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From private family book collection to public library, the Bamburgh Library provides a fascinating insight into the reading habits of a family of seventeenth and eighteenth-century churchmen and into the charity with which they became involved.
John Sharp (1645-1714), Archbishop of York and son of a Yorkshire salter, created a large working library to which his sons and grandsons added more books. In 1792, the Archbishop's grandson, another John Sharp, gave the library to the Lord Crewe’s Charity based at Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland coast. Each Saturday for a couple of hours, local clergy and 'well-known housekeepers' were allowed to borrow books from the library, which was held on an upper floor of the Keep. In 1958, the Lord Crewe’s Trustees decided to deposit the early printed books at Palace Green Library, Durham University.
Although the Sharps acquired many volumes soon after publication, a large number of books and pamphlets entered the collection second-hand. Some still bear the marks of previous owners. A series of catalogues and two volumes of borrowers’ registers provide evidence of how the collection was used throughout the nineteenth century.
The Bamburgh Library as a whole is a unique window on the intellectual interests of a single family, whose initial meteoric rise from relatively humble origins led to a profound sense of moral obligation towards the communities in which they were living and working. It shines a light on sixteenth-, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century attitudes towards theology, science and learning against a backdrop of political upheaval and religious controversy. The collection also gives an insight into the role of private libraries as a means of social and political self-advancement through learning. Moreover, the nineteenth-century books added to the library by the Lord Crewe’s Trustees reveal actual or perceived changes in reading habits and interests among the people using the collection.
Lastly, the collection raises questions about the reasons why this family library was donated to a charity, and about local intellectual networks, the workings of the local and national book trade, and the nature of charitable work in the North East.
The collections mentioned above are located at Palace Green Library. Our current opening hours are below.
At the moment, we offer a limited appointment-only service at Palace Green Library and need at least 3 days' notice of your intended visit. Please contact us using our online booking form if you would like to book a research slot.
See separate Libraries and Site Information guide for further information on Palace Green Library.
The collections mentioned in this guide could be useful for a range of academic subjects taught at Durham University. The guides listed below also have information about other relevant resources.