Four hundred years ago, the owners of Kingston Lacy had been ousted by the Roundheads, from Corfe Castle. Brave Dame Mary fought to protect the Castle while her husband, Sir Bankes, was working in Oxford with the King. Sadly, Mary was defeated, but only after a three month fight with more than 400 soldiers loyal to Cromwell against the Crown.
Brave Woman Battles
Because of her bravery, Mary was rewarded by being released alive. So, in 1663, while the turrets of Corfe Castle were being unceremoniously dismantled with cannon balls and axes, Mary’s new home, Kingston Lacy, was being constructed.
Kingston Lacy’s library originally housed over a thousand books
For those readers keen enough to download that many onto their Kindle, a thousand doesn’t seem that high. Back then, just prior to the Renaissance period, books were considered a precious commodity and a rich man’s hobby.
When Kingston Lacy was bequeathed to the National Trust, the library was diligently restored along with the furnishings and décor
National Trust Treasures
As I stood in that room and watched the National Trust restorers slide crisp white sheets away from the old furniture, I thought of my own precious books. Today, they are stored in boxes in a damp garage somewhere in the middle of the country. My collection easily consists of over a thousand books while my Kindle, to date, holds eight hundred and forty-nine.
Many of the physical bound books have travelled with me from childhood, my favourite being a couple of hardbacks. One, the original 1977 version of the Children’s Bible, and another is an old battered version of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty that hasn’t even got a publishers date in the opening leaf. Inside the front cover of both books, the names of all my pets was scrawled by a little girl’s hand – mine. A deed, today, I would consider a violation – comparable to tattooing a baby.
Other books in my collection have been packed away, only to be unpacked like presents at Christmas time when I found a home to settle in long enough for me to build bookshelves to house them all
Folio Society Fan
In reality, there have been only two times I’ve had the pleasure of putting them all on display. Once, in Scotland, where I fell in love and hoped to marry the love of my life and another time, in Staines, soon after I realised that dream was almost akin to the Folio Society’s beautifully bound collection of Grimm’s fairy tales I had bought a few years before.
In Scotland, my books were housed in the big attic space. I cleared the tiny window of cobwebs and unpacked my boxes, laying them on their sides so the boxes themselves provided the bookshelves on which they would sit for the next seven years. In Staines, I treated them to an Ikea package, white melamine with glass doors. Four of them, lined up tall and proud like soldiers guarding the wall of my one-bedroomed rented flat.
Wherever I go
Whatever part of the world I find myself in, I hope to always have books beside me. A house without books, I feel, can be soulless and empty and I will always strive to have them surround me with their knowledge and power, wallpapering the room with their colourful spines.
When I look at old houses like Kingston Lacy I think of the owners, after their tumultuous life they are now peacefully laid in their graves and I often muse upon a headstone on my own: a little spot in one of England’s green churchyards. The romantic in me imagines it to be styled as an open book with an epitaph fittingly carved into it that says…
“A woman who loved the learning books offered throughout the life her soul inhabited the body that lies beneath.”
Today, except for a selection of educational text books and entertaining tomes such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and Jane Eyre’s biography, alas most are confined back in boxes. There they sit, sealed inside plastic bin bags.
Perhaps, one day, if I put up enough of a fight, as Brave Dame Mary did over 400 years ago, like the books she relocated to Kingston Lacy, perhaps my own books will finally find shelves to sit proudly upon. Until then, they patiently wait to be uncovered and renovated again.