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16 January 2007

Devon Book 58

Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History; 12
A history of the book in Devon, by Ian Maxted
58: Libraries in the early 19th century

During the first part of the 19th century, as we have seen, Exeter was a growing community. Its commercial and industrial base in the woollen industries had been eroded during the Napoleonic Wars, but a large number of professional and wealthy families had been attracted to the City. In addition its continuing role as a cathedral city and administrative centre, as well as a centre for retirement helped to produce a population which was in continuous need of books and information. The role of printers, booksellers and newspapers has already been discussed but there was also a need for libraries to provide a wider range of literature than most individuals could acquire for themselves.

Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History; 12
A history of the book in Devon, by Ian Maxted
58: Libraries in the early 19th century

During the first part of the 19th century, as we have seen, Exeter was a growing community. Its commercial and industrial base in the woollen industries had been eroded during the Napoleonic Wars, but a large number of professional and wealthy families had been attracted to the City. In addition its continuing role as a cathedral city and administrative centre, as well as a centre for retirement helped to produce a population which was in continuous need of books and information. The role of printers, booksellers and newspapers has already been discussed but there was also a need for libraries to provide a wider range of literature than most individuals could acquire for themselves.

The City was served by some seventy firms in the book trades, including fifteen printers and twenty booksellers. Of these booksellers some maintained sizeable stocks. Dibden records a catalogue of Dyer's in 1810 with 20,000 volumes. Since the late 18th century there had been circulating libraries in Exeter; there were five in 1828 for example, but in the first part of the 19th century a number of non-commercial libraries were also established in the city.

The Public Select Library was established in November 1807 chiefly for the young. By 1828 it had 2,500 volumes and it was stated that "all books of an immoral nature, novels, dramatic productions, works on controversial divinity and party politics are excluded" (Besley 1828). This may sound somewhat uninviting but such vapid fare obviously appealed to some of the inhabitants of Exeter for the 1835 directory repeats this disclaimer and notes that the size of the library had grown to between three and four thousand volumes. By 1862 with its 7,000 volumes it claimed to have the most extensive and valuable collection of books in the West of England (Clapp, 2). The Public Select Library survived until 1871 when it merged with the Public Library.

A smaller library of an improving nature was set up by the parish of St Edmund in Exeter in 1824 under the sanction of the SPCK. It held 161 volumes according to a printed catalogue entitled A catalogue of the parochial lending library of the parish of St Edmund's Exeter, established September 19th 1824 (Exeter: W.C.Pollard) which is bound with a copy of Poems divine and moral (London: C. & J.Rivington, 1823) which is located in the Westcountry Studies Library.

There were several public reading rooms in 1828. The Exeter Tradesmen's and Mechanics' Institution with its library and reading room has already been mentioned. It was to be supplemented later by other institutions such as the Exeter Commercial News Room, established in 1832 and operating in 1838 at 218 High Street with William Kennaway as president.

There were also more specialised libraries. The Exeter Medical Library was established in 1814 in association with the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and was maintained by the hospital and added to with the support of the medical practitioners in the city. The Devon Agricultural Society had a small library in 1835. The Exeter Law Library was established in 1833 to serve the needs of the legal profession in Exeter, including barristers who were in the city during the Assizes. The Library survives today in the law courts in Rougemont Castle.

In 1841 the Exeter Literary Society was established after the failure of the earlier Tradesmen's and Mechanics' Institution. By 1849 it had 664 members and receipts of £320. It gave lectures and ran classes in Latin, French, drawing, English grammar and other subjects. In 1871 it was reported that its "reading room supplied with the best periodicals of the day and London daily and local papers continues to be well attended. During the last year the library has received the careful atttention of the committee, and has been considerably augmented by the purchase of new books. In addition to the works of reference, it contains over 3,000 volumes for circulation." (EFP 25 Jan 1871) The Society survives today but no longer maintains its library, most of its books having been sold off.

