Tag Archives: Sir John Gardner Wilkinson (1797-1875)

Books as social history

Because I’ve just started a brief book cataloguing stint at Calke Abbey again, I thought I’d reblog this post by Emile de Bruijn from 2013. The Harpur-Crewe family (the surname underwent various transformations through time, this being the last one) produced some fascinating characters – some would say eccentric, others have speculated that some of the men in the family would these days be diagnosed with a form of Asperger’s.

If Calke wasn’t already a treasure trove of weird and wonderful stuff, in the nineteenth century part of John Gardner Wilkinson’s library was bequeathed to Sir John Harpur Crewe, 9th Bt. Gardner Wilkinson, a famous Egyptologist and antiquarian, and Lady Georgiana, Sir John’s wife, were cousins and he seems to have visited Calke on several occasions, the last time in 1875 when he fell fatally ill. Gardner Wilkinson died on his way back home.

In the spirit of Calke, the books from his library are displayed in the way they were found, which in itself makes an interesting time document: the collection was in chaos when the NT took on Calke. Although now fully catalogued, this presented a few headaches for the NT cataloguers having to work within the constraints of retaining the image of Calke as a “country house in decline”. For example: how to catalogue books in several rows of stacks on the floor? This of course also posed a conundrum for the book conservators: ideally, books are kept on shelves rather than on the floor!

The current display hides the fact that the collection itself provides a vivid portrait of a Victorian intellectual’s wide ranging interests, although it can at least now be accessed virtually through COPAC and the National Trust Collections online database. As Emile indicates in his blog, Mark Purcell and Nicola Thwaite have produced this interesting guide to the libraries at Calke Abbey.

Treasure Hunt

View of Gardner Wilkinson Library at Calke Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel View of Gardner Wilkinson Library at Calke Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Mark Purcell and Nicola Thwaite have recently published a fascinating collection guide to the libraries at Calke Abbey.

Some of the library shelves at Calke with books on exploration and travel. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond Some of the library shelves at Calke with books on exploration and travel. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Calke Abbey was acquired by the National Trust in 1985 and was consciously preserved as a house on the brink of ruin, a snapshot of a moment in time and a multi-dimensional archive of the history of a particular family.

Bookplate of Sir Henry Harpur, 5th Bt (1708-1748). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond Bookplate of Sir Henry Harpur, 5th Bt (1708-1748). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

As Mark and Nicola demonstrate, the books at Calke are a record of the tastes and occupations of various generations of the Harpur-Crewe family, including ‘music, novels, big-game hunting, spiritual anguish, exotic travel, improving the estate, suing the neighbours, saying your prayers, learning Latin, catching rats, or choosing the…

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Filed under Calke Abbey, Historic Libraries, National Trust