Thursday 3 November 2011

Anglesey Abbey Library Visit

Who wouldn't want to have a chance of having a unique view of the library at Anglesey Abbey, one of the local National Trust properties?

By Mark Pettitt on Flickr

With one of the libraries custodians but also the head National Trust curator Mark Purcell we were shown into the wonderfully packed library where a whole range of books had been laid out for us to see. The books in the library are exceptional both for the high quality of leather bound volumes (such as finest surviving work of the so-called Geometrical Compartment Binder in a copy of the Old Testament) but also because the Library is not made up of the usual medieval manuscripts you would expect the rich to have bought, but contained books bought because Lord Fairhaven liked them. Everything from books on Stalin and Hitler to Alice in Wonderland and especially in subject areas such as horse racing and hunting that he had a particular interest in.

 Not to say that there are not unique and special books as they are very prevalent. A hand painted vellum edition of exotic birds, landscape garden planning with paper overlays, and a catalogue of native American Indians with highly detailed colour plates were on the tables laid out for us to look through. The collection is held in a beautiful room with mirrors at both ends giving an impression of space. And really space is what this collection needs. Although the original configuration of the books when Lord Fairhaven gave it to the NT is not known, both from a NT reorganisation in the 70's and a lack of original records (purchasing details were destroyed by the people in charge at handover - most likely to hide any shady dealings within the accounts) the room is absolutely packed (as is a nearby study) most likely requiring a servant to come in with a ladder when a book was required from a high shelf. There are the usual nice cases that you see in many manor house type libraries where the more unique books are kept, such as the Saxton Atlas, the first English County Atlas book from 1590 that the library holds.

Mark also told us about the breadth of the Windsor collection in the library. Lord Fairhaven grew up on the edge of Windsor Great Park and amassed such a collection of related books that is only surpassed by one other private collection in Windsor itself.

Being able to see the library in such detail was a unique opportunity but the Library itself is part of the public area of the main house and following the new NT's policy of being more open and 'real' there are no ropes holding you back or ruining the impression of how the library used to be and I will certainly visit Anglesey Abbey again to get a view of everything it has to offer.

Mark is in charge of the National Trusts 167 libraries but his knowledge of the Fairhaven collection in Anglesey was shown in his ability to answer all of our questions in his stride and with many interesting stories to fill out the history of the house and of Lord Fairhaven's interests and collecting habits. It will be interesting to see the book about the library that he is currently writing.

By Kevin Symonds, CLG's Secretary, and Library and Information Services Manager at MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit