We recently purchased an illustrated book on birds, published by William Hayes in 1794. The book shows the rare and exotic birds that were kept in the menagerie at Osterley Park in the late eighteenth century. The acquisition was generously supported by the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries.
At this time Robert Child, who had inherited Osterley Park in 1763 from his brother Francis, together with the Child banking fortune, was actively developing the garden. Its principal attraction was the menagerie, a wooded and walled area on the north-eastern side of the park.
A contemporary visitor described the menagerie as the ‘prettiest place [she] ever saw, ‘tis an absolute retreat, & filld with all sorts of curious and scarce Birds and Fowles, among the rest 2 numidian cranes that follow like Dogs, and a pair of Chinese teale that have only been in England before upon the India paper…’.
William Hayes, an ingenious local artist, made drawings of the most unusual specimens. These were hung in the library at Upton House, Warwickshire, another Child property, where there was also a collection of stuffed birds.
Hayes, having fallen on hard times, employed some of his 21 children to help him engrave and colour the plates for Portraits of Rare and Curious Birds, which he published in 1794. Special coloured proofs were made for Robert Child’s widow Sarah, then Lady Ducie, which she hung in one of the rooms of the Menagerie House at Osterley.
After Lady Ducie’s death the menagerie was not kept up on the same scale, but in 1802 it was still noteworthy and attractive enough for members of the Academy Club, including John Soane, Joseph Nollekens, Johann Zoffany, Benjamin West and other artists and architects to go there for a summer outing.
Eventually, however, the menagerie disappeared. The spectacular contents of the library at Osterley were sold in 1885, raising £13,000 which enabled the family to repair and modernise the house. Osterley was given to the National Trust in 1949 (other posts about it can be found here).
During the last few years National Trust curators have made a number of purchases of individual books from the lost library, which will help to explain what it contained and how it was used.
The presence of the Hayes book at Osterley demonstrates the integrated nature of country house collections. Libraries often related to the other collections in the house, to its architecture and to the garden and the wider estate – something also seen in a recent post about the library at Penrhyn Castle.