More about George Smith by guest blogger Martin Gorman

More about Sir George Smith

I’m used to telling people I take round the Library on occasional Wednesdays that Sir George Smith the younger “fell on hard times” after coming out of prison in 1793. He had to mortgage property to Jonas Bettison of Holme Pierrepont in 1802 and died in 1808. Bromley House was occupied by a cousin, Thomas Smith, and rented out until the ignominious occupation by the militia and eventual sale to the Library. However, from some of the documents in the Smith-Bromley papers in Nottingham University, it seems that things weren’t as bad as I thought.

Sir George’s will of 1807 lists his property, which he bequeathed to his son, Robert Howe Bromley and, in the event of his dying without issue, to an Elizabeth Lester, known as Mrs Edwards. This includes all his “manors, lands and real estates in Huntingdonshire, Hereford, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and the towns of Nottingham, Leicester and Derby”.

Elizabeth Lester had the use until her death of Preston Court, Gloucestershire, whereupon it reverted to the third son of his cousin, Thomas. This son, Robert Smith, at that time resided at Worcester College, Oxford. He would have to change his name to Pauncefote in order to benefit, which he did on 20 January 1809; an interesting parallel to the circumstances surrounding Sir George’s assumption of the name of Bromley. From 1803 he had added Pauncefote to his name, after his maternal grandmother, through whom he inherited Preston Court.


George Smith

One of the Smith-Bromley papers is a handwritten note by Lady Esther Bromley of the state of her affairs in 1800. It shows that the income from Sir George’s estate was £3150 gross, or over £230,000 in today’s money. She was entitled under the terms of their separation to keep three sevenths of the net value as an annuity (£970, now £71,000 a year) once debts had been paid. It also shows that she had to pay three sevenths of Sir George’s debts in 1794, which were paid off in three installments by 1797. Her investments amounted to £14,560, or just over a million today.

After Sir George’s death his London house was sold at auction. The sale particulars indicate that this was a desirable property, “fit for the immediate reception of a family of the first respectability”. Number 51 Russell Square, unfortunately no longer standing, had 5 bedrooms, a front drawing room with French windows and balcony, a back drawing room, an eating room and library, with rooms in the basement for a butler, housekeeper, wine cellar, kitchen, wash house and a cistern at the side with force pump. The effects included furniture, pictures, miniatures, books, cabinets, plate, china, wine and carriage.

The papers do not state how much was obtained for all this but, as the unexpired ground lease of the property was for only 19 years, it may not have been enormous. Nevertheless, despite his debts in the 1790’s, Sir George was clearly not left destitute after his enforced separation from his wife and departure from Nottingham. He almost comes across as a decent sort, bequeathing not only extensive property to family but even leaving Jonas Bettison, his mortgagor in 1802, and the Rev. Ralph Heathcote of Hockerton, legacies of 20 guineas (£1500 today) as tokens of friendship.


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Rowena Edlin-White’s Exploring Nottinghamshire Writers by Sophie Hunt

We were very fortunate to have Rowena visit the library today to talk to us about the recently published Exploring Nottinghamshire Writers. A guidebook to local writers both well-known and obscure, dead and alive, Rowena has managed to encapsulate Nottingham’s rich literary scene. Rowena has worked very closely with Five Leaves Bookshop to write, edit and publish her book, following an extensive research period in which she described foraging through libraries, second-hand shops and even graveyards to uncover Nottingham’s literary past.

Around 130 different authors are featured in the book, including the likes of Lord Byron, D.H. Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe, as well as some hidden gems of our city. Each and every one of the writers was either born, settled, or worked and wrote about Nottingham at some stage of their life. Rowena explained the processing of selecting which authors to include, expressing her desire to select individuals who made, or continue to make, their mark on whichever literary genre they favour. She is well-qualified to account for all these authors, as she revealed that she has read at least one text written by each of them. Despite this, she resists the temptation to comment on the quality of their work, or delve into literary criticism.

In the talk Rowena also discussed how this is not an academic work, instead she wanted to make it accessible and fun for all. The guidebook is clear, easy to navigate, and visual, featuring photographs and illustrations. As can be expected, it is highly informative, providing us with a hefty tribute to the kind of writing that Nottinghamshire has produced. As well as biographical information, for each author there is a short list of places to visit, therefore Rowena is keen for her readers to discover the locations that inspired, or are connected to these writers.

