The Library: Antique Volumes

Having already blogged about my love of books, I thought I’d put together a post about the small number of antique volumes which form part of my ruin-related library.


Between the aged covers of these old books I have found tantalizing references to some of the ruins I’ve explored. There is something compelling about leafing through pages over a century old and being greeted by a view of one of the houses I know so well, its bygone resplendence immortalized in an old photograph or etching from a time when its longevity seemed unquestionable.

When wandering the stripped and overgrown caverns of abandoned mansions, I often find it difficult to visualize them as the grand inhabited palaces they once were. But these books act as the physical evidence testifying a ruin’s former life as a home.

I can’t help but think of books’ own former lives too. I love to think about how many hands they have passed through over the years, and how they came to journey from one owner to another. I wonder about the people who’ve poured over their pages before me, and of all the different bookcases they may have been found on at one time or another. I like to imagine that one or two may even have inhabited a country house library at some point in the past.

The oldest book in my collection could well have been a staple among the landed gentry of the early 19th Century. John Claudius Loudon’s A Treatise on Forming, Improving and Managing Country Residences was printed 207 years ago, and addresses the issues involved in the creation of an estate befitting a noble proprietor.

It was published in 1806, around the same time as Loudon was exercising his skills as a landscape gardener and architect at Barnbarroch House for the Vans Agnews. The book contains two superb depictions of how his proposed scheme would transform the house and grounds, creating a ‘before and after’ effect to showcase his expert capabilities.

The most recent additions to my little collection are two volumes on Fife, printed in 1869 and 1895. I tracked these down shortly after my revisit to Crawford Priory last month, unearthing one in Edinburgh’s Old Town Bookshop. This was every book hunter’s treasure trove; the floor to ceiling shelves bursting with diverse and obscure titles.

In addition to views of the Priory in its heyday, each book contains a description of the building far more in-depth than any contemporary account I have read. Reading the detailed descriptions of its interior somehow brings a piece of the house back to life in my imagination, and I love how these old books are able to recall what has long faded into obscurity.

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