Royal Oak’s 2019 Blickling’s Library Appeal

The National Trust launched an ambitious new project to secure the long-term future of one of Britain’s most significant book collections and to make it better known to the public.

Royal Oak was excited to help rescue irreplaceable treasures in the collection from threatening conditions and to make thousands of annual visitors more aware of the richness of one of Britain’s most remarkable libraries.

Blickling’s library is one of England’s foremost private book collections. It is also the largest and most important National Trust library, making the collection one of exceptional national and international significance. Acquired in 1742, it contains more than 12,500 volumes, including some very early and rare works.

Project: Restoration, Cataloguing and Education

The first phase of the project has been completed as planned. This phase involved improving the environmental conditions by securing the exterior of the building in order to minimize the ingress of moisture. All 10,000 volumes were removed from the Library by a team of volunteers to allow this work to happen.

The work included repairs to lead roofs and cast-iron downpipes, and repointing masonry with a lime mortar to match the original specification. Internally, the contractor has completed work to stabilize the ornate plaster ceilings within the northeast turret which have suffered from Death Watch Beetle damage.

All floorboards and associated floor structures impacted by Death Watch Beetle in the northeast turret’s upper levels have been removed, conserved, and repaired or replaced by our conservation joiner. Within the northeast turret, the area has been sealed to reduce air leakage; this is supplemented by the installation of a dehumidifier which enables more effective control over the internal environment of this space. We believe this area to have been the original location where the pest infestation developed before progressing to the library.

One of the key challenges of this project was how to insulate the walls without increasing the fire-load of the building, and without covering the ventilation openings to the rear of the book presses. Through discussion with the project conservator, it was discovered that early improvements in the external building fabric work minimized the need for insulation, and therefore we have agreed to a period of monitoring before deciding if we will need to fully install insulation. This is necessary because installing further insulation would result in alterations to the historic book presses to reinstate ventilation paths, causing a loss of historic fabric of the building.

The focus of the project then shifted to the Library’s interior and the conservation and cataloguing of the collection. With the outbreak of the Coronavirus, all project work has been suspended and many of the staff placed on furlough. However, some of the digitization has been going on and a very small element has gone live online. This work was completed in partnership with the University of East Anglia. You can view a short video of the project here.

The project is due to continue once everyone is able to return to a more normal working environment. We look forward to sharing with you our discoveries as work progresses.

Letters from the Trust and Royal Oak

Heather Jermy, General Manager, Blickling Estate

Ian Murray, Royal Oak Executive Director