Our work with The V&A

illustration of croome court by Jilly Oxlade-Arnott

This Spring we see the return of a section of monumental 18th century Robert Adam designed bookcases on a temporary loan from the V&A museum in London. Also on display which has travelled from the V&A are The Wanstead Urns originally from Wanstead House a Palladian mansion contemporary to Croome Court.

Robert Adam Bookcases 

Part of a monumental set of 18th-century bookcases is returning on loan to Croome Court in Worcestershire after 20 years in the V&A stores, for a series of public engagement events. Most of the original contents of this country house were sold off and scattered in the 20th century before it came into the care of the National Trust. On loan from the V&A in London, where a significant section of the mahogany bookcases remains on display [in its British Galleries],  the homecoming of part of these bookcases, designed for the library by Robert Adam in the 1760s, is a landmark event.

Bookcase originally made for the Library at Croome
The complete Robert Adams bookcases
Bookcase originally made for the Library at Croome

This temporary homecoming has been made possible by the co-operation the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the National Trust. The museum bought the bookcases in 1975 as nationally significant works of art when Croome Court was being used as a school. The V&A is now lending them to the National Trust so that they can been enjoyed by the public in their original home.

In the coming months, the disassembled pieces of the bookcases, weighing several tons, will be painstakingly removed from 22 storage cases in front of the public in the Long Gallery. Visitors can expect to see beautiful carving, complex joinery and very busy conservators and curators at work!

Conservators examine and record the condition of a section of the bookcases
Conservators record the condition of a section of the bookcases after opening
Conservators examine and record the condition of a section of the bookcases

Over the next three years, the bookcases will be carefully conserved and reassembled as part of an evolving display. This is a rare opportunity for the public to see the research and installation of such important pieces of furniture in action. There will be opportunities for visitors, local communities and artists to engage creatively with the bookcases and help reveal their history and significance.

Decorative section of bookcase ready for closer inspection
Decorative section of Robert Adams Bookcase on table at Croome
Decorative section of bookcase ready for closer inspection

The bookcases were designed in 1763 by Robert Adam and are regarded as the first rank of any designed and made in 18th-century Britain. They were made specifically for Croome and designed using his innovative neo-classical, architectural principles. They were constructed by King George III’s own cabinet-makers, who were paid the equivalent of seven years’ wages of a skilled tradesperson for their work – a testament to their beauty and quality, which will be revealed to the public once more.

The bookcases are in the first rank of any designed and made in 18th century Britain. They were made specifically for Croome Court and designed to fit precisely around each of the Library’s four walls. Their importance to the nation is reflected in the V&A’s desire to save them in 1975, when all hope of their future public display in Croome Court seemed lost. That we have the opportunity today to reunite the bookcases with the house they were original designed for, sharing their story with our visitors is testament to the National Trust’s long-term determination to save Croome Court’s heritage for the nation.

In the 1760s, Adam’s bookcases formed the principal feature of Croome Court’s newly constructed Library. The design of the Library, along with the Long Gallery and Tapestry Room, was conceived by Adam as an entire work of art that included all interior fittings and fixtures and reflected the architecture of Croome Court as a whole. The effect of the completed room was ground-breaking.

Adam’s ionic pilasters within the central bookcase section are echoed by the ionic frame of the Library's Venetian window. The honeysuckle motif in the cresting also reflects Adam's design for the ceiling plasterwork within the Library. Adam based the elements of these monumental furnishings on the stone architecture of ancient Greece and Rome.