But there was one learned body which attracted a distinguished clientele. Richard Ford in his 1834 letter to Henry Addington writes: "There is an excellent institution here with a large well-chosen library, the Devon and Exeter Institution, in which I take great pastime and am beginning my education." The Devon and Exeter Institution had been opened in the Cathedral Close in 1813 after about 250 persons subscribed £25 each and undertook to pay an annual subscription of £1 in order to establish a learned institution to further antiquarian studies. The premises were soon acquired in the Cathedral Close in the former town house of the Courtenay family and, as the library and museum developed, the courtyard behind the premises was converted into two large rooms lined with bookcases, with a gallery round each accessible via a spiral staircase. The rooms were lighted by a domed lantern set into the roof. In the first ten years of the Institution's existence some £4,000 was spent on books, a tribute to the "zeal with which [the subscribers] went about the foundation of their library (Monro 1913). By the end of the 19th century the library contained more than 40,000 volumes, a working collection for scholars, especially strong in local and general history as well as "volumes of tracts and sermons, lectures and discourses, the transactions of learned societies, correct poetry on rural scenes in the manner of Cowper, engravings of country seats" and much other material. This 19th century effort has resulted in the main strength of the collection today with its extensive runs of Victorian newspapers and directories which are not to be found in any other library in Exeter and which can be enjoyed in the comfortable atmosphere of a select club with welcoming leather armchairs and carpeted floors.

Members visiting Exeter from their country houses wanted a familiar atmosphere, one that reflected the surroundings of their own libraries and in a history of the book in Devon the country house library should not be overlooked. The early years of the nineteenth century, with the growing availability of printed material, saw the library developing from the working collection of the more scholarly owner to the room where anyone with pretentions to culture could parade visitors and friends in front of the walls of leather-clad learning that he had acquired.

Of course there had always been a variety of motives for owning libraries and the library had served a variety of functions in Devon as elsewhere. In the 1680s, the same decade as Richard Lapthorne was building up Richard Coffin's library at Portledge, John Cruwys in the manor house at Cruwys Morchard constructed a library wing to escape Sarah, the wife whose nagging he had to endure after entering into what he desribed as an ill-considered marriage (DCNQ v.18 p. 259-). A more agreeable library atmosphere is provided by the sham library door still to be seen in Killerton near Exeter, the home of the Acland family. This door is commented on in Britten and Brayley's Devonshire and Cornwall illustrated (1832), where examples of the titles on the dummy spines are given:

Trap on Fictitious Entries
Friend's Right of Entrance
Continuation of Chambers
Treatise on the Law of Partitions
Noah's Log-book
Squeak on Openings
Bang on Shuttings
Hinge's Orations

Here was a library where the owners could display their collection of books with sense of humour. The shelves of the library at Killerton, which is now a National Trust property, are no longer occupied by the books of the Acland family but by the residue of the considerable library of the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould the noted squarson and writer of Lew Trenchard in the west of the county. Dozens of similar libraries were being built up in country houses scattered across Devon during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and their growth can be observed from a number of sources, apart from the relatively few examples that survive intact from those early days.

In the estate papers of various families receipts survive which show a regular flow of printed items through local booksellers. In Horswell House near Kingsbridge in the south of Devon William Roope Ilbert was using the Kingsbridge bookseller William Groves Bartlett in the 1830s. Receipts in the Devon Record Office include the following items:

1837£ s d
Jan 21 Standard Novels- 6 -
"1 United Service- 3 6
"2 Nos Useful- 1 -
"1 Sat Mag- - 6
283 Meins [?]- - 6
Feb 1Pickwick Papers 1-11- 11 -
"1 United - 3 6
"1 Useful - - 6
141 Mein [?]- - 6
181 Sat Mag- - 6
Mar 11 Pickwick1 12 -
"1 United Service- 3 6
"2 Nos Useful- 1 -
41 Burkes Peerage 1 18 -
"1 Sat Mag- - 6
Apl 1st1 Standard Novel - 6 -
"1 Boz- 1 -
"1 Useful - - 6
"1 United Service- 3 6
61 Sat Mag- - 6
291 v letter 1/4 Do 8 [?]- 2 -
May 11 United - 3 6
"1 Useful - - 6
"1 Boz- 1 -
81 Sat Mag- - 6
133 Sheets Blottg- - 6
Jun 11 Library Useful 2 nos- 1 -
"1 United Service- 3 6
"1 Sat- - 6
10Wafers- - 6
17Bd 3 vols United 2/6- 7 6
"Bd 2 Do Useful 2/-- 4 -
[Total] 5 7 9
Paid Woolmer
For Advertisements & Paper2 2 -
[Total]7 9 9

