Wednesday, 10 October 2012

19th Century Literary Gem ‘Found’ at Harewood Book Shop

A recent donation of books to the Harewood House Second Hand Book Shop started a search into the story of a family history that rocked 19th century Georgian Society and provides a fascinating insight into the lives of those who played a part in the life and inspirations of the renowned romantic poet, Lord Byron.


Harewood House, the family seat of the Earl and Countess of Harewood and award winning visitor destination, opened a second hand book shop in Summer 2011, to encourage reading for members and visitors alike, and additionally to generate funds to support educational projects at Harewood.  Run by volunteers, all the books are donated by local supporters of the project and the bookshop provides a peaceful place to browse and buy for all visitors.

Recently, a local lady donated a selection of books she inherited with the purchase of a London house in the 1970s. Upon checking the books, (some dating back to the early 1800s) some inscriptions were noticed and researched, and the intriguing history of their original owner, Augusta Leigh and her ancestors, has been revealed.

Augusta Leigh was the half sister of Lord Byron and the purported incestuous love-interest behind his departure to fight in Greece never to return.  Augusta had seven children, one of whom, Elizabeth Medora, was thought by many to be Byron’s love-child. Augusta’s husband Colonel George Leigh, had already endured his own scandal when as equerry to the Prince of Wales, he cheated the Prince over the sale of a horse and fiddled his own regimental expenses.  He was dismissed and his family endured a life of poverty and shame, however, for the last 33 years of her life Augusta was granted residence in a grace and favour apartment at St James’ Palace.

Of the books donated ‘The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington’ had been inscribed “Augusta Leigh, St James’ Palace” and another ‘Trimmer’s Fabulous Histories’ is inscribed lovingly by Augusta to ‘Henry Francis Leigh from his dear Mamma on his birthday, January 28th 1828.’  Henry Francis married in 1845 but sadly died aged just 33 leaving behind his wife Mary and daughter Geraldine. Mary went on to re-marry and have two further children Letitia and Herman with her new husband James Landon, a cotton merchant.

The family story continues with two delightful sets of miniature ‘Lilliputian Library’ books inscribed by these three children in 1864.  The condition of the books and the provenance of their owners, have raised the value of these books which are eventually to be auctioned, with the blessing of their original donor, to provide further funds towards educational projects at Harewood.

Audrey Kingsnorth, a volunteer at Harewood who was instrumental in bringing the Second Hand Book Shop to Harewood added: “It has been a thrilling exercise to learn so much about this family through their treasured books and we are continuing with our research.  I consulted an expert seller who advised that the Lilliputian Library books are rare in such good condition. We eventually intend to put the collection as a whole up for sale but have decided to display them for the time being in the bookshop for everyone to enjoy.”

Harewood House second-hand bookshop within the Harewood House Grounds is open every day 11.00am to 3pm, usual admission prices to Harewood House grounds apply.

Proceeds from the book shop are channelled back into the Trust, benefiting education, the gardens, the bird garden, and the house and collections. It is located within the heart of the visitor facilities in Terrace Cottage situated next to the Adventure Playground. 

Harewood has already set the standard in promoting literacy with their regular series of storytelling events and talks on a wide range of subjects, and the book shop fits nicely into Harewood’s ethos as an educational charitable trust, promoting the joys of all things literary. Money raised by Bookshop sales has already funded a new Learning Garden which is now a resource for schools. 

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