. Collections of the sort made by the accumulation of pieces with social occasions and entertainment in mind. Not to be taken seriously, or so the majority of Society (men) believed.
Her first music books are dated 1790 and are inscribed with her name – Miss Sykes. They consist of pre-ruled oblong copybooks into which she copied music from her piano lessons, folk songs, and catches. One book actually has two handwritings in it – one starts at one end of the book and the other starts at the other end. This was a common practice in copying music, especially when one wanted to divide the types of compositions – say sonatas at one end and hymns at the other. In some instances, a composition might be started, messed up and started over in a better fashion to the finish.
Her copybooks from 1799 and 1801 were larger pre-ruled music books from the London music publisher Robert Birchall. The covers were a bit more elegant with pages for her to inscribe her name and the details of the music in each one. There were vocal ornaments and notations in these in multiple hands. Even entire pieces appear to be copied by others. This can be attributed to the common practice of passing around these books to friends, the same way young ladies today might pass around CD’s or I-pods.
Elizabeth Sykes also purchased a great deal of printed sheet music. Fortunately for us, she signed all of her music as it was purchased. Therefore, it is easy to differentiate between the music she bought whilst unmarried, and those pieces she purchased after she married her cousin, Wilbraham Egerton, in 1806 and moved her collection to Tatton Park. (I know. She married her cousin, but he did play the cello.)

Tatton Park – Cheshire
The collection of printed sheet music, because it was the realm of women, did not signify as collecting the way the accumulation of books and art did. However, these collections often contain copies of popular songs printed the night after their first performance at Vauxhall or at one of London’s theatres, never to be seen again. It is thought researchers have only begun to scratch the surface of many of these collections.
Elizabeth had a great deal of her music bound in indexed volumes. Her diligence and attention to her collection produced folio compilations as handsome as the albums of engravings and illustrated books on antiquities to be found in any bibliophile’s library. Her valuation of her music resulted in it being shelved and cared for the same way her husband’s and brother’s collections of books were. 

Music room at Tatton Park
As a result, in addition to the Purcell volumes gifted to Elizabeth by her brother, the music at Tatton Park includes rare numbers of Benjamin Goodison’s projected complete edition of Purcell begun in 1789. Nearly an entire shelf contains Samuel Arnold’s collection of Handel’s complete works. It is the first complete edition of any composer, pre-dating the Mozart Gesamtausgabe.

Dove sei by G.F. Handel (from the Samuel Arnold collection at Tatton Park)
I have gone into great detail about the collection of music at Tatton Park and the incalculable debt we owe Elizabeth Sykes Egerton. Like those researchers who have renewed the world’s interest in these collections, I have only scratched the surface of this fascinating topic. There are impressive collections of music accumulated and preserved by Georgian and Regency women all over England.  Lydia Hoare Acland’s collection at Killerton House in Devon. Mary Egerton Sykes music books at Sledmere in Yorkshire. Over two thousand items in Miss Cornewall’s collection at Mocca’s Court in Herefordshire. 
The list goes on and musicologists are prowling the libraries and collections of stately homes all over England in search of the next great musical treasure. All tucked safely away by those accomplished young ladies, bluestocking women, and musical dragons who loved their music enough to preserve it for all of us.
I’ll be posting more on this subject in my next post. Not only more about the role women played in preserving England’s musical heritage, but also how their love of music changed the architectural design of many houses built during the late Georgian and Regency eras to accommodate that love.