A Gilded Age cottage in Cambridgeshire

Regency-period wheelbarrow in the Library Anglesey Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Regency-period wheelbarrow in the Library Anglesey Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

I have just seen a copy of the newly published Treasures from Lord Fairhaven’s Library at Anglesey Abbey, written by Mark Purcell, William Hale and David Pearson. The authors describe the extraordinary collection of books assembled at Anglesey Abbey by Huttleston Broughton, 1st Lord Fairhaven (1896-1966) between the 1920s and the 1960s.

The south front of Anglesey Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

The south front of Anglesey Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

Lord Fairhaven was the eldest son of Urban Hanlon Broughton (1857-1929), an Anglo-American sanitation and mining entrepreneur, and Cara Rogers (1867-1939) the daughter of Henry Huttleston Rogers (1840-1909), an American oil, gas, copper and railway tycoon. Rogers was an exponent of the rise of the monopolistic businessman in late nineteenth-century America, which saw him and other ruthless titans like John D. Rockefeller, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan amass stupendous fortunes.

The Library at Anglesey Abbey, with its infinity mirrors and William Kent-designed silver chandeliers. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Library at Anglesey Abbey, with its infinity mirrors and William Kent-designed silver chandeliers. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Although this book is strictly speaking about Fairhaven’s library, it also clearly shows how his tastes more generally were shaped by his American plutocratic background. The appearance of Anglesey Abbey and its gardens reflects the ideas of Gilded Age arbiters of taste such as Edith Wharton (1862-1937). Anglesey Abbey is, in effect, a Gilded Age ‘cottage’ preserved in the Cambridgeshire Fens.

Regency rococo revival mantle clock by James McCabe in the Library. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Regency rococo revival mantle clock by James McCabe in the Library. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Fairhaven loved British art and architecture, and he had the ancient Anglesey Abbey – latterly used as a farmhouse – carefully restored and – in phases – extended. But the interiors were done up lavishly, complete with fitted carpets and central heating, relatively rare at the time. And he gradually filled the house with a very fine, if also very personal, collection of paintings, bronzes, tapestries, furniture, clocks and books.

The library desk, said to have come from Houghton Hall and possibly used by Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The library desk, said to have come from Houghton Hall and possibly used by Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Library, as described in this book, ‘is a slightly modernised 1930s take on the historicist style in vogue in Britain and America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – with just a hint of Gotham City and the Bat Cave.’ This book once again triumphantly proves the point (previously made by Mark Purcell here and here, for instance) that books are not just information carriers but also biographical, social and cultural signifiers.

5 Responses to “A Gilded Age cottage in Cambridgeshire”

  1. Susan Walter Says:

    The ‘hint of Gotham City and the Bat Cave’ remark reminds me of Charles Bedaux and Candé — it’s that juxtaposition of historicism and gadgets.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes indeed, same period. But also, particularly in the Library at Anglesey Abbey, a hint of the sublime in the scale and the grandeur of it.

  3. Susan Walter Says:

    I wonder if they knew one another? I bet they didn’t like each other if they did meet. Fairhaven would have thought Bedaux was a conman of some sort, on the make (which in some ways was not far off the mark…)

  4. Mia Marlowe Says:

    Love this stuff! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Susan, yes they could have met – similar in some ways, very different in others.

    Mia, thanks!

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