6 min read

How the National Trust is uncovering the secrets of an old family library

a photo of an open book with illustrations

The Vyne – Elizabeth Chute illustrations © National Trust Images, Rah Petherbridge Photography

There are many wondrous books in National Trust Property The Vyne, which is sharing the centuries-old secrets of its library – such as margin scribblings, pictures and personal letters – with the public

With over 160 libraries holding over 400,000 titles in historic properties across the UK, the National Trust has their work cut out preserving its vast collection of antiquarian books.

Many of the spines of the volumes we glimpse in the libraries of historic houses are part of collections built up by successive generations of families and their interests give us an intriguing insight into our cultural heritage, as well as individual personalities.

But the threats to these valuable tomes are often just as severe and as complex as the houses they reside in. Woodworm larvae can bore holes through entire books and mould can stick book leaves together permanently, like glue. Regular inspections are essential to prevent irreversible damage.

At The Vyne in Hampshire a major books conservation project is underway that is not only saving the books from these perils and preserving the collection for visitors and future generations but also uncovering the secrets held inside the books of the library.

a photo of a pair of hands holding a book in a long gallery

The Vyne – Book of Hours photographed in the Tudor oak gallery © National Trust Images, Rah Petherbridge Photography

a photo of a book doodle showing the heads and shoulders of two men wearing wigs

The Vyne – men with wigs doodle, © National Trust Images, Karen Legg

a photo of two hands holding an old book closed together

The Vyne – Book of Hours © Rah Petherbridge Photography

An 18th century school boy’s doodle of a Cyclops is just one of the details conservators have uncovered now being painstakingly catalogued in the eight month project, which will restore The Vyne’s historic library collection to its shelves.

The book of Ancient Greek drama, written in Latin and Greek, was published in 1771 and belonged to 15-year-old William John Chute, who lived at The Vyne between 1757 and 1824. It is one of 2,419 books, many amassed by the Chute family over the 300 years that they lived at the property, which was given to the National Trust to look after in 1956.

The library collection covers a huge range of topics, from theology and history to languages and novels, including those of Jane Austen, who knew the Chute family.

“There are books of children’s plays that the Wiggett Chute family used to stage theatrical performances when they lived here in the 19th century,” says Dominique Shembry, The Vyne’s House Steward. “The pages are littered with directions in the margins, and you can see their names written beside the parts they were to play. They really draw you into this family’s world.”

Cataloguing the entire library collection “in one go” is also giving staff a valuable opportunity to find out more about members of the Chute family.

“They clearly loved books, and they made use of them too; they didn’t just display them,” says Shembry.

“One of my favourites is engagingly called Practical Measuring Made Easy To The Meanest Capacity By a New Set of Tables. Inside are sketches of windows for The Vyne’s towers and complicated calculations, made by owner Anthony Chute in 1746 when he was trying to make practical upgrades to the house.”

a photo of a doodle of a cyclops character in the bottom corner of a book

The Vyne – close up of cyclops drawing © National Trust Images, Rah Petherbridge Photography

a photo of a air oh hands holding a book a worn book with the spine bearing the title Pride and Prejudice

The Vyne – Pride & Prejudice © Rah Petherbridge

a photo of a pair of hands cradling an open book of hours

The Vyne – Book of Hours, © National Trust Images, Rah Petherbridge Photography

Enlarged in the 1520s, The Vyne was once a great Tudor ‘powerhouse’, comparable in size and grandeur to the Base Court of Hampton Court Palace, and visited by Henry VIII several times.

It later became a family home, cherished by the Chute family for more than 350 years. As a result it boasts a mix of architectural styles and still contains several extraordinary Tudor interiors, including an early 16th century chapel (one of the last surviving pre-Reformation chapels in Britain) and an atmospheric Tudor oak gallery covered in wooden panels depicting the emblems of powerful Tudor personalities, from Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, to Thomas Wolsey and Thomas More.

After passing down the Chute family line through the centuries the house eventually came into the care of William Wiggett Chute who inherited it in 1827. He did not move in until 1842, by which time the house was in a very poor condition, requiring extensive repairs.

Despite being unable to afford the society lifestyle of his forebears, Wiggett Chute’s love of The Vyne meant he somehow managed to preserve the historic mansion.

“Everything we enjoy at The Vyne today is only here because of William Wiggett Chute’s determination to save the house from decay in the 19th century,” adds Shembry. “And that includes the library, which he built, recycling bits and pieces where he could to save money. Some of the decoration comes from the family’s pew in the local church, but he also poached pieces from other rooms in the house.”

The library project is one of the final stages of the journey to reinstate The Vyne’s collections following a £5.4 million roof project. The packed-up books are being individually condition-assessed for pests, mould and physical damage, then photographed and cleaned before being returned to the library. The entire project is being carried out in front of visitors so that discoveries can be shared as they are uncovered by The Vyne’s team of conservation staff and volunteers.

a photo of a pair of hands cradling a book with a red cover

Through the Looking Glass © National Trust Images, Rah Petherbridge,

a photo of a panelled room with table in the foreground, fireplace, pictures and lots of books on the walls

The Library, The Vyne, Hampshire. This room was formerly the Wrought Bedchamber but was changed to the Library in the nineteenth century when Wiggett Chute introduced the library shelves, panelling and woodwork ceiling.

The Vyne is revealing several new experiences this winter, as it shines a light on the previously untold story of William Wiggett Chute and Caroline Workman – the Victorian brother and sister who saved the mansion from disrepair.

Read about the Vyne Library Conservation Project together with other National Trust Library conservation projects at 


The Vyne - National Trust

Basingstoke, Hampshire

Built in the early 16th century for Lord Sandys, Henry VIII's Lord Chamberlain, the house acquired a classical portico (the first of its kind) in the mid 17th century and contains a fascinating Tudor chapel with Renaissance glass, a Palladian staircase and a wealth of old panelling and fine furniture.…

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