Courtney Barnes recently mentioned the tiered tables known as ‘dumb waiters’ on her blog Style Court. These tables were originally developed in the eighteenth century as convenient pieces of furniture to keep food and drink available in the evening after the servants had been dismissed. The traditional name presumably refers to the tables’ role as mute servants, rather than mentally challenged ones.
I have found another example of such a tiered table in the Book Room at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire. I am not sure whether this particular one was originally used to hold food and was later moved to the library, or whether tiered tables were sometimes specifically made to hold books.
The two main library rooms at Wimpole have a fascinating history. The original Library was created by James Gibbs in the late 1720s to house part of the the huge collection of books and pamphlets of the manic accumulator Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford.
Gibbs also created part of what is now the Book Room by annexing half of the orangery and turning it into an anteroom to the Library. This room was extended in 1806 by Sir John Soane for Philip Yorke, 3rd Earl of Hardwicke. Soane designed the characteristic elliptical arches decorated with paterae, executed by the plasterer John Papworth.
The history of the books at Hardwicke is even more convoluted: almost all of the 2nd Earl of Oxford’s books left Wimpole after his death, but the 1st Earl of Hardwicke brought in his own collection, as well as one inherited from Lord Chancellor Somers. His sons Philip Yorke, the 2nd Earl, and Charles Yorke also added to the books at Wimpole, including a collection inherited by the latter’s wife from Tittenhanger in Hertfordshire.
Philip Yorke, the 3rd Earl, sold some books in 1792 (while simultaneously commissioning Soane to enlarge the Book Room) and Charles ‘Champagne Charlie’ Yorke, the 5th Earl, sold a large part of the library in 1888. In the 20th century Captain and Mrs Bambridge once again added collections of books. These included some rare editions of Rudyard Kipling’s works, Elsie Bambridge being his only surviving child.