English Country House Libraries

The English country house library deserves its own section, since despite their variety, they have their own inimitable style. Most of them were built in the 1700s and 1800s and were the result of trends in country house estates and collecting on the Grand Tour, the influence of the Enlightenment and classical education, and the emergence of affordable book printing.

English country house libraries have undoubtedly been the most potent influence on what most Americans believe a private library should look like. It is unfortunate that a book has not yet been published that details the magnificent library rooms and collections of the historic houses of England.

(However, for an interesting Masters' thesis covering the history of English Country House Libraries, read:
Rediscovering the Private Library, by Heidi Hutchins Stokes, December 2008.) And this is a good, shorter article about English Country House Libraries.

I have included some libraries from Scotland, Wales and Ireland, as well as ones in the city of London. Many of these look even more "English" or "Country" than true English Country House Libraries.




This is the library/sitting room at Althorp, the ancestral English home of the Spencer family, and the childhood home of Diana, Princess of Wales. This is a grand yet lovely space, with its traditional English Country furnishings. The white bookcases, walls, ornate ceiling and columns all serve to keep the room from looking too heavy, yet there is room to store the 10,000 or so books that are the remnant of the collection of the Second Earl of Spencer, which was at one time the finest private library in the world.


Country Life

"The library at Chanter's House in Devon, England, looking north. Lady Coleridge's drawings after Michelangelo are hung over the fireplace, which has marble relief by Thrupp. The 2nd Lord Coleridge panelled the upper walls and substituted a wooden balustrade for Butterfield's light iron rail. Pub Orig CL 10/01/1991"



The library and study at Belton House, near Grantham, Lincolnshire, England. Though the house was built in the late 17th century, the library was created in 1876. The room contains some 6,000 volumes, collected over 350 years. It has been owned by the National Trust since 1984.



The library at Igtham Mote in Kent, England, a moated, 700-year-old English country house.



The Library at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk, England. This library was built by William Windham II in 1752-5 to house the books collected on his Grand Tour. Very nice dark wood bookcases with finials on top, library globe and ornate pedestal library table.



The Library at Dunham Massey, Cheshire, England. This old book-filled room contains a very nice set of library stairs and a colelction of Victorian scientific instruments, such as the clockwork mechanism of the universe that is shown.



The library at Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire, England. The house was built in the late 17th century and remained with the Anson (Earls of Litchfield) family until 1960, when it was given to the National Trust. The Library was designed in the 1740s. Its Rococo plasterwork ceiling, which was commissioned by Thomas Anson, was designed by Thomas Wright and sculpted by Francesco and Giovanni Vassali. It includes the head medallions of Minerva, the Greek goddess of wisdom and the arts, as well as medallions of poets and philosophers, including Sappho. Concealed doors and mirrors give the illusion of continuous book shelves.


flickriver.co (Stephen Piggott)

The library at Kingston Lacy House, Dorset, England. The house was built in the 1660s, but extensively remodeled in the 1830s. This library is an exceptionally fine room, with its red wall, painted ceiling, globes and library furniture.


The Regency Country House; Robinson

This is the Regency Library at Stourhead House, Wiltshire, England. Added on to the main house in the 1790s, this green and white library is one of the finest surviving Regency Period (1811-1820) rooms in England and contains 5,000 leather-bound books.


flickr.com (Richard Walker)

This is the Library at Scotney House in Kent, England. Built in the 1840s, its dark wood bookcases, red furnishings and look of comfort and age make it a beautiful room.

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