Royal Oak Lecture -- "A Great Number of Useful Books": The Country House Library

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 6:30pm - 8:30pm
The Union League of Philadelphia 140 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
United States

Mark Purcell has been Libraries Curator to the National Trust since 1999, responsible for the Trust’s 168 historic libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. He presided over the cataloguing of the Trust’s vast collection of books and the digitization of the catalogue in 2010. He has published extensively on the history of books and libraries in early modern Britain and Ireland, including The Big House Library in Ireland: Books in Ulster Country Houses (2011).

He is a Fellow of both the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society. This is his second lecture tour for the Royal Oak Foundation, whose Campaign for Country House Libraries underwrites much of the National Trust’s libraries program.

Books and libraries were developed in British country houses for one of two distinct reasons. They may have been quite self-consciously acquired as collectibles, perhaps by a connoisseur who even in the 18th century might have had the advice of a professional librarian. But more often than not, country house owners bought new (or nearly new) books to use as part of the everyday business of living—books which today we think of as desirable or collectible.

This lavishly illustrated lecture will explore different British country house libraries with books both useful and curious. Mr. Purcell will show fine examples from the National Trust including an early 15th-century Chaucer manuscript at Petworth as well as the book collection at Anglesey Abbey, acquired by the 1st Lord Fairhaven, a member of the British House of Lords who was born in New York City in 1896.

He will look at libraries belonging to a Puritan scholar, a Georgian connoisseur with New England connections, Lakeland sheep farmers, two British Prime Ministers, Anglo-Irish women, and even bored schoolboys.

Mr. Purcell will highlight these collections, considering not only the libraries with their glittering scientific instruments and fine furniture, but also the homes themselves that often featured Long Galleries, paneled cedar closets and Gothic halls.

Event Type: 
Arts & Culture
Event Type: 
Educational Events
History and Preservation
Cultural Exchange
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