Tending to the books at Townend

Conservators at work in the Townend library. ©National Trust

I recently spotted this image of a trio of book conservators seemingly completely absorbed in their work at Townend, in Cumbria (via the National Trust Libraries and NTTownend Facebook pages).

A selection of improving books from the Townend library. ©NTPL/Graham Edwards Photography 2004

Caroline Bendix is compiling a database recording details of existing damage to the books, Helen Golding Miller is carrying out small repairs in situ and Nicholas Pickwoad is looking at the volumes that need to go away for studio conservation.

Townend's vernacular Lake District architecture. ©NTPL/Matthew Antrobus

This project has been made possible by a £40,000 grant from the Wolfson Foundation, with match funding from the National Trust.

Title page of an anti-slavery tract published in 1817, in the library at Townend. ©NTPL/Graham Edwards Photography 2004

Townend is a rare survival of a Cumbrian yeoman farmhouse dating from the seventeenth century.

The kitchen at Townend. ©NTPL/Rob Talbot

The house was inhabited by the Browne family for over four hundred years. They were sheep farmers who prospered through careful management and advantageous marriages.

Pages from 'The Merry Musician; or a Cure for the Spleen', published in 1716, in the Townend library. ©NTPL/Graham Edwards Photography 2004

The house contains the gradual, evocative accretion of posessions. The small library is a fascinating record of the interests and preoccupations of successive generations of the family.

12 Responses to “Tending to the books at Townend”

  1. Parnassus Says:

    I love every detail of that kitchen, but especially those large flags on the floor–are they slate?

    About the book conservation, were the books damaged in some way, such as a flood or fire, or just suffering from general age? I am especially glad there there are programs to provide funds for book restoration. It seems that more and more people think that a copy or photo is as good as the original book, and do not understand the importance of keeping and preserving original volumes.
    –Road to Parnassus

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Parnassus, I have asked the custodian at Townend the answers to those questions and we will let you know.

    Yes our libraries curator Mark Purcell is passionate about books as objects, i.e. with evidence of their use, bookplates, inscriptions, particular bindings etc, which all tell their own stories in addition to the printed text.

  3. Chris Hogg (House Steward - Townend) Says:

    The floor in the Kitchen or Downhouse is slate, there are alot of quarries (sometimes quites small ones) in the area and the slate probably came from there.

    The books were not damaged in any sort of disaster (natural or otherwise), but have suffered the effects of gravity over many years and making them bookshoes, as well as doing general repairs should extend their lifespan.

    I hope this is helpful

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks very much for those answers Chris – true vernacular architecture, using local materials.

    And yes ‘gravity’ is an apt description of the general wear and tear of age. My heavy cold is making me, too, feel the force of gravity today…:)

  5. Parnassus Says:

    Thank you (both Emile de Bruijn and Chris Hogg) for taking the trouble to reply to my questions. I am happy that this beautiful estate is in such capable and responsive hands.

  6. CherryPie Says:

    That looks like such a fascinating place and collection.

  7. Códice Calixtino Says:

    Incredible, it is amazing.

  8. Jim Says:

    Something that might help in the restoration process can be found at:


    I build inexpensive binding equipment and thought you would be interested in this in-situ repair book holder that I build.

    If you don’t have anything like this for in-situ repairs, I think you willl find it very useful.

    affordable binding equipment

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Jim.

  10. Kristine Kowalchuk Says:


    Are there any recipe manuscripts in the Townend collection?

    Thank you!
    Kristine Kowalchuk
    University of Alberta
    Edmonton, Canada

  11. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Kristine, I will try to find out.

  12. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Kristine, I consulted my colleague Mark Purcell, our libraries curator, and he told me how to find such information via the COPAC libraries website (http://copac.ac.uk/search): select ‘Main Search’, enter ‘cookery’ or ‘recipes’ in the ‘Subject’ box, enter ‘Townend’ in the ‘Keyword’ box, and under ‘Library’ select ‘National Trust’.

    You may also want to join the National Trust Libraries group on Facebook, where Mark disseminates interesting facts and links about our libraries and chats with the other keen and knowledgeable group members.

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