The library at Penrhyn

The library at Penrhyn Castle. The billiard table is made of slate from the nearby quarries. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Mark Purcell, the National Trust’s libraries curator, has just produced an article in The Book Collector about the library at Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd, which has now been fully catalogued. The books at Penrhyn were allocated to the National Trust in lieu of inheritance tax in 2002.

The exterior of the library and the passage to the keep at Penrhyn Castle. ©NTPL/Matthew Antrobus

Like the rest of the house (some of which has been shown in previous posts), the library was designed by the architect Thomas Hopper (1776-1856) in the neo-Norman style. This particular room was inspired by the Norman architecture of the church of St Peter, Tickencote, Rutland. The library still contains a book by John Carter of 1796, Ancient Architecture of England, which illustrates the church.

One of the neo-Norman bookcases in the library. ©NTPL/Michael Caldwell

The house was built for George Hay Dawkins-Pennant (1764-1840), whose wealth came from slaves, sugar and slate. As Mark has found, however, his taste in books, and that of his immediate family and descendants, was not particularly nouveau riche. It is an attractive nineteenth-century gentleman’s library, with a mixture of grand and ordinary books that reflect the family’s interest at the time. 

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The books reflect a number of themes that Mark characterises as: ‘power politics, and high finance; art collecting; geology; a controversial inheritance, based on slaves and slate and on money which some even at the time thought to be tainted; self-sufficiency in reading matter in a remote and mostly Welsh-speaking district.’

5 Responses to “The library at Penrhyn”

  1. Barbara Says:

    Lovely bookcases. Apparently power politics & high finance were deemed as necessary in rural Wales, as they were in bustling London. Then & now. Over here & over there. Some things change, and some things remain the same.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes at the time the Penrhyn estate provided not just employment, but also many of the functions that today would be undertaken by local government, such as the building and maintaining of housing, schools, churches, roads, etc.

    The quarry employed about 3,000 men, and there were 618 farms and 873 cottages on the estate. It was also a kind of multinational company, moving slate, sugar, cotton, and – before Abolition – slaves back and forth across the Atlantic.

  3. Janet Says:

    Funny how one’s personality can be so patently reflected in one’s library. Love the neo-Norman architecture!

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes, Courtney (of Style Court fame) can also wax lyrical about her library and what is says about her. I think it reveals her need for control, as she never lets them grow beyond a certain number 🙂

    Mark has also studied the bookplates in the Penrhyn books, to try to find out who bought and read what. However, he found that they can be very confusing, as later generations sometimes stuck their own bookplates in inherited books. So interesting, but not reliable.

  5. visitinghousesandgardens Says:

    I visited here last week. I’m still not sure if I like it but it might be because I got ‘Victorian house fatigue’ because of how many rooms there are to view. The same happened at Waddesdon. I perked up slightly when I got to the final picture room. I’ll be checking out your posts on the house because no pictures were allowed inside. Do you know why? Is it to do with the paintings?

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