The Gimsons and their books

A stack of books at Stoneywell, Leicestershire, awaiting conservation

Stoneywell has an array of books filling the nooks and crannies of the cottage - from book shelves in the bedrooms to shelves fitted in the gaps between the beams of the ceiling. Peter Tatham, one of Stoneywell's volunteers, has been researching the books on display and shares his findings with us.

In May last year I took on the task of listing and examining all the books at Stoneywell, which I believe may take several years! I was particularly interested in researching the connections between the books and the Gimson family history. It was informative to see what is exactly on the shelves but, more importantly, it has given insight into the reading habits of the family and the ways in which the books were shared. Having completed the listing and examination of the books on the shelves by the fireplace, it became increasingly clear that many books were given as gifts within the family and between friends.

A personal inscription inside 'The Courteous Knight', one of the many family books at Stoneywell
A personal inscription inside one of the books at Stoneywell, Leicestershire
A personal inscription inside 'The Courteous Knight', one of the many family books at Stoneywell

It is well known that Basil Gimson - Donald's father - was an avid reader. He spent many hours sitting by the fire at a time when there was no instant entertainment. There are, of course, stories to be told using these books and associated inscriptions as starting points. After a while, certain broad patterns and associated conclusions began to emerge. It was clear that books and reading for pleasure and information were at the centre of life for the Gimson family, particularly while Basil and his wife Muriel were in residence from 1947 up to his death in 1953.

The sharing and recommending of books between members of the family was integral to their lives. Many of the books owned by Basil were made personal by his words: 'from Father's library', or simply 'from his father' inscribed inside the front cover.

" Xmas 1934 - Dear Basil, I know you will like this book. I have been enjoying it for a long time. It comes with my love. Yours, S.G"
- Sydney Gimson

Further evidence of the centrality of books and the importance attached to the sharing of literature can be gained by Basil's inscription in a copy of Dorothy L. Sayers' The Nine Tailors: 'Read aloud at Stoneywell, Christmas 1937'.

Such sharing extended to Basil's professional life, with this entry in Sayers' Unnatural Death: 'Read aloud to my form [at Bedales School], Autumn Term 1944.' The sharing even went al fresco in 1930 with this rubric inside G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown Stories: 'Read aloud on our camping holiday at Painswick, Gloucestershire'.

The habits of sharing literature, expressed in these ways, was a very important part of Gimson family bonding, as it was in many families just prior to the popularisation of television. Placing the books in their context not only describes the books themselves, but gives a little background on the content and on the way in which they represented the interests of the family. Other research trails will be followed, starting with the books and the personal stories they tell.