Psst! Don’t forget…

IMG_0731I’ve moved my blog over to This unfortunately means that you will no longer automatically receive notification of new posts and other bits of information I like to share. Make sure you visit the new site, sign up (either to an RSS feed or email), and continue to learn more about the fascinating world behind the spines!

You can also follow me on Twitter @behindthespines

Leave a comment

Filed under Historic Libraries

What does this rocking chair have to do with books?

Curious? I’ve moved my blog, so find out more at

Leave a comment

Filed under Children's books, Erddig, Historic Libraries

I’m moving!

[Picture: Stack of old books, light background]My blog that is. Up to now, I’ve been using two different platforms for my website and my blog, which was not the most practical. I’m finally getting around to doing some more imaginative things with my website; being ever so slightly technophobic and techno-illiterate, I’ve been putting this off for ages! Using, I hope to have everything in the one place. It could all go horribly wrong and I loose everything, including your good selves following my tales of antiquarian books. But if not, it will be great!

So, from today, I will be writing my blog posts at Looking forward to seeing you there!


Leave a comment

January 8, 2015 · 3:46 pm

Book conservators on the loose again at Calke Abbey!


‘Temple of the Muses’, Finsbury Square, London, from Rudolph Ackermann’s ‘Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce [etc.]’, vol. 9 (1809), plate 17.

Happy 2015!

Although Calke Abbey  had closed to visitors, there was plenty of behind the scenes conservation activity at the beginning of November. Caroline Bendix, the National Trust’s advisor on historic libraries, and her team of book conservators were back in Derbyshire for two weeks and yours truly was allowed to volunteer with them. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Calke Abbey, Damage to books, Historic Libraries, Preservation and conservation

Books of Human Flesh: The History behind Anthropodermic Bibliopegy

Not for the faint-hearted, but this older blog post from the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice caught my eye. Using human skin to cover book bindings: Post-mortem punishment, commemoration or celebrity fetishization?

And here’s a more recent post on a pocket book covered in the nineteenth-century body snatcher William Burke’s skin by Lindsey Fitzharris on the same site.

With this cheating post, I’m taking a break from blogging until after Christmas break (i.e. the time to catch up on a load of stuff I should have been writing about ages ago!)

The Chirurgeon's Apprentice

Amongst a collection of medical oddities housed at the Surgeons’ Hall Museum in Edinburgh lies a tattered pocketbook [left], no longer than the length of a man’s hand. It is dark brown—nearly black—with a pebbled texture and gold lettering that has begun to fade with age. To the untrained eye, it is altogether unremarkable in its appearance. However, upon closer inspection, the words ‘EXECUTED 28 JAN 1829’ and ‘BURKE’S SKIN POCKET BOOK’ come into focus, revealing the item’s true origins.

This is a book bound in the flesh of William Burke, the notorious murderer. Between 1827 and 1828, Burke and his accomplice, William Hare, drugged and killed 16 people for the sole purpose of selling their bodies to the anatomist, Dr Robert Knox. During their murder trial, Hare turned King’s Evidence in exchange for immunity. Burke was eventually found guilty of the murders and hanged before [ironically] being dissected in…

View original post 646 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Bindings

Use and Abuse of Books: an exhibition

Sebastian Brant - The Book Fool - WGA03111

The Book Fool. From Sebastian Brant’s “Ship of Fools” (1494). Copyright: Wikimedia Commons

  Quick post again, while I am trying to get my images together for more snippets from the Erddig collections. Also in the offing:  another round of volunteering with the book team at Calke Abbey and, finally, a little bit more on the research I’m still trying to undertake with regard to a vanity publication in the Library at Kedleston. But, this week, I’d like to draw your attention to this wonderful online exhibition of incunabula in Cambridge University Library. It focuses on a topic close to my own interests: the physical signs of the use and abuse of books. Enjoy! And do visit the actual exhibition as well if you happen to be near Cambridge (which I’m not really unfortunately…)

Leave a comment

November 23, 2014 · 3:50 pm

Hatfield House Library Survey (3)

??????????In this post, we return once again to Hatfield for a further selection of highlights from Lord Salisbury’s splendid book collection. This gilt-stamped image of Queen Elizabeth I is a poignant reminder of her close connections with Hatfield and the Cecil family. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Bindings, Hatfield House, Historic Libraries, Provenance Research, Seventeenth century, Sixteenth century

Erddig, Wrexham (3): The Cust connection

IMG_0724“Read with much fun in 1911, LMY”. Whether this was meant as a sincere expression – or not – of her appreciation of the “indifferent verse” written by Maria Eleanor Vere Cust, her husband’s cousin-once-removed, Louisa Yorke clearly left one of her trademark comments after reading the volume. “Indifferent verse” is how Maria Cust’s biographer describes the poetry presented in Lucem sequor and other poems (1906), and to judge from an earlier privately printed publication, Songs of sunshine and shadow (1903), the comment is fairly apt. Both works at Erddig are inscribed to Maria’s father, the orientalist Robert Needham Cust, for whom she worked as a secretary. Although the name “Cust” appears infrequently in the Erddig book collections outside the Library, it highlights the continuing connections between the two families. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Erddig, Female authors, Historic Libraries, National Trust, Nineteenth century, Provenance Research

Erddig, Wrexham (2): children’s books


Clip art (copyright unknown)

The survival of children’s books is sometimes one of the great strengths of country house libraries. How many of us still have the books we read as kids? How many books survive the rather unpractised handling skills of young children (my favourite book certainly didn’t make it unscathed…) or the pens, pencils, paint, food, bath water to which these books might be subjected?

Chances are that if a historic children’s book hasn’t become part of a museum or library collection, the odds are much against it. In the past, I’ve catalogued small numbers of nineteenth-century children’s books at Calke Abbey and I was really pleased to find some at Erddig.  Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Children's books, Erddig, Historic Libraries, National Trust, Nineteenth century, Publishers

A milestone: National Trust libraries

Nice to see NT libraries being singled out on the DRBSC blog. I’ll be posting a few more images from Erddig’s collections in the next few days!

Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections in the UK and Republic of Ireland

Generally preserved in the places where they were originally assembled and read, the historic libraries of the National Trust provide an unparalleled resource for the study of private book ownership in Britain and Ireland from the fifteenth to the twentieth century. Together the libraries contain well in excess of 250,000 titles in c. 400,000 volumes, held in over 160 properties in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They range from the grandiose collections of aristocratic bibliophiles, through to more humble libraries assembled by ordinary gentry families. The earliest collections have their roots in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but most were assembled between about 1660 and the middle of the nineteenth century. More recent collections include the personal libraries of literary figures as diverse as Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Carlyle and Agatha Christie; and of public figures, notably Churchill and Disraeli. Some of the libraries are quite modest in size, but the…

View original post 391 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Historic Libraries, National Trust