Libraries have always been an essential part of my life and my being. My love of history is traced to books. My desire to keep learning is fueled by books. And my curiosity and imagination continue to be inspired by books. The 2nd Earl Spencer had his own fascination with the printed word and upon inheriting Spencer House after his father’s death, created a library equaling the finest public and royal libraries in Europe. He was the first president of the Roxburghe Club (an exclusive bibliophilic organization), founded in 1812, and throughout his lifetime collected some 40,000 volumes—among them the Gutenberg Bible, the Mainz Psalter and more than fifty rare works of William Caxton. In 1828, artist Benjamin Robert Haydon stood dumbfounded at the bookshelves, which he described to include, “first editions, vellum copies, rare Boccacios, unaccountable Dantes, impossible to be found Virgils, and not to be understood first editions of Homer.”
When I stood in the library at the real Spencer House in London, I could envision Haydon’s amazement at the time. I pictured the Earl and his friends discussing great literary finds while sipping port and puffing on Spanish cigars. I even fancied myself sinking into one of the comfy Regency chairs with a leather-covered classic. I imagine similar scenes every time I look into the Spencer House library in the gallery but, I must say, my amazement is with the stunning pieces in miniature that were re-created for this room.
The mantle itself is a work of art by Kevin Mulvany and Susie Rogers, who built Spencer House in 1/12 scale. Their mantle is actually a replica of the 1980s marble replica that exists in the real Spencer House today. The original, installed by Henry Holland in the 1780s, was dismantled and moved to the Spencer’s country estate, Althorp, during the war in 1942. The miniature mantle was made out of wood by Kevin. Susie applied clay which she carved after hardening and then painted the mantle to resemble marble. While many items in Spencer House were crafted using the same materials as the originals, the grain of real marble, explained Kevin, is too large and would not have looked authentic.
The large mirror over the mantle was created by Mulvany & Rogers to mimic the lavish giltwood and gesso original. The partitions were meant to secure the rectangular plates of glass within the piece, but aesthetically they contribute to the neoclassical style prevalent throughout this magnificent mansion. The brass chandelier with tulip-shaped glass globes is another exact replica of items in Spencer House and is by J.C. Martin of Once d’Art in France.
The circular mahogany library table by Tarbena and Michael Walton’s Pembroke table (on which Nicole Walton Marble’s lion, which is carved from antique ivory, rests) are both historically accurate re-creations. The bookcases were made by English artisan Mark Gooch and are replicas of the early 1800s mahogany versions, which were remarkable to see in person. Another of Mark’s pieces is the Thomas Sheraton drop leaf library table that I topped with a neoclassical-style lamp by Tony Jones. Made from stained pear and boxwood, the design is taken from the pages of Sheraton’s 1793 The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book, and if you look closely, you’ll see steps which pull out from the drawer space. Many library furnishings of this time were designed to help access upper-level shelves of books. Mark’s superior re-creation of Sheraton’s table has carved legs with square brass feet on castors and a finish of French polish. You can see it fully extended here.
Another French artisan featured in the Spencer House library is Pierre Mourey who made the bronze statue of Atlas with the globe on his back. It is a terrestrial globe showing the meridians and parallels and moves as a real globe would. The 1778 original does not exist in Spencer House, but does reside in another famous library in the Palace of Versailles. I placed it here because I thought it added interest to the space. The same goes for the lovely swan sofa by Suzanne Russo. It’s not original to Spencer House, but I loved how it looked here. I placed Le Chateau Interiors green porcelain bowl in this room because when I visited Spencer House, they had a similar decorative arts piece on the library table and I wanted to remain true to their styling.
I admire so much about this particular room. The soft light and sage green striped wallpaper create the perfect warmth and ambiance for a library and the lithographs in the real Spencer House reminded me of the religious background of my own ancestors. I could stare into this room for hours and I’m so pleased to be able to give you a glimpse into one of Europe’s most notable 18th century libraries. I hope you will grab a good book, big or small, and delight in it as the Earl and his friends once did so long ago.