Saturday, 6 February 2016


Welcome to the Looking Beyond the Text blog.  This blog is an exploration of the extraordinary collection of books that are kept in the Roderic Bowen Centre for Research in Lampeter.  It is an exploration that is primarily made through their bindings, book covers and through evidence of their use and provenance.   This is not the blog of a bibliographer or the student of typography, but of an Art Historian who is interested in objects.  This blog is the work of someone who is fascinated by the inherent aesthetic qualities of bookbindings and the technicalities of the craft and is interested in what that might tell us about the book trade, the craft of bookbinding, the way books were used and consumed in the hand bookbinding era.   The blog entries here are very much a work in progress, they are a way of ordering my rather unpolished thoughts and highlighting the importance of this little known but valuable collection.  If you read the blog thinking that this is 'process' rather than 'product' you won't be disappointed.

Books in Bishop Thomas Burgess' working library. 

I should say a little about the collection I am examining,  The collection is the foundation library of St David's College, Lampeter, a college which is now a constituant part of the University of Wales Trinity St David.  The College founded in 1822 and opened in 1827 in a small market town in the Welsh countryside and is the third oldest institution of higher education in England and Wales, outside Oxford and Cambridge.   From the outset the founder Bishop Thomas Burgess of St David's hoped that the college would contain an important library and he started collecting books from his friends and supporters well before the college opened and and these formed the nucleus of the library. Among the donations he received was a collection of 10,000 sevententh and eighteenth century tracts collected by the Bowdler family.  This initial collection was further enriched through a bequest of between 7000-8000 books from an East India Company Surgeon Thomas Phillips, mostly collected by him for the purpose on the London and International book markets.  These were brought to Lampeter in the 1830s and 40s.  At his death in 1837 the working library of the founder Thomas Burgess, a Classical scholar and Philologist, also came to Lampeter.  Books from these three sources consitute the bulk of the present collection, though further books have been added to the collection since.   This 'founders' library was initially housed in a purpose built room over the cloisters of the original college building, but in 2007 the collection was moved to a new purpose built space. Coming from such a broad range of sources, the library is an extraordinarily rich and diverse resource for the binding historian.

In the production of this blog I am particularly grateful for the cooperation of my colleagues Peter Hopkins and Sarah Roberts, who manage this wonderful collection.  Please note that all photos in this blog are copyright Allan Barton and the University of Wales Trinity St David.



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