Exploring Nottinghamshire Writers is a one of a kind, a wonderful guide to local literacy, and we very much look forward to Rowena’s future projects. She is constantly looking for new additions to her guidebook, and has hinted that there may be a second edition on the cards, so keep your eyes peeled for more.



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A week at Bromley House Library by Charlotte Brown from Nottingham Emmanuel School

July 3rd to 7th is work experience week in Nottingham and Bromley House Library hosted Charlotte from Nottingham Emmanuel School. Charlotte approached us in November last year having visited the library as part of the First Story programme. We invited her for a chat and soon decided that she would ‘fit’ in with Bromley House Library very well. Charlotte has done a blog for us – so here – in her own words is an account of her week.

Day 1 

I was so pleased to be working in a friendly, fascinating place such as Bromley house Library for my work experience. During my first day, I learnt the rules of health and safety, got to know my colleagues and was told how the unique Bromley house classification system worked. I had the chance to order some books that were not in the library and I was shown how the desk works by Amy. I was also allowed to look at some of the older books in the cabinets. I really enjoyed my first day.

Day 2

On day 2, I discovered how to process books by doing their labels and covers, which I picked up on quite fast. The members’ reserved books were introduced to me and I was beginning to find my way around the rooms of the library. Choosing mythology and Shakespeare, I created a display for the glass cases in the library which was fun because we had to hunt the books down and I got to position them how I liked. 

Day 3 

I was now used to doing the filing for the previous day, which oddly I found quite relaxing. I helped to set up plates and food prior to the tea party later that afternoon where I got to introduce myself to the members. Me and Geraldine had used social media to advertise the library which consequently lead to more people joining the tour I assisted on after the party.

Day 4

After completing the daily filing, I was shown how the book conservation volunteers help preserve the older books using different tools and steps. During the afternoon, Frances and I checked the library’s temperature and humidity that also helped me know my way around a bit better. Again, I got to look at the older books in the cabinets and I really enjoyed reading “Alice in wonderland” for the first time. 

Day 5 

My final day at Bromley was quite relaxed. Because of the garden party on the following day, the majority of it was spent preparing for it. In the morning, I watched how Nicola and a local bookbinder prepared books chosen for conservation binding. Then onto helping Geraldine collect the last few bits and bobs for the party. My confidence had grown and I was upset that after finally settling in, I had to leave. I really enjoyed my time at Bromley and would choose it over school any day; luckily, I have applied to be a member and hope to return soon. 

We were delighted with Charlotte’s work it was a pleasure to have her with us in the library and she was a real ambassador for her school. Well done!

Bromley House - 09175-004

One of our favourite reading rooms and though the doors the library counter where Charlotte spent some of her time.



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NARRATIVE OF A JOURNEY TO THE SHORES OF THE ARCTIC OCEAN 1833-5 BY RICHARD KING, SURGEON AND NATURALIST TO THE EXPEDITION, IN 2 VOLUMES : A review by Tony Farr of just one of the remarkable books in our travel collection

Following recent journeys to Arctic and near Arctic regions ourselves, these two books took our eye when they appeared on the list for rebinding and repair. They date back almost to the founding of the library and are important not least because they contain the first recorded drawing of Okanagan marmots and very well fed they look too! Having gone to the trouble of adopting the books, it seemed appropriate to make the effort to read them, which took numerous visits to the library, because obviously in view of their value they are not allowed to leave the premises, but fascinating they proved to be.

The books are an account of this journey, paid for by public subscription and by a government grant in order to extend the knowledge of the Northern Coast of Canada, at that time still a British colony. Much of the account consists of a description of the places discovered and in true colonial style, often such lakes, rivers and other geographical features are named after the British royal family and prominent politicians e.g Victoria Headland (after the then Princess Victoria), Backhouse Point (after John Backhouse, foreign secretary) and Cockburn’s Bay (after the chairman of the Arctic Committee, Admiral Sir George Cockburn. Similarly buildings they used en route have stirring names like Fort Resolution and Fort Reliance.

However, in other respects the writing is surprisingly enlightened for the period, particularly with regard to the indigenous people. In their encounters with the expedition party, they are treated with sympathy and respect. The effect of previous contact between these people and the colonialists is often described unfavourably, for example with regard to the introduction of diseases and the effect of the fur trade. The Hudson’s Bay Company comes in for particular criticism in that the effects of the alcohol and firearms it has provided in exchange for furs have led to addiction and violence amongst previously peaceful people and loss of their traditional hunting skills.

