The Library

The Library is the first of the rooms on what is known as the private side of the house. The plasterwork frieze, with its intertwining fronds of palm and laurel leaves, is an intentional compliment to the great masters of literature whose works fill the bookcases below.

Although 1,500 books and much manuscript work were destroyed in the fire of 1925, books were brought from other parts of the house to form the nucleus of a new family library. The present collection, of some 3,500 volumes covering eight languages, is rare in quality and includes a first edition of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia and first editions of Milton, Keats, Shelley and four volumes by Luther, printed in 1546.

In addition to the great classics, space has been found for more contemporary literature. There is a collection of works by Rudyard Kipling who signed the volumes for his god-daughter, Meriel Lyttelton; a complete collection of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack collected by three generations of the family all of whom were presidents of the M.C.C.; signed editions by Francis Brett Young, godfather to the 11th Viscount Cobham, and a signed copy of Princess Grace of Monaco’s The Story of Flowers, given to commemorate her visit to Hagley in 1980.

George, 1st Lord Lyttelton, was a well-known patron of the Arts and was the dedicatee of Fielding’s Tom Jones. The poet William Shenstone lived nearby at The Leasowes and Lord Lyttelton commissioned an urn in his honour which now stands on the lawn behind the house. A seat in the park was dedicated to James Thomson who wrote in his epic poem, ‘The Seasons”, an encomium in praise of Hagley Park. Above the slope to the east of the house, Lord Lyttelton commissioned a further seat to be named after Milton.

The centrepiece of the Library is the portrait of Alexander Pope which hangs over the fireplace. In this portrait painted in 1718 by Jonathan Richardson, Pope is seen with his ‘Great Danish dog’ named Bounce. George Lyttelton was a great admirer of his work and while still a schoolboy at Eton was mimicking his style. Pope is known to have visited Hagley and to have advised in the early stages of the landscaping of the Park.

The busts of Spenser, Shakespeare, Dryden and Milton by Scheemakers in the broken pediments of the bookcases were left by Pope to Frederick, Prince of Wales; on the latter’s death in 1752 they were bequeathed to Lord Lyttelton.

The most notable piece of furniture is the galleried tripod tea table, inlaid with pewter, of 1742 by John Channon. The stools are covered with tapestry designed and embroidered by the present Lord Cobham’s mother.

Every fireplace in the house is different, both in style and medium, and each one has been designed to enhance the decoration of the room as a whole. Within the laurel on this fireplace rests a small carving of Dr Keate, who was known as the flogging headmaster of Eton College. His presence was no doubt to remind the younger members of the family what fate might befall them, were they not to behave. On the chimneypiece sits a Louis XVI ormolu mantel clock by Boucher of Paris.

The pictures of the 1st Lord Lyttelton’s family and their forbears hang against gilt embossed paper simulating Spanish leather hangings.