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Bookbinder turns book-finder at Sibton Park

Posted by Jonathan Broom on 20 September 2018
Related property: Sibton Park
Bookbinder turns book-finder at Sibton Park

We all know about Kent’s literary connections – what with Dickens, HG Wells et al. But holidaymaker Ed King got more than he bargained for recently, while on holiday at Sibton Park.

About half a mile north of the village of Lyminge, Sibton Park is a Grade II-listed country house set in 43 acres of parkland (as the name implies). The house appears to date from about 1602 – though it has been altered and added to many times over the years.

Improvements have been made, too – as you might expect: for the comfort of guests and the ongoing viability of the 400-year-old building (and its additions). But some things – some rooms – require neither alteration nor improvement.

The books on the shelves lining the Library and the Billiard Room have – let’s face it – probably lain undisturbed for years. They look attractive, of course; but these days (with our arguably shorter attention spans) we’re more likely to turn to a paperback, e-reader or tablet for reading matter, or the TV for entertainment.

For Ed, however, Sibton Park’s books represented treasure indeed.

Ed worked at the British Library from 1975 until 2012, latterly as head of the Library’s Newspaper Collections, but prior to that as head of the team responsible for bookbinding programmes – both new bindings, and ensuring that valuable older book bindings were preserved.

“I’m interested in all books,” he explains, “but particularly in 19th-Century edition cloth-and-paper bindings, which often had decoration blocked or printed on to the covers.”

Call it force of habit, or professional curiosity; but when he visits somewhere new, Ed has a habit of checking out the bookshelves, in the hope of finding something of historical interest.

The usually vain hope, it should be said. But in the case of Sibton, what Ed found were at least two sets of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels – one of which, housed in the Billiard Room, looks largely complete (see picture at top). The set was published by Whittaker & Co in London and Robert Cadell in Edinburgh, probably in the 1830s, and appears to be in its original state (with a certain amount of wear and tear). One volume – XLVII – bears the ticket of Wareing Webb, a Liverpool bookbinder, who probably bound the whole set.

“Complete runs like this are relatively commonplace,” Ed says, “but to find them in their original cloth cases is unusual. It doesn’t give them any significant financial value, but they are historically important, and should be looked after. Ideally, the volumes should be placed in boxes, as the cloth dyes are most susceptible to light damage. But whatever – they should NOT be rebound.”

Holidaymakers at Sibton Park are sure to want to check out Ed’s find for themselves. But to discover more about the forgotten art/craft of Victorian bookbinding, why not learn from an expert? You can visit Ed’s blog by clicking here.

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Jonathan Broom

Jonathan Broom

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