Apr 272012

The Drummond Family Crest. Picture courtesy of Undiscovered Scotland http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/

There is a lot written these days (quite rightly) about the threat of closure to our public libraries; but when did the tradition of free lending libraries start, and where?
Others will no doubt be able to identify the first English library (see later on in this post) but this blog is primarily about a remarkable group of buildings north of the border, in Perthshire. There, situated in the tiny hamlet of Innerpeffray, can be found Scotland’s oldest lending library along with a complete collection of educational and religious buildings built (or re-built) by the Drummond family of Strathearn.
The actual library was founded by David Drummond, the Third Lord Madertie who died in 1694 and who was a brother in law of the “Great Marquis of Montrose” the brilliant commander of Charles I in Scotland. Around 1680 he made some 400 books from his private collection available for public use. These books covered almost the entire sum of human knowledge at that time – in English, Latin, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.

The Chapel where the library was originally housed, picture courtesy of http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk

In his will David Drummond left 5000 merks (£277) as an endowment for the new library. In his words, he wanted the library to be maintained “for the improvement and education of the population particularly the young students.” Title passed to his nephew William Drummond, 2nd Viscount Strathallan, who out of respect and affection for his uncle, vested another 5000 merks “as a constant and perpetual stock for the preserving of the said library and maintaining a schoolmaster, and for augmenting the library and building a house . . “.

A trust, entitled the Innerpeffray Mortification, was formed in 1696 to administer the endowment. This Trust, modified over the centuries, looks after the affairs of the library to this day.

For 70 years the library was situated in the loft of St Mary’s Chapel, but in 1762 it moved to a purpose-built building under the patronage of Robert Hay Drummond. He was the Archbishop of York between 1761 and 1766 (and a descendant of Lord Madertie). When he died the Archbishop bequeathed his own collection of books on law, history, geography, mathematics agriculture, the Enlightenment, and social comment – thereby ensuring that the Library’s books covered an incredibly wide range of topics. It is believed that the Archbishop had bought a collection of some 1500 books on the Enlightenment so as to ensure that ‘modern thinkling’ was covered in depth. In all there are some 3000 pre-1800 books on display. The library has a large number of important early Bibles, including a copy of the so-called “Treacle Bible” which was first printed in English in 1568.  Among the oldest printed books held in the collection are a copy of Barclay’s “Ship of Fools” dated 1508 and the Paris edition of Hector Boece’s “Chronicles” printed in 1527. The oldest book dates from 1502 and is a religious treatise “ A mirror on the Final Retribution” by Petrus Reginaldus.

The Library building.



The library went on to have a continuous lending record for over 200 years, lasting up to 1968 when it closed in the face of declining attendances.The first Keeper of Books was Andrew Patoune in 1692. His successor (now also the Library Manager), lives in the schoolhouse, rebuilt in 1847. Although the lending of books ceased in 1968 the building and its collection can still be visited by the public.For further information : tel 01764 652 819 or e-mail info@innerpeffraylibrary.co.uk and see their website at http://www.innerpeffraylibrary.co.uk/index.htm

The chapel where the books were originally displayed is a fascinating example of a collegiate church. Because of its dual status (part religious, part educational) the building was spared the fate of so many buildings at the time of the Reformation. It nowadays houses one of the most poignant examples of a gravestone – the Faichney monument. It was carved by John Faichney, a mason, and commemorates his wife Joanna, who died in 1707 and no fewer than ten of their children who had died before her. The couple are carved on the head of the stone, while the columns on either side of the body of the stone carry small figures depicting each of the ten children. Originally the monument was outdoors, in the churchyard, but was brought inside to protect it from the elements.

And the oldest English Library? Well, there are records of a Library associated with London’s Guild Hall in 1425 but the Library has not survived. There were of course religious and university Libraries dating back much earlier – but they were not open to the general public. Merton College has records of its chained library dating back to 1276, but the books could only be seen by Fellows of the College, not by the general populace. The chained libraries are fascinating – you can find examples linked to religious buildings such as Hereford Cathedral, Wells Cathedral, and an old favourite of mine, at Wimborne Minster in Dorset.

Hereford Cathedral’s seventeenth-century Chained Library is the largest to survive with all its chains, rods and locks intact. A chain is attached at one end to the front cover of each book; the other end is slotted on to a rod running along the bottom of each shelf. The system allows a book to be taken from the shelf and read at the desk, but not to be removed from the bookcase. Oddly the system means that books are stored ‘spine inwards’ – this allows the book to be lifted down and opened without needing to be turned around – thus avoiding tangling the chain.

The Bodleian Library, courtesy of Wikipedia

But by necessity these were not lending libraries, since the books could not be taken from the shelves. The Bodleian Library was opened on 8th November 1602 after its Founder, Thomas Bodley had  ‘set up my staff at the library door in Oxon; being thoroughly persuaded, that in my solitude, and surcease from the Commonwealth affairs, I could not busy myself to better purpose, than by reducing that place (which then in every part lay ruined and waste) to the public use of students’. It was available to the “whole republic of the learned”.

Six years later the City library at Norwich was established, nearly a century and a half before the foundation of the British Museum. Meanwhile Chetham´s Library in Manchester claims to be the oldest public library in the English-speaking world, having opened in 1653. I suppose it all depends on what you define as ‘public’. And incidentally, Parliament passed the Public Library Act in 1850, whereupon libraries began to spread throughout the nation.

But for its sheer charm and intimacy I like the simplicity of Innerpeffray. Admission is no longer free, and the buildings are closed in the winter months (and on Mondays and Tuesdays) but they can rightly claim to be ‘a jewel set deep in the Strathearn countryside’. Go visit!

  One Response to “Innerpeffray: the first free public lending library (in Scotland).”


    There’s an excellent description of a visit to the Library at Annabels Travel Blog at http://anabelsblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/innerpeffray-library-and-the-knock-of-crieff/

    Her site alao has a link to mine (Update 29/4/12 – for a good post on Innerpeffray, see the Georgian Gentleman blog.) […]

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