The Crewe Collection consists of over 7,500 books bequeathed by Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe to Trinity College, Cambridge. Her father, Robert Crewe-Milnes, Marquess of Crewe (1858-1945), and his grandfather, Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton (1809-1855), both studied at Trinity before embarking on important political careers. 

Lord Houghton was a great 19th-century man of letters and was friends with the most brilliant literary figures of the day, including Tennyson and Emerson. He was also one of Florence Nightingale’s most ardent suitors.

One of the books in the Crewe Collection is charmingly illustrated book about Florence Nightingale’s pet owl, written by her sister Parthenope, Lady Verney: Life and Death of Athena, an Owlet from the Parthenon. Written in 1855 by Parthenope and sent to cheer up her sister, then seriously ill in the Crimea, the book tells the story of an owl, found and adopted in Athens, who became Florence’s beloved pet.

The Marquess of Crewe was a successful politician who rose through the ranks of society. He was Leader of the House of Lords, Secretary of State for India 1910-1915, Ambassador to Paris 1922-1928, and Secretary of State for War 1931. A radical Liberal, Lord Crewe supported numerous reforms, including old-age pensions, an eight-hour day for miners and meal provisions for schoolchildren.

Between the 1830s and the early twentieth century they amassed what Trinity’s Librarian, Dr Nicolas Bell, describes as ‘an extraordinary library and one of the most important private collections in Britain.’

The collection includes major works of English and French literature, rare political pamphlets, trial transcripts and several unpublished literary manuscripts, as well as first editions inscribed by Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth and Tennyson. Over half of the collection is works in French, reflecting Lord Houghton's particular interest in the French Revolution. He collected song sheets, pamphlets and other printed material, much of which has not survived in any other Library.

Work is currently in progress on cataloguing the Collection, digitising the most precious items and exhibiting books and objects in the Wren Library.

West Horsley Place retained a substantial number of books from the collection and will be working with the Arts Society to catalogue and conserve the books over the next few years.

Find out more about The Crewe Collection