Hidden gems revealed in The Vyne's library

House steward bends over large open book on desk with small brush to dust pages

An eighteenth-century school boy’s doodle of a Cyclops is just one of the tiny observations being painstakingly catalogued by The Vyne in Hampshire. It’s part of an eight month project to restore the house’s entire historic library collection to its shelves.

The book of Ancient Greek drama, written in Latin and published in 1771, belonged to 15-year-old William John Chute, who lived at The Vyne between 1757 and 1824. It is one of 2,419 books, many amassed by the Chute family over the 300 years that they lived at the property, which was given to the National Trust to look after in 1956.

Now, in one of the final stages of a journey to reinstate The Vyne’s collections following a £5.4 million roof project, the packed-up books are being individually condition-assessed for pests, mould and physical damage. They are then photographed and cleaned before being returned to the library. 

This little sketch of a man-eating Cyclops was drawn by a school boy in 1772
A close up photo of a pencil sketch of a Cyclops in a book of Latin and Greek text
This little sketch of a man-eating Cyclops was drawn by a school boy in 1772

The entire project is being carried out in front of visitors so that ‘discoveries’ such as centuries-old margin scribblings, pictures and personal letters can be shared as they are uncovered by the house’s team of conservation volunteers.

Dominique Shembry, House Steward: ‘There are books of children’s plays that the Wiggett Chute family used to stage theatrical performances when they lived here in the 19th-century. The pages are littered with directions in the margins, and you can see their names written beside the parts they were to play. They really draw you into this family’s world.

‘Cataloging the entire library collection in one go is giving us a wonderful opportunity to find out more about members of the Chute family. They clearly loved books, and they made use of them too; they didn’t just display them.

Hundreds of books are being inspected and catalogued at The Vyne
Two shelves of books with pieces of paper sticking out of the top of them
Hundreds of books are being inspected and catalogued at The Vyne

‘One of my favourite titles is Practical Measuring Made Easy To The Meanest Capacity By a New Set of Tables. Inside are sketches of windows for The Vyne’s towers, and complicated calculations, made by owner Anthony Chute in 1746 when he was trying to make improvements to the house.’

The library project is just one of the new experiences on offer at this former Tudor ‘power house’. Newly presented rooms draw visitors into life here in the 19th-century, mirroring charming watercolours painted by members of William Wiggett Chute’s family.

This 14th-century Book of Hours is the oldest book in The Vyne's library
Close up of hands holding open a 15th-century illustrated Book of Hours
This 14th-century Book of Hours is the oldest book in The Vyne's library

In the intimate surroundings of The Vyne’s Tapestry Room visitors will discover the story of its magnificent eighteenth-century Soho tapestries. Projected images highlight beautiful scenes from the rare textiles, whilst the originals undergo complex conservation treatment.

Dominique: ‘Everything we enjoy at The Vyne today is only here because of William Wiggett Chute’s determination to save the house from decay. That includes the library, which he built, recycling bits and pieces where he could to save money. Some of the decoration comes from the family’s pew in the local church, but he also poached pieces from other rooms in the house.’

The Vyne's library before the roof conservation project
Room showing ornate plaster ceiling, book shelves, large portraits and fireplace
The Vyne's library before the roof conservation project

The Vyne’s library collection covers a huge range of topics, from theology and history to languages and novels including those of Jane Austen, who was a friend of Thomas Chute.