Placement Spotlight: Lanhydrock House, National Trust

I recently completed a placement with the National Trust at Lanhydrock House in Cornwall. I have been researching the library at Lanhydrock for the past three years (the reading practices and book-use of its seventeenth-century owners are the topic of my PhD) so the placement was a way to take my research in a different direction and approach the material with a fresh perspective.

After some preliminary meetings with Dr Charlotte Newman the collections manager at Lanhydrock, it was determined that I would create and develop content for future exhibitions within the ‘Long Gallery’- the space in which the books are now housed. This comprised of a general introduction to the 3800 books within the collection and its formation/changes over time, then an introduction to the main themes therein. The themes ranged from theology to witchcraft, and I gave brief introductions to the books that best exemplified these themes or had particularly striking examples of marginal annotations. I needed to consider Lanhydrock’s visitor profile when making my selections and write in accordance with the Trust’s style guidelines. Writing for a different (non-specialised) audience was fun, if a surprisingly challenging experience. I also soon realised just how much went into planning exhibitions in country houses. The process often takes years and I particularly enjoyed meeting with regional and national curators and conservators to evaluate the stability of the books selected for future display and their conservation needs. For early-modern and medieval books to be displayed safely (without damaging the material) a range of things need to be considered - from the opening angle of the book, the type of cradle, strapping and text block supports used, to the levels of light and relative humidity.

The placement was hugely enjoyable and working closely with the House and Collections team gave me a much greater insight into the management of country houses and the way organisations like the National Trust function. Balancing the needs of visitors against the conservation requirements of the collections is a constant process and one that requires a great amount of skill and a specialised understanding of both audience and collection.

Though it will be a couple of years before the books are out on display in the Long Gallery there are some exciting things planned in the house and grounds at large and I would advise everyone to get down to Cornwall (it’s lovely in the summer).

For those thinking of undertaking a placement, I would say that organising one that was closely aligned to existing research interests proved hugely rewarding. The experience gave me new insights into a collection I thought I had worked through holistically and will prove exceptionally valuable in the final stages of the PhD.