A library for all seasons

You know  summer is beginning to glide towards autumn when the garden spiders start web-spinning in the borders. They are busy in the sunshine at Hartlebury this week.

Wondering if the Hurd Library had anything about spiders I rushed in to look. Of course it has:

This is a translation by Samuel Humphreys of the Spectacle de la nature by a French priest, Noel Antoine Pluche (1688-1761), first published in 1732. Designed to make natural history appealing to children it was very successful.  Here is an extract on spiders:

And here is the scary illustration:

The bees are busy too, in the golden rod:

The library can do them too:

Rene Antoine Ferchault de Reaumur (1683-1757) studied the relationship between the growth of insects and temperature. In this book he describes all known insects except  beetles. A street in Paris is named after him.  Les abeilles (bees) appear in this volume:

Another sign of approaching autumn is the frill of tiny wild cyclamen around the  beech tree:

But it’s no good looking for these in the library as they are natives of the mediterranean and didn’t start to appear in English gardens until the 1860s.

Christine Penney, Hurd Librarian


Hartlebury Castle on the map

A superb atlas of the world began publication in Amsterdam in 1645 - the Theatrum orbis terrarum.

The printer was Jon Blaeu (1599-1673). His father, Willem Blaeu, had also been a printer and his son specialised in the printing of maps. Until the late 1620s the market  was dominated by the Mercator maps, printed by Jodocus Hondius, but there was  growing competition to publish sea charts and pilot books. On Hondius’s death in 1629 Blaeu seized the opportunity to  produce a world atlas and the result was the most expensive book money could buy in the late 17th century.  It was aimed at the wealthy, with its fine engravings of about 600 maps and its bright colours. Blaeu’s press became the largest in Europe.

Although this atlas, in 4 volumes printed from 1645 to 1650, is in the Hurd Library Bishop Hurd did not live to receive it, but he may have admired it in the home of its donor, Charles Shipley, the generous rector of nearby Grimley, who gave him several very fine books. He gave this one in 1820.

Shipley had picked it up second hand somewhere - it had belonged previously to a Mr Jones.

Shipley’s use of it is indicated by loose notes, undisturbed for nearly 200 years, which he left inside.

The volume dealing with England has a map of London:

and an engraving showing the clothing of the time:

I cannot resist diverting from my subject for a moment to show this image from a map of Africa:

The elephant’s child, long before Kipling immortalised him.  But, returning to Hartlebury, here is part of the map of Worcestershire:

And here is the place we all care about so much, over 100 years before Bishop Hurd saw it and built his library on to the back:

Christine Penney, Hurd Librarian


Eheu fugaces

These opening words of  Horace’s 14th ode appear on the cupola above the first building you see as you come up the lime avenue to Hartlebury Castle.

This charming little building, described by Bishop Pearce as “a joy to the eye”, was originally the stables, built in the early 18th century by Bishop Hough. Much later it was adapted by Bishop Yeatman-Biggs as a college of clergy. It  now houses the offices, shop and reception desk of the Worcestershire County Museum.  But just over 99 years ago, in June 1915, along with several other country houses in Worcestershire, it became a convalescent hospital for troops wounded in the First World War. It was run by two sisters, both nurses with the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) - Frances and Margaret Gibbons, who lived at Pleck House in the village.  Some of the patients were nursed in their own house.

Wounded officers were sent to grand places like Downton Abbey. Troops had to put up with something more modest. None of the patients at Hartlebury had any complaints however. Three scrapbooks in the Hurd Library record their appreciation, in touching notes or drawings.

Private Hartley describes his stay as “spiffing” and hopes for another “Blighty” to bring him back.

Sergeant Sharp shares our own hope that “the dear castle” will “always remain and never get harmed”.

Another draws a caricature of the Kaiser:

Bishop Yeatman- Biggs  came to visit them:

He is in the second row, third from the left.

The daily routine is recorded in a poem:

Many of the patients returned to the trenches and never came back to the “Dear Old Home”. Here is one, who was one of the first patients.

A 1713 edition of Horace’s Odes is in the library.

It has the text in both Latin and English. Here is part of the 14th Ode.

