Hidden behind an historic church, down a single track road off a B road in deepest, darkest Perthshire, Scotland is one of the jewels of the library world, The Library of Innerpeffray.
The Library of Innerpeffray is Scotland’s oldest free public lending library founded by David Drummond, 3rd Lord Madertie in 1680. With a collection of approximately 400 books, Drummond set up the library “for the benefit of all.” David Drummond, who also established a free school around the same time – educating the populace to read their bibles was important in post-Reformation Scotland – must have been an extraordinary man. A free library was unprecedented and books in 1680 were very expensive items; donating 400 of them would be akin to donating 400 classic cars today. Drummond’s Will requested that the family continue with the school and library and they set up a trust fund which glories in the name of The Innerpeffray Mortification which still looks after the library today.
The Innerpeffray Mortification has ensured books have been steadily added to the collection over time but, as recently as 2013, the Library received an extraordinarily generous donation, a priceless collection of rare early Scottish books and documents from American bibliophile Janet Burns St. Germain. That the donor chose The little Library of Innerpeffray for this important collection over the Scottish National Library in Edinburgh, or The British Library in London is nothing short of astonishing. Among the collection are The Historie of Scotland (1577), a first edition copy of John Knox’s Historie of the Reformation (1644), a letter and poem written in his own hand by Robert Burns.
No less of a jewel is Lara Haggerty who is the Library Manager and 31st Keeper of Books. Lara has an impressive knowledge of her collection – she can, it seems, put out her hand and pick out something of relevance to you from any shelf and then go straight to the exact page she wants.
Knowing that we came from Australia, Lara showed us first an atlas from the early 1700s which showed Indonesia and a few lines of the northern parts of Australia but otherwise a big white expanse where we now know Australia is. She also brought out “Relations of the most famous kingdoms and common-weales through the world”, printed in 1611 where on the second last page there was an entry for Terra Australis. 1611!
Lara went on to show us all manner of glorious books. On display in a case at the time was Four footed Beastes by Edward Topsell, 1607. Lara was turning the pages over to display a different animal each day. We giggled over Metoposcopie, from Physiognomie, Chiromancie and Metoposcopie, by Richard Sanders, 1653, a manual on how to identify the good and the bad from facial characteristics. Another cabinet contained a display of war-related books including one with step-by-step instructions on loading a musket. Out of a cabinet Lara brought some miniature bibles. In the modern books room (those from the 1800s on), Lara showed us one of her favourite titles “Yankee Girls in Zulu Land“ by Louise Vescelius-Sheldon, published in the late 1880s.
We got to handle, without white gloves, some of these treasures. (The shock on my colleague’s faces when I tell them that!) We were shown, and could feel for ourselves, the difference between the vellum which might be used to cover a book and the vellum, beautifully velvety, which was used for the pages within.
Visitors come from all over the world to take a look at the Borrower’s Registers which record all the local people to who came to choose a book, and take it home to read. It was certainly fascinating to see the names, and occupations, of regular borrowers.
We left Lara after an absolutely fascinating hour and three quarters with a Dutch couple who said they came from Leiden. Without looking up a catalogue or index of any sort, out came a different atlas and Lara was showing them what their town looked like in the late 1600s.
So all you library lovers out there, if you are lucky enough to go to Scotland, make sure you put The Library of Innerpeffray on your itinerary, it will, I guarantee, be a highlight of your trip.