This month we visit the Hurd Library at Hartlebury Castle in Worcestershire. Thanks to Sarah Stretton and Chris Penney for contributing the article and photograph.
The Hurd Library: “Infinite riches in a little room”
The Hurd Library, in Hartlebury Castle, is one of the West Midlands’s most delightful and relatively undiscovered historical jewels. It is the only existing eighteenth century Anglican Bishop’s library that remains on its original shelves in the room that was built for it. It is the product of one man’s enterprise and interest: Richard Hurd, Bishop of Worcester. Richard Hurd’s life was one enthralled by learning. He was a scholarly man with a great love of books and learning.
Despite its being an Anglican Bishop’s library, the subjects represented in the collection are diverse. Whilst religious books are well represented in the library, subjects such as travel, medicine, botany, poetry, drama, Greek, Latin and science also feature strongly. Hurd was keen to establish his library as a “classic” library. The majority of the collection can be dated from the seventeenth and, principally, the eighteenth century, but there are also many from the sixteenth and some from the nineteenth century. The earliest book in the library collection, and only incunabulum, is the Legenda Aurea or Golden Legend, printed in Lyon in 1476, which is one of only 6 copies in existence.
The Library was built in 1782. In 1781, Richard Hurd was promoted to the See of Worcester and when he arrived at his new home, Hartlebury Castle, he was dismayed to discover that there was no existing library to house his substantial collection of nearly 3000 volumes. In a letter to his close friend, Dr Thomas Balguy, he dryly remarked that building a library was “one of the many embarrassments we draw upon ourselves by accepting bishoprics.” As soon as the library was finished, it acquired a reputation for excellence and many of Hurd’s friends sent him books to add to his library. The greatest of these friends was King George III who was a huge supporter of Hurd. In 1782 and 1805, he made two large gifts of books to the library, many of which are embossed with the royal arms. The collection now stands at nearly 5000 volumes, the majority of which were added prior to Hurd’s death in 1808.
The substantial collection that Hurd installed at Hartlebury was not all of his own assembly. The collection is made up of the libraries of four notable eighteenth-century men: Hurd, Ralph Allen, Alexander Pope and William Warburton. In 1749 Hurd embarked on the most influential friendship of his life, with William Warburton, later to be the Bishop of Gloucester. In his edition of Horace’s Am Poetica Hurd modelled his editorial style on Warburton’s, complimenting him as the “illustrious friend and commentator of Mr Pope”. In his lifetime, Warburton acquired the libraries of both Pope and Allen by the means of friendship and marriage. Upon Warburton’s death in 1779, Hurd purchased his library for the sum of £350. Many of the highlights of the library’s holdings come from the library of Pope or Warburton, including several books with noteworthy double provenances, for example, a 1611 copy of Spenser’s work owned by Pope and John Dryden, and a 1543 Latin and Greek New Testament given to Pope by Jonathan Swift.
Bishop Hurd was a shrewd man, for in his will he left the “use of all my books” in perpetuity to all succeeding Bishops of Worcester, and the library is currently held in trust by the Church Commissioners on behalf of the Bishop.
The library is staffed by Honorary Hurd Librarian, Christine Penney, who was appointed to the post in 2009 by the Bishop of Worcester, the Right Reverend John Inge. She is supported by a dedicated team of volunteers who assist in the day to day care of the books and help guide on public tours. For a period of 15 months, the library is also being supported by Sarah Stretton a Heritage Lottery Funded Graduate Trainee, who is shared with the University of Worcester Research Collections. The focus of Sarah’s work is on the Hurd manuscripts and increasing access to these documents.
Sarah Stretton: Graduate Trainee at The Hurd Library at Hartlebury Castle and University of Worcester Research Collections