Libraries Week: exploring the private collection at Chatsworth Library

While we’ve been focused on the changes to public library provision in Derby during Libraries Week on Storge it would be a shame to miss out on looking at one of the largest private collections in the country: Chatsworth Library.

Said to include around 30,000 volumes the library at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire has been built up by successive generations of the Cavendish family. It covers topics from natural history, to poetry, from numismatics (coins) to history, and from Latin-language editions of ancient classics to scientific and mathematical texts. It’s said to be best thought of as a number of small libraries collected together, rather than one body as a whole.

Having been curated over centuries many of the books in the collection date back to the earliest days of printing with many being more than 400 years old, some dating before 1501 (known as Incunabula). Collecting books began in the 16th and 17th centuries when the Cavendish’s had their family seat at nearby Hardwick Hall with tutor Thomas Hobbes overseeing the growing library for sometime. The 6th Duke of Devonshire collated the family collections into the current library at Chatsworth in the 19th century and it has continued to grow since.

Of the smaller collections including there is one formerly owned by Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, as well as the huge library of Henry Cavendish, the experimental scientist. There is also a collection of around 3000 pamphlets and ephemera bound into volumes, dating from between 1640 and 1850 and covering topics from politics and religion of the day through to scientific discovery.

While the library contains many volumes with a local focus – including some of the earliest studies of the Peak District and Derbyshire – it’s worth noting that it was when the 7th Duke of Devonshire donated his collection of Derbyshire books and papers to the city in 1878 and a home was needed for them that the first free public library was created in Derby.

Chatsworth is also home to the Devonshire Collection, a vast archive of the family’s papers which includes Bess of Hardwick’s will, letters and a diverse record of eclectic interests over a 400 year period.

Cataloguing of the library is ongoing with the exact size unknown and perhaps secrets still to be discovered in the collection.

Find Chatsworth House:

Read more from Libraries Week:

Find Derby City Library plans on their website here. More information for groups and organisations interested in volunteering to run a library is here.

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