Hurd Library

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The Hurd Library was built in 1782/3 by Richard Hurd, Bishop of Worcester, for his very fine collection of books. It has been preserved ever since and many consider it one of the most beautiful library rooms in the country.

Read Hurd Librarian Chris Penney’s Hurd Library Blog, or follow @HurdLibrary on twitter.

Hurd Library

Hurd Library

The Friends of Hartlebury Castle and the Hurd Library have been caring for the Library since September 2008, by kind permission of the Bishop of Worcester, who is and will remain the owner of the books. Tours of the Hurd Library and state rooms are available for pre-booked groups. Book a group tour.

Several catalogues in manuscript have been made since the 18th century, in 1783, 1789, 1819, 1844 and 1909, but the first really authoritative one was compiled by Graham Cartwright as part of his M.Litt. thesis at the University of Birmingham in 1980, supervised by Dr B.S. Benedikz. This is an invaluable guide to the library and is accompanied by a short history and appreciation of it.

Online catalogues and listings available. More.

The library’s importance is demonstrated by the richness of its provenances (signatures, inscriptions, marginal notes and bookplates), by its early printed and famous books, by the variety of its subject matter and by the sheer beauty of its appearance.  There are 43 books from Pope’s library, 97 from Warburton’s and 103 gifts from George III, often with the royal arms on the binding. Double provenances appear in some volumes; for example, Pope’s Greek New Testament, 1543, was given to him by Jonathan Swift.  Other treasures include:

Hurd Library 3


  • One incunable – the Lyons  edition of Voragine’s Legenda aurea , 1476 ( Warburton’s copy)
  • Pope’s copy of Sidney’s Arcadia, 1613 and his copy of Spenser’s Faerie Queen, 1611
  • Appian’s Romanorum historiarum, 1551, given by Lord Sandys to Hurd in 1784. (The Sandys family still lives locally)
  • Works of Saint Augustine, 1569, inscribed by a former Bishop of Worcester, John Prideaux, many of whose books are in the Cathedral Library
  • A Breeches Bible, 1599 
  • Bewick’s History of British birds, 1797
  • Robert Burton’s Anatomy of melancholy, 1638
  • Dugdale’s Antiquities of Warwickshire, 1656
  • Eikon Basilike, 1649
  • Richard Hooker’s Laws of ecclesiastical polity, 1594
  • Hugh Latimer’s Sermons, 1578
  • Nash’s Collections for the history of Worcestershire, 1781-2, with contemporary  prints and  watercolours added by Bishop Hurd’s nephew, including  views of the construction of the library
  • Newton’s Opticks, 1730
  • A Cicero, 1772 and a Pufendorf, 1758, given to Hurd by his two royal pupils, the Prince of Wales and Prince Frederick
  • Several books printed by John Baskerville, the great 18th century printer from Birmingham
  • Camden’s Britannia, 1600
  • Castiglione’s Il libro del cortegiano, 1528, printed at the Aldine Press in Venice
  • A Book of Common Prayer, 1552, bearing the Stuart royal arms on the binding
  • The 4th and 7th editions of Johnson’s Dictionary
  • William Mason’s Poems, 1764 (given to Hurd by the author)
  • Thomas Chatterton’s Poems, 1782

Other subjects which interested Hurd include medicine ( e.g.James Johnstone of Kidderminster’s Essay on the use of the ganglions of the nerves, 1771); social matters (e.g.reports on the Shropshire and Staffordshire infirmaries, 1789 and 1790); science (e.g. Sprat’s History of the Royal Society, 1667); travel (e.g. Chardin’s Travels into Persia and East Indies, 1686); botany (e.g. Curtis’s Flora Londinensis, 1777-1798); country life (e.g. Walton’s Complete angler, 1784); Methodism (e.g. John Wesley’s Letters, 1791); Arabic (e.g. writings by Grighor, 1750 and Muhammad Ibn Zakariya, 1766); and art (e.g Gilpin’s Observations relative chiefly to picturesque beauty, 1786). The library also contains, of course, Hurd’s own publications, his personal manuscripts, letters and commonplace books and other documents; those relating more specifically to the Diocese were transferred to the Diocesan Record Office in 1996.

