I n 2014, the British broadcaster and author Bamber Gascoigne unexpectedly inherited a vast crumbling 16th century mansion called West Horsley Place from his great aunt, Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe. After a seemingly fairy-tale wedding in Westminster Abbey (which was even screened in British cinemas), Mary ‘scandalously’ became a young divorcee a few years later and made West Horsley her sanctuary away from the public eye.
When Bamber inherited the home, he’d never even set foot upstairs, and Mary had expected he’d sell it. However, he did the opposite and transferred his ownership to a trust and dedicated himself to rescuing the house and transforming it into a centre for the performing and visual arts.
The sale of this collection of books in the English Literature, History, Science, Children’s Books and Illustrations sale in London on 9 July is expected to raise between £96,000 and £145,000 to help the much needed restoration work. The books formed part of the collection at West Horsley Library, which was built by Richard Monckton Milnes (1809-1885), Mary’s grandfather.
Monkton Milnes (Bamber’s great great grandfather) was an MP and member of the literati. He held famous breakfasts, inviting his friends to enjoy mutton pie and to spend many hours in his celebrated library. The star lot of the collection is a copy of The Faerie Queen (Estimate £30,000–50,000) inscribed by Charles I and read by the king during his final imprisonment awaiting execution. On the opening pages Charles has written Dum spiro Spero [While I breathe I hope]. The copy belonged to his part-jailer, part-friend, part-servant, Thomas Herbert, who attended the king during much of his two year imprisonment on the Isle of Wight (during which he made repeated attempts to escape).
Another favourite from the collection is a first edition by Florence Nightingale (Estimate £5,000–7,000), who Monkton Milnes tried very hard to marry. He is said to have pursued her for seven years to no avail. They nonetheless remained friends, and he supported him in her various causes later in life.
There’s also a rare early edition of A Yorkshire Tragedie, a play once attributed to Shakespeare, alongside first editions of Jane Eyre (Estimate £12,000–18,000), A Christmas Carol plus books by George Eliot, Wilkie Collins and the first vampire book ever printed in English. Many copies also contain letters hidden in their pages – from Elizabeth Gaskell, Walt Whitman, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy – reflecting the circles in which Monckton Milnes moved.
There are over 30 books from the collection in the sale altogether. The majority of books from the library were donated to Trinity College Cambridge (Monkton Milnes’s college) on Mary’s death, and his ‘unsurpassed’ collection of erotic literature was bequeathed to the British Library during his lifetime. The sale of this collection follows Sotheby’s sale of contents from the home back in 2015.
CLICK HERE to view the full sale catalogue.