On a particularly chilly day, four weeks ago, Chatsworth played host to a workshop for academics from the University of Sheffield. This day was a crucial part of the Chatsworth Library project, designed to introduce the visiting delegates to the exceptional archive and library collections and to begin the process of developing academic projects around them. Suitable projects will pose and seek to answer interesting and salient research questions about Chatsworth and the Devonshire Collection. They will enable Chatsworth to learn more about its collections, increase engagement between the two institutions and make the collections more accessible to visitors.
The day’s proceedings began in Chatsworth’s own Theatre, created for the Sixth Duke of Devonshire in the nineteenth century. Here delegates were welcomed and introductions took place over tea and coffee. The themes of the day were co-operation and mutual benefit. The delegates received warm welcomes from the Head of Arts and Historic Collections, Matthew Hirst, and project leader, Dr Jane Hodson (University of Sheffield) before getting a crash course in the history and contents of the collections from Archivist & Librarian, James Towe.
Indicating the scale of the resources available, James explained that roughly 6,000 boxes, or 1km, of archival material is stored at Chatsworth, whilst I gave an indication of the sheer size and breadth of the library collection.
The delegates were then split into six groups to examine particular strengths within the library and archive collections. The groups examined:
The Henry Cavendish Collection: scientific papers, notebooks and printed volumes belonging to the greatest experimental scientist of the eighteenth century.
The History of the House, Estates and Cavendish family: a huge archival resource of correspondence, diaries, inventories, account books, travel plans, scrapbooks and other papers relating to family life and estate management over the centuries.
Book history and library history: manuscript catalogues, letters and account records relating to the purchase, inheritance and presentation of books at Chatsworth. The library is a product of over 400 years of collecting at various sites, by various families.
Natural History books: the library is particularly strong in bird and plant books dating back to the sixteenth century.
Pamphlets and Tracts collection: over one thousand individual pamphlets, handbills and broadsides dealing with a whole host of themes and topics, from the drinking of chocolate in the Americas, to political polemics during the English Civil War.
Travel books: a wonderful range of travel narratives, atlases and city plans that taken together leave virtually no corner of earth unexplored.
The six groups were given a small amount of material to indicate the range of resources available and Chatsworth staff were on hand to field questions and to help shape project ideas. The atmosphere was lively and studious throughout the day, even if temperatures were positively frosty. My particular highlight from the sessions was when one delegate – who shall remain nameless – requested to view a book from the shelf that had caught her eye. She was somewhat surprised to discover that Viscountess Mersey’s Liverpool Sound
was one of the faketitles dreamt up by Paddy Leigh Fermor
and with all the will in the world I could not let her examine its pages more closely!
The day was brought to a close with tea, coffee and a plenary session where the day’s ideas were presented and discussed. All groups really engaged with the collections and the prospects for future engagement. It is my sincere hope we will soon see concrete projects being put into place that will be of benefit to Chatsworth, the University and the visiting public.
Thank you to all involved for making the day a success.
Wilfred Jack Rhoden