Music at Calke


A recording has been made of this eighteenth-century piece of music being played on a contemporary harpsichord at Calke Abbey. Unfortunately, it is not the instrument the Harpurs would have played on, but a close relation… The recording will be played in the Museum Room at Calke to give visitors a flavour of the sound and style of music being played in the eighteenth century


Return to Calke

By the time you read this, I will have gone back to Calke Abbey for a few more days. The cataloguing of the books in store was always going to take a while: there are about 5000 items. And not just books and journals, but also many, many music scores. But Calke wouldn’t be Calke if there weren’t some very quirky volumes hiding on the shelves. Continue reading

Book conservators on the loose again at Calke Abbey!

‘Temple of the Muses’, Finsbury Square, London, from Rudolph Ackermann’s ‘Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce [etc.]’, vol. 9 (1809), plate 17.

Happy 2015!

Although Calke Abbey  had closed to visitors, there was plenty of behind the scenes conservation activity at the beginning of November. Caroline Bendix, the National Trust’s advisor on historic libraries, and her team of book conservators were back in Derbyshire for two weeks and yours truly was allowed to volunteer with them. Continue reading

Calke Abbey Highlights (2)

Previously, I mentioned some of the highlights of the stores collection at Calke. It is clear even at this relatively early stage (about 800 books have now been added to the Trust’s collections database and will be added in due course to COPAC), that the stores not only contain books from the final generations of Harpur Crewes, but also a substantial library from the family of Col. Godfrey Mosley (1863-1945), who married the last baronet’s eldest daughter, Hilda Harpur Crewe (1877-1949). Continue reading

Calke Abbey Highlights (1)

Having just finished another round of cataloguing at Calke Abbey, I thought I’d show you some of my highlights. With the books in the main library fully catalogued (and in the process of receiving conservation treatment – see my last post), I am concentrating on the stores, where there are another ca. 5000 books. Being Calke, when the National Trust took on the property in the mid-80s, there were books everywhere. Some of the spirit of the chaos still permeates the house (posing an interesting conservation challenge of showing a country house in a frozen – permanent – state of decline). Continue reading

Book conservation fortnight at Calke Abbey

First of all: a big apology! I should have posted something last week, but between a camera malfunction and a week-long holiday, I didn’t have the chance to do so.

This week, I’d like to draw your attention to a two-week book conservation in action project at Calke Abbey. Library Conservator and Special Advisor for Historic Libraries in the National Trust, Caroline Bendix and her team are at work in the Library at Calke. Continue reading

Books as social history

Because I’ve just started a brief book cataloguing stint at Calke Abbey again, I thought I’d reblog this post by Emile de Bruijn from 2013. The Harpur-Crewe family (the surname underwent various transformations through time, this being the last one) produced some fascinating characters – some would say eccentric, others have speculated that some of the men in the family would these days be diagnosed with a form of Asperger’s.

If Calke wasn’t already a treasure trove of weird and wonderful stuff, in the nineteenth century part of John Gardner Wilkinson’s library was bequeathed to Sir John Harpur Crewe, 9th Bt. Gardner Wilkinson, a famous Egyptologist and antiquarian, and Lady Georgiana, Sir John’s wife, were cousins and he seems to have visited Calke on several occasions, the last time in 1875 when he fell fatally ill. Gardner Wilkinson died on his way back home.

In the spirit of Calke, the books from his library are displayed in the way they were found, which in itself makes an interesting time document: the collection was in chaos when the NT took on Calke. Although now fully catalogued, this presented a few headaches for the NT cataloguers having to work within the constraints of retaining the image of Calke as a “country house in decline”. For example: how to catalogue books in several rows of stacks on the floor? This of course also posed a conundrum for the book conservators: ideally, books are kept on shelves rather than on the floor!

The current display hides the fact that the collection itself provides a vivid portrait of a Victorian intellectual’s wide ranging interests, although it can at least now be accessed virtually through COPAC and the National Trust Collections online database. As Emile indicates in his blog, Mark Purcell and Nicola Thwaite have produced this interesting guide to the libraries at Calke Abbey.

Pests and other book related misery (3): getting rid of mould

As promised a while ago, today’s post goes into more detail about the removal of mould from books.