When Bishop Hough chose the motto for his cupola he was probably thinking of a peaceful ending to a long life (which he was to have himself at the age of 92). It now stands as a memorial to the hundreds of young men nursed beneath it who never saw “grey old age”.

Christine Penney, Hurd Librarian


Whose book is it, anyway?

Historic libraries hold secrets which it has taken centuries to unlock. It’s not just the books, but the stuff hidden inside them - signatures, marginalia, scraps of paper, all bearing witness to the people who owned them, read them, scribbled in them (not today, please!) and loved them. The task I set our last trainee, Alison Winston, was to compile an index to these hidden treasures in the Hurd Library. But she’s given us  far more than an index - she left us last week, having compiled a complete access database, with which I have been getting to grips this week, with a little help from my friends. We can now search for bookplates, notes and provenances, such as Alexander Pope.  A typical entry looks like this:

The column at the side shows all the books in which Pope’s name appears. Here is one of them:

This is on the flyleaf of a book given by Pope to Ralph Allen in 1742.

The bookplate of Treadway Nash, the historian of Worcestershire, who gave Bishop Hurd many books. And we can see here the library stamp which Hurd had cut for his books, in the hopes, no doubt, that .they wouldn’t roam too far.

This one belonged to Archbishop William Laud.  And this was in the library of Bishop John Prideaux ,who was kicked out of Hartlebury in the Civil War:

We can see a later owner was Henry Sutton who, with scant respect for his predecessor, has written his name in the loops of the J. This book (the works of Saint Augustine) eventually joined the collection of Charles Shipley, Rector of nearby Grimley (where, followers of this blog may remember, he had some trouble with his sister-in-law); he gave it to the Hurd Library, along with several other magnificent gifts, such as this one:

The Aldine Suidas of 1514.

We know Hurd himself began collecting books at the age of 17, for here is the evidence:

And there are countless entries for the Bishop’s beloved nephew, Dickie. Here is one:

And here’s Dickie’s note, in Galt’s  George the Third, his court and his family - a book Hurd never saw as it was published in 1820:

This is the story of a little boy who, allowed by the  kindly old king to run about in his closet, picked up a piece of paper from the floor and refused to show it until the king promised to let him keep it. It was a banknote for £1,000 which had fallen from the bureau. The king took his wife’s advice and wrote the child a cheque. £1,000 then was worth about £100,000 now and could have bought the Hurd Library three times over.

Alison has done us proud. New research possibilities are now opened up - book-collecting in Worcestershire is one of them. And only yesterday, when I felt I was getting to know what she’d done for us, I had an email from a scholar asking if we have any marginalia by Pope and William Warburton. We have indeed - we knew we had but now we can find them.

Hurd had a copy of Racine’s works, published in 1728, and he will have been familiar with this extract from the play Britannicus:

Il n’est point de secrets que le temps ne revele - there are no secrets which time does not reveal. Or, in this case, computers. Thank you, Alison.

Christine Penney, Hurd Librarian


Sailors beware!

World cruises in the 18th century were not the luxurious experiences they are today. George Anson (1697-1762) found himself doing one for several years in the 1740s, during the war with Spain. His orders were to raid and plunder the Spanish colonies in South America, to attack Panama and to capture a galleon full of treasure which sailed each year between Mexico and the Philippines. He set off in 1740 and got home in 1744, having lost several ships and 1300 of his men to  scurvy, cold and general privation in some of the worst waters in the world in frightful weather. But he had captured the galleon and its treasure was triumphantly paraded through the streets of  London on his return. The public was more thrilled with that than with his epic voyage. 

An account of the voyage was published in 1748 by Richard Walter. One of the subscribers was Ralph Allen, the friend of William Warburton and Bishop Hurd, and we have a copy in the Hurd Library.


The fleet assembled in June 1741 at Mas-a-Tierre in the Juan Fernandez islands in the south Pacific; this was where Alexander Selkirk had been marooned, giving Daniel Defoe the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe. A plate gives a misleadingly idyllic picture of the camp, but it must have been better than life on shipboard.


