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West and East Surrey Meet to Preserve Historic Library

Published on: 19 Mar, 2021
Updated on: 21 Mar, 2021

The West Horsley Place library

The West Horsley Place Trust charity is working with The Arts Society East Surrey Area to care for the 10,000 books in the historic house’s library.

The Trust, established to save the 15th-century, Grade I-listed West Horsley Place and its estate for public view, said funds are being provided by the National Lottery Heritage.

Guided by leading conservator Caroline Bendix, Heritage Volunteers from The Arts Society will learn how to assess the condition of the books, how to clean them and how to make minor repairs so the books are protected.

The books, mainly 19th and 20th century, are from the library of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe (1915 – 2014), who owned West Horsley Place from the 1960s, spending her summers there.

She made two major bequests: the first, a gift of 7,500 of the most significant books in her library to Trinity College Cambridge.

The Crewe Collection, as it is now known, was created by Mary’s father, Robert Crewe-Milnes, first Marquess of Crewe, and Mary’s grandfather, Richard Monckton-Milnes, the first Baron Houghton.

Both had studied at Trinity and their books are recognised as being one of the most important private book collections in Britain.

Mary’s second bequest was giving West Horsley Place to her nephew, the historian and former University Challenge presenter, Bamber Gascoigne.

Over the 20th century, the house and estate fell into disrepair, eventually being added to Historic England’s At Risk Register. Bamber and his wife Christina transferred ownership of the manor house and its 380-acre estate to the Trust.

West Horsley Place

The Trust intends to turn West Horsley Place into a welcoming space for the community to share and enjoy, with arts, culture, history and nature at its heart.

The house has passed through the hands of illustrious owners, including Henry VIII, who enjoyed a 35-course lunch in the Stone Hall, Carew Raleigh, son of Sir Walter Raleigh, and Lady Elizabeth Fitzgerald, “Fair Geraldine” of the Earl of Surrey’s famous sonnet.

Queen Elizabeth I is known to have stayed on several occasions.

This library project with The Arts Society East Surrey Area is part of An Historic Estate without Barriers, a pioneering two-year programme of public consultation and activity devised by the Trust that will, for the first time, enable a wide range of people from the local community to experience how heritage spaces can transform health and well-being.

Trust director Ben Pearce said: “This project with the Arts Society’s Heritage Volunteers has been planned for some time and we are really looking forward to getting underway when the Covid-19 restrictions allow.

“Working in partnership with other local charities and organisations, we will explore how we can best support our local community. Opportunities to learn new skills are an important part of our vision, and we are grateful to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for enabling this collaboration with The Arts Society.”

Hilary Ely, the Heritage Volunteer co-ordinator, said: “We are so looking forward to starting this project, which was to start last year but was postponed in response to the pandemic.

“The Arts Society is the UK’s biggest arts education charity, and our Heritage Volunteers play an important part in helping to save Britain’s heritage.

“From the conservation of books to projects in historic parks, gardens and houses, and cathedrals, Heritage Volunteers are busy all over the UK working to conserve and protect its treasures.

“The 10,000 books that remain in the library form an important part of an even more extensive country house library. The care of the collection will prove a wonderful opportunity for our volunteers to learn new skills, while ensuring its preservation for the future.

“A library such as this has grown and changed over time, and undoubtedly discoveries will be made that will help us to understand more about the lives of the people of West Horsley Place.”

The project begins this summer, subject to restrictions being lifted.

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Responses to West and East Surrey Meet to Preserve Historic Library

  1. J Ashton Reply

    March 22, 2021 at 9:04 pm

    Thank you, what a fascinating article. Good luck with the project.

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