Extremely rare book collection donated to Trinity’s Wren Library

Joanna Taylor 18 December 2016

A private collection of English literary classics has been bequeathed to Trinity College’s Wren library. 

7,500 books were left to the library by Mary the Duchess of Roxburghe, making it one of the largest bequests in history. 

The collection includes first editions from Tennyson and Byron, both of whom were students at Trinity, complete with handwritten notes. 

Books annotated by Oscar Wilde and William Beckford were also found in the collection, as well as works from Wordsworth, Dickens, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. 

A hand-written letter from George Washington and a piece of Voltaire’s dressing-gown are also amongst its treasures.

Some of the items are so obscure that they cannot be found in any other library, whilst around 200 were not previously known to scholars. 

The Duchess of Roxburghe passed away in 2014. Both her father, Robert Crewe-Milnes, and grandfather, Richard Monckton, studied at Trinity before embarking on political careers. 

She was also great-aunt to Bamber Gascoigne, ex-Magdalene student and presenter of University Challenge for 25 years. 

The collection was kept at West Horsley Place, a stately home in Surrey which, along with its other contents, passed to Gascoigne on her death. 

It has been described by Trinity’s Librarian, Dr Nicolas Bell as “one of the most important private collections in Britain, which offers untold discoveries” and was amassed between the 1830s and early twentieth century. 

The books are available for viewing by appointment for researchers, with a few selected items on display in the library. Some of the works have been added to the Wren Digital library as well as its online catalogue. 

Trinity have posted a video to their YouTube channel offering more information.