At the beginning of this year, I helped Ian Beaumont (freelance leather conservator) for a day and a half to clean the books in two bookcases in the Library at Kedleston Hall. Fortunately, the mould outbreak was spotted early on, which meant that most books just needed a little precautionary dusting. In a future post, I hope to talk a bit more about the dos and don’ts of book cleaning in general.

First things first: it is impossible to get rid of mould. Spores will always remain in the air and will always settle on surfaces if the conditions are right. Therefore, in an ideal world, one would create an environment which inactivates mould spores. Unfortunately, this is not always possible when books are kept in historic environments.

If the mould outbreak is minimal, a cardboard box lined with a bin liner is fine.

If the mould outbreak is minimal, a cardboard box lined with a bin liner is fine.

Once mould is detected, it is advisable to treat it as if the spores were still active – it is regarded a biohazard which could affect people’s health. Preferably wear disposable vinyl gloves and use a dust mask “conforming to EN149 category FFP2S” (National Trust Manual of Housekeeping, p. 84).


If the outbreak is not serious, it is possible to use a home-made extraction hood and a vacuum cleaner, fitted out with a HEPA (“High Efficiency Particulate Air”) filter. Above is a device I used at Calke Abbey recently. Note that the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner is covered with muslin, which is to stop any loose fragments from bindings being sucked up and to protect fragile surfaces.

Depending on the fragility of the binding, either a pony hair brush or a bristle shaving brush is used to clean the mould off the book in the direction of the vacuum nozzle.


Preparing the operation: taking the books off the shelves!

So, back to Kedleston. Here, the books in one of the cases were (of course!) rather larger than the octavos I cleaned at Calke. The first step was to take them off the shelves and stack them systematically, without disturbing the order of the books. Secondly, the empty shelves were wiped clean with a duster.

Then, Ian set about cleaning the books. Before I get any comments: yes, I know he’s not wearing gloves in these images! However, the book he’s cleaning only needed a dusting, and he most definitely wore them while cleaning the mouldy books…

Books waiting to be cleaned

Books waiting to be cleaned

Book cleaning

Ian cleaning the fore edge of this oblong folio

Using a smoke sponge, Ian gently rubs off some persistent dirt from the front of this book

Using a smoke sponge, Ian gently rubs off some persistent dirt from the front of this book

The actual removal of mould is therefore not rocket science, but needs to be approached with some care and awareness of one’s own health. Moreover, in the case of these eighteenth-century books, specialist knowledge of how to handle and clean them safely (i.e. without damaging them!) was also required.

Therefore, unless you know what you’re doing, when a serious mould outbreak is detected, get in touch with a professional book conservator for specialist advice, for example via ICON’s conservation register.


  • R.E. Child, Mould (London: Preservation Advisory Centre, 2004, revised 2011) []
  • The National Trust, Manual of Housekeeping (London: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006), chapters 8 (Biological agents of deterioration) and 42 (Books)

With thanks to Ian for allowing himself to be photographed 🙂



Mills & Boon at Calke Abbey

Apologies for recycling last post’s image!Title page of a 1920s Mills and Boon

As I mentioned the last time, I had not come across a Mills & Boon to catalogue before, although if it were ever to be found in a historic library, it would have to be in Calke Abbey’s weird and wonderful collection of about 10,000[!] volumes.

Gerald Mills (1877-1928) and Charles Boon (1877-1943) met at Methuen, and set up their own publishing house in 1908. Although Mills & Boon is associated today with romantic fiction of a formulaic nature, the firm initially established itself as publishers of high-quality fiction and non-fiction. Mills had a background in education and focused on signing authors who could write text-books to be used in schools (and so ensure a wide distribution). Until the start of World War I, Mills and Boon were hugely successful in this field.

Joan Sutherland’s romantic fiction set in India may be an indication of the reversal of fortune for the firm in the 1920s. Because of its size, it was unable to compete in the field of literary fiction with larger power houses, such as Methuen and Macmillan, and in fact, Desborough  also seems to have been published by Hodder and Stoughton. From the mid-1920s onwards, the firm focused more and more on romantic, escapist, fiction for women, issuing between two and four new titles every fortnight in the 1930s.


  • Joseph McAleer, ‘Mills,  Gerald Rusgrove  (1877–1928)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press,  2004 [, accessed 3 Jan 2014]
  • Joseph McAleer, ‘Boon,  Charles  (1877–1943)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press,  2004 [, accessed 3 Jan 2014]