Hurd Library

Hurd Library

That the library, which now contains about 4.500 volumes, representing about 2,050 separate titles, remained a live collection long after Hurd’s death is demonstrated by the inscriptions in later volumes. Blaeu’s magnificent Theatrum orbis terrarum, 1645-1650, with hand-coloured engravings, was given by the Vicar of Grimley in 1820. A copy of Richard Baxter’s The saints’ everlasting rest, 1650, was given as late as 1921 by  Mr Tomkinson (probably the owner of Franche Hall, near Kidderminster – this family also made generous gifts to the library of the University of Birmingham). A note in Baxter’s hand says the book was for the use of the church in general and particularly at Kidderminster, so at least it has not travelled far.  The library of Hurd’s nephew, Richard Hurd jr., was moved to the Castle in 1844. Some of the books had been gifts to him from his uncle, whose tastes he clearly shared.

Hurd Library Fireplace

Hurd Library Fireplace



The Hurd Library at Hartlebury Castle is a hidden gem and an important part of the county’s, and, indeed, the nation’s cultural heritage. It is a unique example of a working library, formed by an 18th century scholar bishop of wide interests, which remains on its original shelves and in the original room built for it shortly after  Richard Hurd moved to Hartlebury Castle, as Bishop of Worcester, in 1781. No other such collection has survived in the Anglican Communion. That of John Cosin, Bishop of Durham from 1661-1672, comes close but, although his own collection formed its nucleus, Cosin founded his library in 1669 as an endowed public library for local clergy, gentry and people of scholarly interests.  Bishop Hurd thought only of his successors in the see of Worcester and his library is substantially that of an individual. The library of White Kennet, Bishop of Peterborough, has been moved from the Cathedral to Cambridge University Library and that of John Hall, Bishop of Bristol, is in Pembroke College, Oxford. There are few similarly unbroken collections of others, either. Examples are the Pepys library, still on its original shelves, but in Magdalen College Cambridge, not in Pepys’s own house, the working library of Cardinal Newman in his room at the Birmingham Oratory, the library of the Rev. Thomas Wigan of Bewdley held at the University of Birmingham and family collections in various National Trust properties.

Bishop Hurd and others

Richard Hurd was born at Congreve, in the parish of Penkridge in Staffordshire, in 1720 and died in 1808. His long life thus spanned the greater part of the 18th century. He was born into an age of Augustan conservatism but lived on into the new era of Romantic radicalism. He was reared in the tradition of classical orthodoxy but grew to appreciate the rather neglected mediaeval period and to contribute to the shifts of taste, which characterised the closing years of the century. His book collection reflects his own tastes and interests but is immensely strengthened by its amalgamation with the libraries of three other men, Alexander Pope, Ralph Allen and William Warburton, and by the gift of a portion of the library of King George III, whose main collection laid the foundation of the British Museum Library, now the British Library.

Hurd Library Desk

Hurd Library Desk

Hurd took his degree at Emmanuel College Cambridge in 1739 and his MA in 1742; he was ordained deacon in 1742, was appointed to the parish of Reymerston, Norfolk, and was ordained priest in 1744; but he then returned to Emmanuel as a Fellow for some years. His interests were broad as well as deep, including literature, travel and philosophy, as well as theology. He was friendly with the poets Thomas Gray and William Mason and he edited the works of Cowley. He was also friendly with Edward Gibbon, despite his criticisms of the latter’s Decline and fall of the Roman Empire. He was a prolific and influential author. His Letters on chivalry and romance, published in 1762, which affirmed the power of the imagination, stimulated a revival of interest in mediaeval and renaissance English literature. He also published Moral and political dialogues in 1759 and The uses of foreign travel in 1764. His most significant book however, from the point of view of his own career, was his edition of Horace’s Ars poetica, published in 1749, while he was still at Emmanuel. He had modelled this edition on William Warburton’s edition of Pope’s Dunciad and a correspondence between the two scholars began, which became eventually a close friendship.



