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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Rare find: family’s history found in donated books

Some months ago we were offered some books and records. We collected the donations and discovered a few very old and interesting books amongst them...

We always check through donations to see if anything is particularly collectable or valuable and were thrilled to find some books that dated back to 1821. On checking the internet, the titles did not seem hugely collectable, however, we were intrigued to notice that some of the earlier books had the former owner’s name inscribed “Augusta Leigh, St. James’ Palace”. We realised there must be a royal connection so began a little online research.

We learned that Augusta Leigh was the poet Lord Byron’s half-sister and that she was part of one of the most sensational scandals to hit Georgian England. She married Colonel George Leigh who as equerry to the Prince of Wales had cheated the Prince over the sale of a horse and fiddled his regimental expenses. He was subsequently dismissed and poor Augusta went on to endure a life of poverty. She later had an affair with her own half brother which was largely responsible for Byron’s separation from his wife before he departed British shores in 1816, never to return.

Augusta had seven children and one of the donated books ‘Trimmer’s Fabulous Histories’ is inscribed by Augusta to “Henry Francis Leigh from his dear Mamma on his birthday, January 28th 1828”

Henry Francis Leigh went on to marry Mary Maria Edgar with whom he had one daughter, Geraldine Amelia, born in 1845. Sadly, Henry died aged just 33, but Mary Maria remarried an Indian cotton merchant, James Landon in 1856 and had two more children, Letitia in 1857 and Herman in 1859.

The then ‘Mrs Landon’ inscribed her own books which include a very early ‘Beeton’s All About Cookery’, together with her own recipe for fruit buns!

We visited the donor and explained our findings. She had come by the books when she purchased a house where items of furniture including a large bookcase remained. She was delighted and gave us a further two tiny ‘Liliputian Library’ books which had been inscribed by all three of the children, dating back to1864.

Herman went on to become a Major-General in the British Army and married Christian Sharp in 1903.

It has been a thrilling exercise to learn so much about this family through their treasured books.

We consulted an expert seller who advised that the Lilliputian Library books are rare in such good condition. We eventually intend to put the collection as a whole up for sale but have decided to display them for the time being in the bookshop for everyone to enjoy.

We are always in need of books of every type – do please think of us if you are clearing any out – we would love to have them!

The Bookshop is open every day 11.00am to 3.00pm, whatever the weather, and our Book Club meets monthly, so please do pop in on your next visit!

Find out more about our Bookshop on our webpages...


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