Over 150,000 historic books from 160 National Trust properties have been catalogued online for the first time.
From spectacular 17th century atlases at Dunham Massey in Cheshire to a rare library of miniature books for children at A La Ronde in Devon, the catalogue provides instant access to information for scholars and members of the public alike.
The catalogue now makes it possible to see not only what books are in the Trust's collections, but where each book came from, how it is bound, who it belonged to, what it tells about the life of its owner and the property at which it ended up.
Although the cataloguing project began in 1958, much of the work has been carried out in the last twelve years, more than half within the last five, thanks to the combined efforts of Trust staff, contractors and others.
But this Herculean task is not over yet. Work is ongoing, with over 70,000 more books to be catalogued.
The catalogue is shown on the website of COPAC, which gives access to the merged online catalogues of many major UK and Irish academic and national libraries, as well as increasing numbers of specialist libraries. The pages also show how people interested in the books can go about seeing items in the collections.
Mark Purcell, the National Trust’s Libraries Curator, said: “This project represents an exciting and important step forward in making our book collection more accessible to historians, researchers and students, providing information about, and improving access where possible, to the books in our collections.”
He continued: “But it also offers a useful and flexible resource for property staff and volunteers, by helping them to unlock their collections for new and changing displays, and thereby increase visitor interest and enjoyment. One such example is the spectacular Caxton Missal at Lyme Park in Cheshire. This rare 15th century liturgical book is on display alongside ‘touch-screen’ technology that has been wowing visitors and enabling them to ‘turn’ its pages.”
The Trust’s extraordinary and diverse collections of books range from copies of almost all the major editions of the Bible printed since 1475 in Blickling Hall in Norfolk and the remarkable library of a yeoman farmer at Townend in Cumbria, to the private library of writer Rudyard Kipling at Batemans in Sussex and Wimpole in Cambridgeshire.
Among the many highlights in Trust collections are: a manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, circa 1420 (Petworth House, Sussex); the only copy of the earliest known English ABC, circa 1535, (Lanhydrock, Cornwall); The Crafty Chambermaid's Garland, 1771 – a bawdy ballad for north country farmers (Townend, Cumbria); the bible supposedly used by Charles I on the scaffold (Chastleton House, Oxfordshire); and the autographed manuscript of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, inscribed to Vita Sackville-West (Knole, Kent) and one of only three copies in the UK of the first edition of Shakespeare's Richard II (1597), still in the gilded livery binding of its original owner (Petworth House, Sussex).