Another interesting subject covered is the Northern Lights. King describes the sight graphically: “Sometimes appearing in the form of a splendid arch flitting across the heavens with inconceivable velocity and resembling the spiral motions of a serpent. Then suddenly disappearing, the veil of night would be at once diffused around, when quick as the flash of a star, a thousand dancing lights would again be seen playing mysteriously through the sky.” He also mentions myths: “The North American tribes believe it to be the spirits of their departed friends dancing in the clouds and when the aurora is brighter than usual, they say their deceased friends are very merry”. However, at a time when the understanding of electricity and magnetism was in its infancy, his explanation of the phenomenon is surprisingly scientifically accurate in associating it with the earth’s magnetic poles.

To get back to the marmots, King’s main role in the expedition was the observation of wildlife. He found Okanagan marmots to be very friendly with some settlers keeping them as pets. He identified them as a distinct species and collected some to be displayed at the recently opened Regent’s Park Zoo, recommending the conditions in which they should be housed. Sadly, their descendants are no longer there, but healthy populations still exist in Canada, especially British Columbia. King describes countless species of mammals, birds, fish and insects. Obviously he was unable to bring back live specimens of all of these, so he preserved them and brought them back in a large packing case, which at one anxious moment was almost lost overboard. This was the heyday of collecting and classifying and eventually in the 1860’s the Natural History Museum was built to house them all, so it is likely that King’s collection found its way there.

As far as this journey was concerned, they did not reach their objective of the ‘Polar Sea’, so the last chapter of the book is devoted to a justification for another overland trip to complete that mission. It would appear that this did not in fact take place, because the government was set instead on sponsoring journeys by sea to find the North West Passage, with disastrous consequences for the expedition led by Sir John Franklin in 1845, when all 129 crew were lost.


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Filed under Adopt a book, Book collections, Travel books


One of the Library’s acquisitions in 2014, Alison Light’s “Common People: the History of an English Family” (Ca 13767), makes an interesting, if unconscious, connection with a distinguished former member of the Library.
In exploring her family background, Alison Light illuminates many aspects of our social history along the way. She discovered that her grandfather’s mother, Sarah Hill, entered the recently-completed Netherne Asylum, in Surrey, in 1911. This prompted her to look at the role of asylums and workhouses in the lives of working people over the last two centuries.
She found a picture of Netherne Asylum, below, and notes (on page 283) that it was designed in a “simplified Queen Anne style” by G T Hine, consulting architect to His Majesty’s Commissioners in Lunacy.


George Thomas Hine (1841-1916) was the son of Nottingham’s most famous architect, Thomas Chambers Hine, who was a member of Bromley House Library for 55 years. George himself was a subscriber between 1884 and 1890. He was a partner in T C Hine’s practice until he started his own, in London, after his father’s retirement in 1890.
One of his specialisms was the design of hospitals and asylums, begun by his winning first prize for the design of Mapperley asylum in 1875. Ken Brand’s Nottingham Civic Society pamphlet on T C Hine (Cc 02643) notes that he went on to win other open competitions to design asylums at Woodford, Essex in 1887, Charminster, Dorset in 1890 and Ryhope, Sunderland in 1891. After winning 5 competitions he was appointed consulting architect to the Commissioners in 1897. He designed or extended 20 asylums in all and lived in Mayfair, London.
The Commissioners in Lunacy were created in 1845. Known as “Masters in Lunacy” and appointed by the Lord Chancellor, their first Chairman was the distinguished reformer Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury. They became the Board of Control for Lunacy and Mental Deficiency in 1913 and were absorbed by the Ministry of Health in 1919, continuing as inspectors of asylums until 1939.

A short biography of G T Hine can be found in Jennifer S. Alexander’s article about Mapperley Hospital in the Transactions of the Thoroton Society for 2008, Vol. 112 (Cc 02078). It can be read online at .

Martin Gorman


Filed under Library History, Local History

Painted to fit?

The painting in 1916

The painting in 1916

In 1822 when Nottingham Subscription Library was moving into Bromley House, John Rawson Walker offered to paint a picture for the Library instead of paying the share price of 10 Guineas. At this point if you wished to join the Library then you purchased a share, and paid an annual subscription. A Guinea, for those who are unfamiliar with earlier coinage, was settled in 1816 as 21 shillings.  Two other artists, Clifton Tomson and Thomas Barber junior, made similar arrangements.  The small seated figure in the painting by John Rawson Walker is of Henry Kirk-White, the poet and hymn writer of Nottingham, who wrote a poem called Clifton Grove. He is also remembered as the writer of ‘Oft in Danger, Oft in Woe’. Clifton Grove was a famous beauty spot during the 19th century, and no visit to Nottingham was complete without visiting there. The legend of Clifton Grove refers to an unhappy love story featuring an unfaithful maiden and a heart broken squire, who threw himself into the Trent there. This is referred to in Henry Kirk White’s poem.

