A library fit for a King

The library here at Polesden Lacey is a veritable treasure trove for any book enthusiast. The room is full of stunning ceramics, paintings and all sorts of beautiful objects, but for me it is the books that are the star attraction. The library was filled with books ready for the visit of King Edward VII in 1909. The shelves were full to the brim of books chosen to delight and amuse Mrs Greville’s guests. This warm and inviting room was the perfect place for a bit of rest and relaxation, It’s no wonder it was one of Mrs Greville’s favourite rooms.

We have a wonderful team of volunteers who specialise in caring for this huge collection all year round. We have mentioned in previous blog posts about the careful cleaning of objects in the collection. Books too have to be carefully cleaned and cared for. Have a look at your bookshelf, you might think to dust the shelves but have you ever dusted the books? Each book in the library needs to be removed from the shelf and cleaned, we try to do this at least once a year and keep an eye on the general condition of the books in the meantime. Contrary to popular belief, books can be handled without gloves – provided the book has no gilding or illuminated manuscripts within it and hands are clean and dry. Our specially trained volunteers remove each book from the shelf carefully and the books are then gently dusted with a soft pony hair brush.

Books are dusted carefully with a pony hair brush. (© James Day)

Books are dusted carefully with a pony hair brush. (© James Day)

Recently the book team have been hard at work inventorying some of the books. Each book needs to be marked with its own unique inventory number and photographed; we can then insert this information on to the pre-existing catalogue record on our Collections Management System (CMS). Once updated record will be available to view on the National Trust’s Collections website (http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/).

For CMS we need a picture showing the front cover of the book, the first page, any inscriptions and the spine. Foam blocks are used to support the books during this process. When opening each book we have to ensure that book is not opened to more than a 90 degrees angle, ensures that no stress is put on the book’s spine. Not only will these photos enrich the CMS record but they will also help us to check the books remain in tip top condition, checking against the photographs for new damage or pest activity.

Maureen carefully marks each book with a unique inventory number (© Chelsea Eves)

Maureen carefully marks each book with a unique inventory number (© Chelsea Eves)

These books are not only a fabulous collection of literaturary works, they also carry a greater historical significance. Many of the books have personal inscriptions to Mrs Greville, giving us a fascinating insight into the relationships she has with her friends, family and even famous authors. You can also get an insight into Mrs Greville as an  art collector as there are many large volumes on European artists, some of whom feature in the collection here at Polesden Lacey. Mrs Greville even marked some pages to indicate the works she proudly owned.( There is also a small leather bound book on the Balcony entitled ‘My Pictures’ in which she has listed many of her paintings.)

On the Thursday 30 October at our ‘Open Books afternoon’ you will have the unique opportunity to see some of the Library’s books up close and speak to members of the Book Team about their favourite books and the stories behind them. Come along to Polesden Lacey and explore this fabulous room for yourself.


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