Three centuries of collecting at Belton House

The Library at Belton House, Lincolnshire

Over the course of 300 years, from the sixteenth century onwards, the Brownlow and Cust families amassed some 11,000 books at Belton House, Lincolnshire. The books reflect their interests in politics, history, English and Italian literature, music, travel, topography and local history.

Wide-ranging interests

Rare and possibly unique manuscript items include L’Ange Gardien de Cathérine II (St Petersburg, 1801), two Scarlatti operas and a poem by Laurence Sterne. A remarkable collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century maps (many hand-coloured) includes a very rare 1780 map of Stirlingshire by Ross and a proof copy of the first Ordnance Survey of Lincolnshire.

Ol’ Man River

We’ve recorded more than 200 different family names from bookplates, signatures or annotations, along with several hundred previous owners.
Important family collectors included ‘Young’ Sir John Brownlowe, who built the current house, his nephew Viscount Tyrconnel (1690-1754) and the 1st Baron Brownlow (1744-1807).
Several women also contributed significantly, including Dame Alice (1659-1721), widow of ‘Young’ Sir John. Her bookplate of 1698 is one of the earliest known for a woman.
Another interesting collector was Marian Alford (1817-88), daughter-in-law of the 1st Earl and co-founder of the Royal School of Needlework. Some rare German whitework embroidery patterns probably belonged to her.
Kitty Brownlow, wife of the 6th Baron contributed perhaps the most unusual item: the score for the Broadway musical Show Boat, whose famous songs include Ol’ Man River. It was given to her by the composer Jerome Kern in 1928.

The library today

We’ve now catalogued all the books and made records freely available online on the National Trust Collections website and on Copac This helps to ensure that Belton is still a living library. We also hold regular displays of books in the Library showcases, which illustrate different aspects of the collection.