John Rawson Walker, and the other two painters, discovered that they had misunderstood the terms of the agreement with the Library, and were informed that although they would be let off the arrears, they had to pay the annual subscription for library membership. It seems likely that Clifton Tomson was sufficiently upset by this to immediately resign his membership, and remove his painting from the Library.

The painting has been taken down whilst the room is cleaned, showing  bare bricks behind it. It was presumably painted exactly to fit the space, suggesting that the Smith family had earlier had a painting of that exact same size. But was their’s painted to fit, or the fireplace designed to showcase a favourite painting?







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Brief Guide to Local History Resources at Bromley House Library

If you search for local history on BromCat you will currently retrieve 1922 items. Some of these are in special collections but most are on the open shelves.
The special collections are the James Ward Collection and The Michael Dobbin Collection.
The James Ward Collection was given to the Library in 1914 by the librarian and book collector James Ward and reflect his interests in local history, poetry, particularly Byron and his life and Henry Kirk White, and the Baptist Church in Nottingham, which is where he was Librarian. It isn’t a complete collection of his books, as he also generously gave books to other institutions. He also put together books himself, having collections of papers bound together either on a particular topic or added to a book that he had purchased. There are also several manuscript items.

The majority of this collection is shelved in its own bookcase in the Standfast Library.

The Michael Dobbin collection is on loan to the Library by Canon Charles Dobbin. This has a slightly wider geographical range and comprises around 750 items, some dating back to the 18th century and again some manuscript items. These are kept in locked cupboards in the ‘Michael Dobbin Corridor’ in the new wing and the doors will be unlocked for you on request.

Philip James Bailey was a Nottingham poet born in 1816, the year the Library started, although he was only a member of the Library for a few years when he returned to Nottingham prior to his death. As well as local history there are key items of poetical works, and theology and mysticism as well as freemasonry. The 200 volumes are housed in the cabinets in the Thoroton Room.

As much as the varieties of sizes of book and height of bookshelves will allow, Bromley House’s own collection of local history is housed in the Standfast Library, although the gems of this collection are in the glass fronted cupboard next to the counter. On the upper shelves are Phillimore’s Nottinghamshire Parish Registers (Marriages) There is also a collection of pamphlets stored in their boxes under the old card catalogue.
Just inside the coffee room you will find the Thoroton Society’s publications, a run of Trade Directories in date order, and the Records of the Borough of Nottingham’.
As the Library was always keen to collect local history, and didn’t dispose of this during any of the sales that took place periodically it has left us with a particularly rich collection. Some of these are inevitably in the locked cupboards, and if such an item is stated as in Case 1 or the Safe Room then you will have to ask and have it signed out to you, and it will be put in the Neville Hoskins Reading Room with the appropriate book rests etc. If this room is unavailable then unfortunately the book will also be, so if you are keen to look at a particular item on a particular day please do check with us prior to coming to the Library

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Using group codes on BromCat

One of the advantages of a library catalogue is the ability to gather books together virtually, even if they are not physically together on the shelves, or to enable a search to be made on a special collection. To do this at Bromley House Library we use group codes. These are most often used to mark books that have been donated as a collection, but can be used for other reasons.

Those that we use are as follows:

Group code        Description

AB                          Adolphe Brunner Collection

AS                           Alan Sillitoe Collection

BHL1816             Collection of books appearing in the first printed catalogue of 1816

GK                          Books found in an attic of a coal merchant’s house and donated to the Library by Graham Knight

JWC                  James Ward Collection

LH                           Local History Collection

MD                         Michael Dobbin Collection

NH                         Books previously in the collection of Neville Hoskins

PJB                         Philip James Bailey Collection

PPAS                     Parliamentary papers of Alan Simpson

SL                            The remainder of the Standfast Library

TG                          Travel Guides

WWI                     Books relating to the First World War

To search for any of these collections, or within any of these collections, select Advanced Search and using the drop down menus, select  ‘Group’ and enter the group code in the search box.  If you have any problems with this, please ask a member of staff for help.