Selkirk is mentioned:


Goat-flesh was rather hard to come by and the sailors soon got tired of fish, so they tried dogs (which tasted fishy), but more palatable was the meat of seals. The larger version, the sea-lion, was even better:image

But, although easy to kill as they were so fat, they could be vicious, and yet another sailor was lost:


A plate showing a male and female sea-lion is one of the many delights of this book:


The female is on the left. The male was drawn from life and, the text tells us, there is not in reality as much disproportion in their sizes. The lady looks extremely smug, suggesting she has just been having a very nice time which did not include being hunted for the pot.

Christine Penney, Hurd Librarian


Sunrise in Urbino

In March 1507 an entertaining game was imagined in the palace at Urbino, in the Marche.  It was recorded by Baldesar Castiglione in his Il  libro del Cortegiano,  or  The Book of the Courtier, published in 1528.  The Hurd Library has a copy of the first edition:


It was published by the Aldine press, set up by Aldus Manutius in Venice about 1490 and using the famous printer’s device of a dolphin coiled around an anchor. Castiglione (1478-1529) was a diplomat in the service of the Duke of Urbino, Guidobaldo da Montefeltro. In this book he writes a fictional account of what used to go on in the evenings at the palace. The Duke suffered severely from gout, so always went to bed  straight after dinner, leaving his wife, the Duchess Elisabetta, at a loose end. So various games were invented by her courtiers to amuse her and one of them was to get everyone to make speeches on the qualities that made a perfect courtier. It was such fun that it  went on for four nights running and Castiglione recorded the debate in detail. The draft manuscript was shown to various friends, who urged him to publish it, but he did not take steps to do so until 1527, when the Duchess had died and there was a threat of unauthorised publication in Naples. Castiglione, who paid half the costs, ordered 1030 copies to be printed, with 500 for himself and 30 on fine paper; his own.was to be on vellum.

The book has never been out of print.  The debate on the final evening goes on so long that the Duchess suggests they carry on tomorrow (In fino a domani:)


But Gonzaga says “Anzi a questa sera” ( actually this evening). For it is morning already and the sun is rising (perche gia e di giorno); they have been talking all night and the light is filtering through gaps in the narrow windows (le fissure del le finestre). The windows on the side of the palace facing Mount Catria are opened and they all look out on to the rose-coloured dawn.


It’s a view that can still be seen in Urbino.

Christine Penney, Hurd Librarian


Matter for a May morning

Hartlebury has been a washout for several mornings this week, but last Wednesday it was wonderful.

Beyond the castle bastion built by Bishop Maddox…

…I waded through the meadow, full of flowers like the “high-grown field” in King Lear:

The rabbits were out and about in the churchyard.

They’ve found a new house, as a change from the one under the north wall:

It’s under the plinth beneath the tomb of Mary Baker of Waresley House; she died in 1806, two years before Bishop Hurd.

We had one swan on the lake in March; now we have two and their cygnets appeared last week,  just about visible through the dense undergrowth:

You get a better view (without cygnets) in Bewick:

Christine Penney, Hurd Librarian


Chaucer’s favourite flower

The flower of all flowers, in Chaucer’s opinion, was the humble daisy. In his prologue to The legend of good women he describes how he used to get up at crack of dawn in May to “seen this flour ayein the sonne sprede”. I can’t get to Hartlebury that early but here are some I saw at a more civilised hour, accompanied by a celandine:

Pope’s  copy of Chaucer, printed in 1598, is in the Hurd Library.

The title page is inscribed by its former owner : “Gab. Yonge his  booke”. This was Gabriel Young, who gave the book to the 13-year old Pope in 1701. Pope recorded the gift, in his usual neat hand, on the flyleaf.:

Pope and his family had recently moved into Whitehill House in the village of Binfield on the edge of Windsor Forest. Young had been a previous owner of the house, which Pope’s father bought in 1698. Binfield was home to a sizeable Roman Catholic community and Young himself was a convicted recusant.The Pope family was also Catholic and one can imagine Young taking an interest in the boy Alexander, who was already showing such promise. It was a very generous gift and Pope made good use of it. Here are some of the lines on the daisy:

I hope Bishop Hurd liked daisies too. He could see one all the year round in his copy of William Curtis’s Flora Londinensis of  course:

Christine Penney, Hurd Librarian