I have my own theory that we have uncovered the inspiration for Lord Crewe’s book room. I won’t spend long on this, as there is a blog about it on the website in Tales from the Library.  Frederick Locker-Lampson was a formidable book-collector, with deep pockets and antiquarian tastes, who built a rich collection of rare editions and a beautiful room for it in his country house at Rowfant, Sussex.  He combined a taste for hospitality with his love of books and enjoyed entertaining friends who shared his love of rare books in his library.  Lord Crewe was one of them, and in 1900 he wrote a poem describing the pleasure of being in the library at Rowfant.  I can’t help feeling that this experience was in his mind when he moved here and created his country retreat with the perfect room for his books.

We no longer see Lord Crewe’s identity on the outside of his books. The habit of sending books to be bound in a uniform style was outmoded by his time.  Publishers’ bindings were becoming progressively more and more attractive and acceptable, through the development of bookcloth, and the books now speak for themselves in their attractiveness. 

Lord Crewe’s visits to the binders were for very special occasions, such as his carefully chosen and finely bound gift of a limited edition of Dante’s New Life (La Vita Nuova), for Peggy, in the year of their marriage. This binding is by The Hampstead Bindery, a notable Arts and Crafts workshop.  Its founder, Frank Karslake, also set up the Guild of Women-binders alongside it. It was a short lived (1898-1904) Arts and Crafts enterprise, the involvement of craftswomen makes it of particular interest, and my secret ambition is that work of theirs emerges here - but it is very rare. Lord Crewe’s mark of ownership is everywhere, though, through his use of his heraldic bookplate and, sadly, in some cases the damage that its acidic ink has done to the endpapers. But in those days, who knew?

Before I end with some thoughts on how the library project can be a resource for all strands of volunteering, I want to focus on the stories that a library can tell, by exploring a theme in a little more depth. I’ve chosen women’s lives and how they are revealed in the library – women writing, women written about, women owning and reading books.  In the 19th and early 20th centuries, apart from the major names such as the Brontës, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, there were many women writers who are little known or read today – they are well hidden on library shelves, but they are emerging with stories to tell as we do our work.  I am enjoying these discoveries as much as anything else we’re finding, hearing in my head Jane Austen’s wonderfully ironic words in Persuasion: … Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story … the pen has been in their hands.   Both Monckton Milnes and Lord Crewe were great supporters of women writers, and we have examples of both of them engaging with them in constructive and friendly correspondence.  I’ll give you just a few examples.  

Lyttons letter to CreweBy the way, one by one our discoveries of women writers will appear on the Tales from the Library blog – the latest to appear being the pioneering writer of sensation novels, Caroline Clive, and her correspondence with Richard Monckton Milnes over her controversial novel Paul Ferroll; and the story of a very brave woman who fought for women’s suffrage, and paid a high price for it. Prisons and Prisoners (1914) by Lady Constance Lytton and her alter ego Jane Warton, tells of her experiences of being arrested as a suffragette, as a woman of status, and as a working-class woman.  She came back with a first-hand account of the cruelty with which women with no social capital were treated, and the unfairness of the system that showed leniency to Lady Constance but broke Jane Warton’s health. This led to a campaign that changed everything – the end of force-feeding, steps towards prison reform, and towards the inevitability of some votes for some women.  Finding this book on the shelves, with its letter to Lord Crewe from the Earl of Lytton her brother, was memorable indeed.

From the generation before Monckton Milnes, I want to introduce you to Amelia Opie, one of the most remarkable women you may never have heard of.  She was born Amelia Alderson in Norwich in 1769, the daughter of John Alderson, a physician, and Amelia his wife.  Her mother died when she was 15, and she became housekeeper and hostess for her father who moved in liberal dissenting circles in the city. At an early age she showed talent in music including both singing and composing, writing and languages. Norwich had a strong radical community, and when a new liberal journal, The Cabinet, was established in 1794, she contributed 15 poems to the first issues.  Amelia became close to radical figures such as William Godwin, Mary Wollestonecraft, Anna Laetitia Barbauld and others.  She found fame as a writer of poems, ‘Tales’ (shorter fiction) and of full length novels. Her novel Adeline Mowbray (1804), a bestseller in its day, fictionalises the unmarried relationship of Godwin and Wollestonecraft.  In 1798 she married the painter and portraitist John Opie, a happy marriage cut short by his early death in 1807.  In the year of their marriage, John Opie painted her, in one of the most powerful portraits of a woman that I know. He did not go out in society but encouraged Amelia in her friendships and her writing and publishing.

On the death of her husband she returned to Norwich and her father’s household. She moved away from the Unitarian tradition towards the Society of Friends, becoming a Quaker in 1825, the year her father died.  She spent the rest of her life campaigning for reform of prisons and workhouses and the abolition of slavery, writing, travelling and making friends.  She died in 1853, and her long and varied life formed the subject of 'Life of Amelia Opie' compiled by Cecilia Lucy Brightwell, a close family friend.  The letter it contains with its sentiment of loving friendship, was written to The Hon. Frances Jane Monckton (1786-1854), the aunt of Richard Monckton Milnes, whose mother was her sister Henrietta Maria (née Monckton).  She was one of four daughters of the 4th Viscount Galway, of whom only Henrietta Maria married. With her radical views and literary achievements it is inevitable that she and Monckton Milnes were acquainted; the Crewe collection at Trinity has so far catalogued copies of two of her collections of poetry, and two other books with presentation inscriptions from Amelia Opie to Richard Monckton Milnes. And there may of course be more to find here.

Next, combining my two themes of women’s lives and the art and beauty of books, I’d like you to meet Lucy Clifford, for whom I have a very soft spot, as hers was the very first story to emerge from our work in the Library, on day 1.  Again, there is a blog post about our find in Tales from the Library on the website, so I won’t repeat it all in detail. She was was born Lucy Lane in 1846.  In 1874 she married William Kingdon Clifford (b.1845), a brilliant young mathematician and philosopher, a Professor at University College London before he was 30. Lucy Clifford wrote fiction, unpublished before and during their brief marriage, and together they held a regular literary salon.  William Clifford died at 33 years old of TB in 1879, leaving Lucy a widow with two very young daughters and in dire financial straits.  As well as championing her late husband’s published work, she wrote her way out of penury, as a journalist and author of sensational novels, and short stories for adults and children, many of them on the supernatural – all that anyone knows about her these days is that one of her ghost stories was an inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel Coraline. 

We found a letter dating from the 1890s from her to Lord Crewe in one of her novels. She had recently met him, and as a result of a friendly conversation she sent him two novels (we’ve found both). It seems their friendship persisted, because our next discovery, in the Library, was a book that she sent him as a wedding gift in 1899, with an inscription and a letter.  It was a copy of one of her husband’s publications, and she had had it richly and beautifully bound for the occasion.

I could go on to tell you about Frank Danby, real name: Julia Frankau, author of novels that made waves at the end of the 19th century such as A Babe in Bohemia, and Dr Phillips.  Or Mrs Arthur Sidgwick (given name Cecily Ullmann), who wrote works of philosophy, and used the pen name of Mrs Andrew Dean for the popular novels that were the financial underpinning of the Sidgwicks’ family prosperity, and collected by Lord Crewe.  So many layers to peel back there.  Are their novels readable today? Discuss… the backlist publishing houses like Virago and Dean Street don’t seem to be interested.  But their lives are a revelation.  And both Richard Monckton Milnes M and Lord Crewe were deeply interested and engaged in what women wrote, and in their writing lives.