The signed receipt of Edward Woolmer, the publisher of the Exeter and Plymouth gazette, is attached. It is for 10/- for newspapers from 25 December 1836 to 26 June 1837 and £1/12/- for four weeks insertion on 3, 10, 17 and 24 November 1836 of a notice advertising the stopping of a highway. While he was reliant on Bartlett for the supply of periodicals (the full titles of the three he subscribed to are the United service journal, the Library of useful knowledge and the Saturday magazine) and for the Dickens number publications, he may have had an alternative source for other publications. For example on 18 May 1838 he subscribed two guineas for A voyage of discovery to, & residence in, the Arctic regions, by Captain John Ross.

The same pattern can be seen elsewhere. In the 1790s the Chichesters in Arlington, north Devon, used Robert Trewman & Sons in Exeter to supply some at any rate of their requirements for books and other printed materials, perhaps as a matter of convenience since they also had an account for advertising in their newspaper the Exeter flying post. This is one of Joseph Palmer Chichester's bills (DRO 50/11/13):

J.P.Chichester Esqr. Arlington
To R.Trewman & Son
July 301 Camilla 5 vols sew'd & extra carriage1 3 -
1 Set Literary Miscellany in small
Numbers extra carriage- 15 -
1 Set Literary Miscellany for Mr Hamilton- 14 -
Januy 171 Glee the Friar- 1 6
1 Do - Old Woman- 1 -
1 Monthly Magazine Vol 1 ½ bound - 6 9
1 Do - Do - Vol 2 & 3 Do- 15 9
Advertising Acct
June 29To advertising 4 weeks two footmen1 2 -
July 6 13 20wanted
March 1To Do several Horses for sale & post- 5 10
[Total] £5 5 4

The account was not settled until 1 February 1799, a delay which was not untypical in that period. In both accounts there are periodicals being bound for the library shelves and works of literature being supplied, Charles Dickens Sketches by Boz and Pickwick papers being favoured by the Ilberts and Fanny Burney's rather more turgid Camilla by the Chichesters. While Ilbert acquired Burke's Peerage, the Chichesters betrayed a preference for musical publications.

Subscription lists can reveal patterns of book buying. When Rees and Curtis issued a revised edition of John Prince's classic biographical dictionary Danmonii orientales illustres; or, the worthies of Devon in 1810, they listed a total of 480 subscribers, taking care to dignify the nobility with capital letters at the start of each letter of the alphabet: the Duke of Bedford, Earl Fortescue of Castle Hill, Lord Rolle of Stevenstone, Viscount Sidmouth of Upottery and so on. Eleven years later the names just mentioned appear in the engraved list of subscribers to Frederic Christian Lewis's magnifiencent series of 36 etchings and aquatints The scenery of the River Dart - two Devon titles that must grace the shelves of any cultured person in the county.

