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4 Oct 2022

Places for book lovers: the best libraries of the Trust

Written by Rheanna-Marie Hall
The library at Haddo House, a large and light room with bookshelves from the floor to the ceiling along the walls, low hanging chandeliers, and tables and chairs. There is a portrait of a woman in a long dress hung above a fireplace.
The library at Haddo House
Discover some of the best libraries at National Trust for Scotland places, from cosy townhouse rooms to castles with towering shelves and hidden chambers.

Our most strikingly photogenic library, Brodie Castle is a book-lover’s dream of rows and rows of book-stuffed shelves. Reading lamps are scattered throughout besides armchairs and sofas. The doors and floor are of imported American oak, and a French bracket clock keeps time.

The impressive library contains over 6,000 volumes. However the room’s origins are humble, though you’d never guess it today: the library was constructed in 1846 out of what had formerly been two storerooms! It’s a comfortable and beloved room in the castle, used often by Major Ian Brodie, 24th Brodie of Brodie and clan chieftain, who is notable for becoming one of the world’s most successful daffodil breeders and creating the incredible daffodil display we see every spring at Brodie. He and his wife Violet would spend their evenings beside the fire, either by themselves or entertaining guests.

The Library at Broughton House

The library at Broughton House is a cosy homely space with personal charm. A floor to ceiling bay window at the back overlooks the Japanese-inspired garden and the harbour is also visible just beyond the wall at the bottom, giving a beautiful view and plenty of natural light to read by. Dark wood bookcases reach to the ceiling, and armchairs are set in front of the fireplace. A wooden step ladder is poised in front of the shelves, in case a volume up high catches the eye. A source of envy and inspiration for anyone who has dreamed of a library in their own home!

E A Hornel is famous for his artistic career. However he was also an avid collector, and he planned for Broughton House to be more than just an artist’s space but also a local archive for research and learning. This included an extensive book collection, which in Hornel’s day was not just confined to the library proper. Bookshelves were even installed in his studio!

Hornel’s library is a collection of two halves: one of the largest private collections of Burns material in the world, including rare first editions, and also a Dumfries and Galloway archive, which is home to all manner of documents and books, from court records to the published journal of a debutante presented to Queen Victoria.

This 19th-century library is home to 4,000 books, and these are the shelves to browse if your interests lie in the classics, law, theology and the Scottish Enlightenment. Shelves filled with volumes line the walls, and above the fireplace is a striking oil painting of the Archangel Gabriel by Hugh Irvine. There are also plentiful family details: the chairs feature needlework of the Irvine and Forbes coats of arms, while mounted above the shelves are the coats of arms of many more of the families with which the Irvines intermarried.

The architecture of its vaulted ceiling and 9ft-thick walls (where the large window is now deep-set) reveal its history as the low hall of the old castle. In fact, it’s the only part of the original Old Tower to be integrated into the Jacobean house, created in the 1840s. Behind the linings and in the depths of the walls are the ‘secret passageways’: really the original tower guarderobe, buttery and a small pantry which are completely inaccessible today. These blocked-up chambers and spaces were uncovered by archaeologists investigating the structure of the Old Tower.

Once a hayloft, and now a splendid 19th-century library! Grand chandelier lights hang from a gilded ceiling, and a marble fireplace adds warmth to cold days. Browse the many books housed in equally beautiful cedar bookcases featuring inlaid ebony detail. Covering the floor is what’s thought to have been the biggest chenille (a type of yarn) carpet in Europe.

In 1877 Haddo House became the country home of the 7th Earl of Aberdeen and his bride Ishbel Marjoribanks. The house underwent refurbishment, of which the new library was part. It was entirely custom built, and much of the design and detail was copied from the London home of Ishbel’s father.

A room designed to still be spectacular under dim light, it’s certainly a welcoming space for autumn and winter evenings.

Shelves and shelves of leather-bound books fill a bookcase wall. The book spines nearly all feature decorative elements in the 'Glasgow Style' from the early 20th century.

Another home library, there are plenty of fine details to admire at the Hill House beside the number of books: carved mosaics and stylised designs, nooks for items tucked away above the fireplace, and even an inbuilt cupboard and writing desk.

The first of the main rooms in the Hill House, the library is just on the right after stepping the entrance, so after a long day it was an easy room for Mr Blackie (original owner of the Hill House) to retreat into, where he could continue his work in the evening and receive callers without disturbing the family.

The library houses an array of Blackie & Son (and their subsidiary company The Gresham Publishing Co) books, either collected by the Trust or donated by the public to fill the shelves. There’s a similar pleasing pattern of bold design and bright block colours to many of the volumes, and that’s because their covers are the work of one man: Talwin Morris, who was the head of Blackie & Son’s Art Department from 1893–1909.

Read more: Talwin Morris

And a special mention ...

Newhailes: the library with no books

It was once famous for having one of the largest private libraries in Europe, and the incredible collection it contained remains one of the most important private collections in Scotland. However, the books live no longer at Newhailes: in lieu of death duties (an inheritance tax), the contents of the Library was offered to the National Library of Scotland in the 1970s, and the shelves now stand bare.

Still a grand space though, the thoughtful architecture and design of the library can be admired. The library wing was added around 1722 and raised on vaulted cellars to protect the its precious contents from damp. Five large east-facing windows let in natural light. The shelves were innovatively made adjustable, and stretch as high as the walls, as well as filling the space around the doors and the chimneypiece. This was certainly a library where you needed ladders!

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