When the great Argentinian writer Jorges Luis Borges said he imagined ‘that Paradise would be a kind of library’, he was probably picturing something much like Innerpeffray Library. Often described as a ‘literary jewel’ this discreet gem, nestling in a tranquil setting near the River Earn in Perthshire, was actually Scotland’s first free public lending library. It was founded by David Drummond, 3rd Lord Madertie who, in 1680, made 400 of his family books available to the public ‘for the improvement and education of the population, particularly the young students’. The present library house was completed in 1762 by Robert Hay Drummond, Archbishop of York and Patron the library, whose book collection was also donated on his death.
It’s lovely to think of the library as it must have been in its 18th and 19th century heyday, a cultural and enlightened focal point of the local community. A borrowers’ ledger of the books and their borrowers is a fascinating insight to local tastes and interests. An entry for 5 June 1747 records that one James Sharp took out The Life and Death of the Twelve Apostles ‘which I oblige me to deliver in three months after this date under the penalty of ten shillings’ – which seems a massive sum for the day and shows how much books were valued at the time.
Among the thousands of books in the collection are titles on topics such astrology, demonology, war, natural history, spiritualism and politics as well as some splendid bibles including intriguing miniature bibles smaller than a matchbox. There are also rare and interesting volumes such as Chronicles of Englande, Scotlande and Irelande, a 16th century sourcebook used by Shakespeare in his writings – you didn’t know he copied it all out of a library book did you?
As newer libraries with more modern collections were established, Innerpeffray declined in popularity and ceased to be a lending library in 1968. Now run by a charitable trust, the library hosts exhibitions and public events and is a wonderful place to visit. It is open from 1 March, Wednesday to Sunday. Admission for adults is £5 and group visits are welcome by arrangement.
I do hope James Sharp got that book back in time…