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.
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.
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.
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, 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.