More information on these collections coming later.

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Old books were new books once…

Musings of the Librarian

When we think of old libraries our first image is of rooms full of nice old books, so we easily have an image of a Victorian library looking much as it does today. We forget that it was full of the latest best sellers, because what we consider to be today’s classics were once that. Their spines were bright, not faded from time and sunshine, and dirtied by years of coal fires and the early gas lighting. There were multiple copies to keep up with the demand, and members were not always patient about having to wait their turn. Black and white photographs, or faded sepia, give us no image of the vibrancy that there would have been, with the new books all on display, the magazines with their colour prints of fashion etc, and Punch magazines with their cartoons on current events.

One at least of our grandfather clocks was purchased new, and we had the latest scientific equipment in the form of the barometers, the Wind dial and our Meridian line.  Our members requested that telephone be installed for their use as soon as it was available. The proportion of new books to old would have been much in the favour of new books too, the balance being somewhat different now as those new books have grown old alongside the library. So, when we look at the past, let’s not do it filtered by a black and white photograph, but remember that what is old now was once new and the latest thing. We were then, as we are now, both scholarly and popular, catering for a diverse clientele, and looking forwards as much as backwards.

Outside, Nottingham was busy and bustling too, with a market in Market Square, and frequent events taking place there, often photographed from our parapet. Maybe this is why ‘Members are not allowed on the roof without permission’?  There were businesses and clubs on the premises then too. Members of the billiard club would be coming and going, and the person employed as a marker did get drunk on the premises more than once. One hopes he didn’t meet the members of the ‘Ladies Bible Class’ when under the influence….

NTGM012431 Market and BH

Photograph courtesy of Picture the Past, approx. 1890

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Hey, BromCat, take me to your collections…

Exploring the Local History Collection

One of the features of the “Bromcat” online catalogue is that it provides a means of exploring the Library’s special collections. The catalogue describes these as “Groups”. If a book is included in one of the Library’s 13 collections it will show up in the “Related” field on the main display pages for each record and under the “Group” field on the dynamic display page (found by clicking the “change display” button on the right hand side and selecting from the “detailed” options). Clicking on a collection title brings up all its titles. The largest, with 1828 entries, is the Local History Collection.

What a fascinating collection it is. If, like me, you find that serendipity is one of the joys of library membership, this is the collection to dip into. All of the titles invite curiosity, some closer study. Who could not be intrigued by a title like “Damn His Charity, We’ll Have the Food for Nought” (Cc03044), the story of the 1766 food riots, when the Mayor of Nottingham was bowled over by a rolling cheese? Or be tempted to explore “British Duck Decoys of Today”, 1918, by Rainworth naturalist Joseph Whitaker (Bb1779 and JWC/1(12)), “The Wonders of the Year 1716” (Cc02238(5)) for prophecies about the Antichrist or, more prosaically, the delights of the “Conchology of Nottingham” 1853 (Bb2407)?

I would guess that members might be particularly interested in notable Nottingham personalities and families: George Green, the Thorotons and the Smiths all have links to the Library, the latter in particular providing Bromley House with its name. There are many others: Holles, Chaworth  Musters, Byron, Trotman, Birkins, Samuel Butler, Jesse Boot, Bendigo, Albert Ball, JT Becher of Southwell, Huntingdon Plumtre and the Pierreponts of Pierrepont Hall, who had brothers on opposing sides in the Civil War. The Collection has books or pamphlets on all of these.

For anyone wanting to dig deeply into the history of a local family there is a Southampton University thesis by G. Jaggar on the Whalley family of Screveton (MD/6(518). Sir Richard Whalley, whose family crest was, yes, a whale, became extremely rich on the proceeds of helping Henry VIII to strip the monasteries. His grandson was a wastrel, however, and the family not only lost its wealth but died out altogether, despite Sir Richard’s 25 children by 3 wives. The family went from riches to rags in 3 generations.  Screveton church has a magnificent alabaster monument to Sir Richard, (see pictures).

There is more, much more.  An illustrated guide to Matlock, perhaps? A book on the scenery of Sherwood Forest? Histories of Gedling, Southwell, Hucknall, Epperstone, Bulwell, Kimberley or Eastwood? Or should we be investigating whether the Nottingham Subscription Library represented an elite institution in the period 1815-1853 (Cc02646)? I think we should be told!

Martin Gorman

Whalley memorialsMG blog 2

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