And this activity in building libraries was engaged in not only by the nobility but by the gentry, as well as many other social groups, as has been seen by the analysis of Martin Dunsford's Historical memoirs of the town and parish of Tiverton (1790). The following table shows a group of gentry who subscribed to a range of publications in the period between 1810 and 1821. The letters stand for the following titles:

D: Devonshire adventurer (Tiverton, 1814)
F: Flindell's western luminary (Exeter, 1815)
G: Gregor, Francis. Works (Exeter, 1816)
L: Lewis, F.C. Scenery of the River Dart (1821)
P: Prince, John. Danmonii orientales illustres (Plymouth, 1810)
W: Guide to the watering places (Teignmouth, 1817)

Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, Killerton FLP
Edmund Pollexfen Bastard, Kitley, YealmptonLP
John Bulteel, Fleet, HolbetonFLP
J.P.Carpenter Esq., Mount TavyDFP
Edward Cary, Follaton, TotnesLP
Arthur Champernowne, DartingtonLP
C.Chichester, Hall, nr BidefordDFGP
Sir William Elford, Bickham, KennFLP
Hon. Newton Fellowes, EggesfordFLP
Charles Hoare, Luscombe, DawlishFPW
J.M.Woolcombe, AshburyDFGP
Sir Bourchier Wrey, Tawstock FGLP

Beside the gentry, merchants were frequently buyers of books, and not only to inform them in their trade. In his Autobiographical recollections (1877) the radical Sir John Bowring described his early influences, including his grandfather (p.32): "My grandfather's business was that of a fuller, who prepared woollen goods for foreign markets, and especially for that of China, the monopoly of which was in the hands of the East India Company. He had a considerable library. The regular arrival of the Gentleman's Magazine was in those days a great event, and a long series of volumes, from its very commencement, occupied no small space on the library shelves, being to him and to me a field of constantly instructive and amusing reference." Bowring found his first job with an Exeter merchant and seems to have made good use of his library (p.54). "On leaving school I was placed in a house whose principal partner, Mr. Robert Kennaway, was engaged at the same time in the wine and spirit and the Manchester trade. He was very kind to me, lent me books, and assisted me in acquiring the Spanish, Portugese and Italian languages." Bowring went on to master no fewer than 200 languages and published translations from a number of them. He also became associated with Jeremy Bentham and edited the Westminster review which Bentham had founded. He became an M.P., supported free trade and had an important diplomatic career in the Far East. The foundations of the knowlege of this 19th century polymath were laid in the libraries of Exeter merchants.

There is no better way to capture the atmosphere of the library in the country house than by quoting W.G.Hoskins's account of it in his magisterial history of Devon. In writing of the big house and the squire in 1954 he paints a composite picture in which "no particular house is intended, but every detail is authentic" (297-8).

In the library, looking out over the weed-enamelled drive and a park still timbered with walnut and oak and beech, the Victorian bookshelves rise to the ceiling and hold copies of Ovid and Horace used at Oxford by Georgian ancestors: dark, calf-bound, the faint spidery brown handwriting. On the bottom shelves is an early edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (an edition published before the Age of Steam but still occasionally useful). Somewhere nearer at hand is an old edition of Burn's Justice of the peace and parish officer, perhaps an early run of the Railway magazine, and row upon row of unreadable sermons, old botany books, bird books, fishing books, parish histories, the proceedings of the local antiquarian society of forty years ago, and a whole shelf on gardening. Papers cascade out of writing-desks as old as the room; dogs snuffle quietly in Queen Anne wing chairs; photographs of cricket elevens may be observed in obscure corners, close to the stuffed corncrake, of Harrow, Winchester, and Eton, long ago. ... Here, where all is quiet, the lunacy of the outside world, the fate that has overtaken it, is an insoluble mystery. One ruminates over it for a few minutes after the nine o'clock news, heard religiously each evening in the library on an antique and sizzling battery set. With relief the squire turns to the local newspaper, produced in the market town a dozen miles away, and reads the more intelligible and interesting news about the doings of his own countryside.
This very atmospheric evocation was written by an eminent and perceptive historian touring the county after the culture of the country house had been shaken to its foundations by two World Wars and it summarises elegantly the way in which the decaying contents of the library reflected the lives of the landed families that occupied country seats for centuries, their education, their involvement as magistrates, as landowners, as the leading lights in the world of hunting, shooting and fishing, and their interest in the communities where they lived.

This page last updated 12 Mar 2001
© Ian Maxted, 2001.