Jacobean Travelling Library

Jacobean Travelling Library in the Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds Library 

Introduced by Barty Brotherton-Ratcliffe and Emma Balch

A couple of weeks ago I met up with Barty Brotherton-Ratcliffe, owner of Bartrums, Hay-on-Wye’s stationery shop. He was just back from a visit to Leeds (my home city) where he’d been for the official opening of The John Brotherton-Ratcliffe room in The Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery at the University of Leeds Library.

Thanks to a legacy from Barty’s uncle, John (Jack) Brotherton-Ratcliffe (himself the great-nephew of the philanthropist Lord Brotherton of Wakefield, who built the beautiful circular library building at Leeds University at his own expense) and a Heritage Lottery Grant, some of the special books and rare manuscripts in the Leeds University Library are now on display, with free entry into the climate-controlled room.


The Brotherton Library, University of Leeds

Barty showed me photos of one of the highlights of the collection: a fabulous Jacobean Travelling Library. Designed to appear, when closed, as a large folio volume, it is leather-bound and contains three shelves with 40 miniature books bound in vellum with coloured fabric ties.

Stella Butler, University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection, has said of this book treasure: “The Jacobean Travelling Library – one of only four made – dates from 1617 and is one of the most curious items in the Brotherton Collection. The miniature books are contained in a wooden case disguised to look like a large book. It’s essentially a 17th century e-book reader such as a Kindle.’


Gold-tooling on the spine of each volume picks out a flower and a wreath while all the covers are embellished with a golden angel carrying a scroll that reads Gloria Deo, Glory to God. Sheet of vellum has been affixed onto the inside of the front cover upon which, between arches, architectural details and four grand Corinthian columns, a catalogue of the small books has been painted.  The arms of the Madden family appear beneath the catalogue, suggesting the little library may have been a gift to a member of that family.  The books, which appear to be in remarkably good condition given their age,  are mainly classical texts on philosophical, theological and historical themes but there are also some works of poetry.  Classical authors feature heavily with works by Cicero, Julius Caesar, Seneca, Horace, Virgil and Ovid included.

The little library is thought to have been commissioned by William Hakewill MP for a friend around 1617 or 1618.  Hakewill, who at various times sat in Parliament for seats in Cornwall and Buckinghamshire, was a cousin of Sir Thomas Bodley, founder of Oxford’s Bodleian Library and author of one of the first manuals of parliamentary procedure, The Manner How Statutes are Enacted in Parliament by Passing of Bills, published in 1641.  He was at the pinnacle of his political career at the point at which he commissioned the little library, having been appointed Solicitor General to Queen Anne, wife of James I, in 1617.   During the next few years, Hakewill commissioned three further similar travelling libraries which are now kept in the British Library, the Huntington Library California and the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio.

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If you’re in Hay, pop into Bartrums and ask Barty to tell you more about the Jacobean Travelling Library and other unique and curious books in the collection. If you’re in Leeds, do visit the new Treasures of the Brotherton Library. Entry is free and it is open to the public. Opening hours are: Monday 1pm-5pm, Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm.



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