Warburton (1698-1779) was, like Hurd, a scholar and theologian of wide-ranging interests, particularly literary. He began his career as a lawyer but was ordained deacon in 1723 and priest in 1727. In 1726, he met the scholar and editor Lewis Theobald who was preparing an edition of Shakespeare. Warburton helped him by contributing some notes to this edition, which is celebrated for the most famous emendation ever made – a’ babbled of green fields – in Henry V. Warburton published his own edition of Shakespeare in 1747 but his most significant work (from the point of view of the Hurd Library) was on Alexander Pope. In 1738 he defended the theology of Pope’s Essay on Man. This led to an invitation to spend a week with the poet at his house in Twickenham and a close friendship developed. Warburton eventually became Pope’s executor. Through him he met the postal entrepreneur and philanthropist, Ralph Allen (1694-1764), of Prior Park, near Bath. Allen was a friend both of Pope and Fielding, who based Squire Allworthy in Tom Jones on him. This acquaintance added greatly to Warburton’s fortune. Allen had no children and in 1745 Warburton married his favourite niece, who received a generous bequest on her uncle’s death, which included Prior Park after the death of Allen’s widow. Pope died in 1744, leaving the bulk of his library to Allen and Warburton. Allen died 20 years later, leaving his library to Warburton, who had become Bishop of Gloucester in 1760. He thus became the owner of a large number of Pope’s own books.

Hurd’s career owed a great deal to Warburton who, in 1750, was instrumental in getting him a Whitehall preachership. In 1756, Hurd was presented to the college living of Thurcaston in Leicestershire. Immediately upon becoming Bishop of Gloucester Warburton appointed Hurd as his chaplain. In 1765 Hurd became a preacher at Lincoln’s Inn and in 1767 he was appointed Archdeacon of Gloucester and Rector of Dursley. In 1769 he delivered the first series of Warburton lectures, which brought him to the notice of King George III. His very orthodox theology (Fanny Burney says he was known as – the beauty of holiness ) appealed strongly to the King and a warm personal friendship developed. Hurd was made Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, with the King’s strong approval, in 1774, and in 1776 he was asked to be sub- preceptor to the Prince of Wales and Prince Frederick. In 1781 he was the King’s personal choice for the See of Worcester. His portrait was painted by Gainsborough in the same year. Hurd remained at Worcester for the rest of his life – though, had George III had his way, he would have succeeded Frederick Cornwallis as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1783; in which case his library  would probably now be among the fine collections at Lambeth Palace. But Hurd declined the honour, (greatly to the relief of Dr Johnson), despite the King’s entreaties. They remained on excellent terms, however. Hurd was a good courtier and the King visited him at Hartlebury Castle in 1788. When war was renewed with France in 1803 he declared that he would retire there in the event of an invasion. No doubt he would have agreed with Nikolaus Pevsner’s description of it as – a deliciously peaceful sight.
During the years before moving to the See of Worcester Hurd had been building up his own library. In 1779 he was able to add to it the priceless collection of many of Warburton’s own books. Warburton had left his library to his widow. She was to take whatever items she chose and the residue was to be sold by the trustees of his will. Hurd was one of them. Once Mrs Warburton had made her choice he bought the remainder, noting this in his copy of Addison’s Cato, 1713:

And upon the Bishop’s decease [the books] came into my hands in consequence of the purchase made by me of so much of the Bishop’s library as is now at Hartlebury Castle.

The library cost him £350. A further £50 paid for its removal from Gloucester and £50 more for its arranging and cataloguing. The move to Hartlebury soon afterwards inspired the construction of the magnificent room in which the books have been housed ever since. The King was so impressed that he gave Hurd two large batches of his own books – one in 1782, shortly after its completion, and another in 1805. The British Library’s loss was Hartlebury’s gain.

Hurd died in 1808. He had never married, so there was no widow to be provided for, as in the cases of Allen and Warburton. He was therefore able to leave the library in its entirety to his successors. The bequest reads:

I give and bequeath to my successor in the See of Worcester, and all succeeding Bishops of that See for the time being for ever the use of all my books which I shall have in the Library of the Episcopal House or Castle at Hartlebury at my death and also the furniture of the same Library.

It has remained at Hartlebury ever since – a rare survival of the library of a modest scholar, who had never expected high office but who had been in the  right place and done the right thing at exactly the right time.

Image Credits: James Chamberlain and Dr John Harcup

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