The Reading Room



Francis Russell, 7th Duke of Bedford KG PC (13 May 1788 – 14 May 1861)


A journey must lead somewhere and somewhere was the Reading Room…

The first steps of finding Mary Maria Colling led me to the one location where I knew an original copy of her work existed and could hold in my hands, so on a cold, wet December Sunday morning I let myself  into the one place it lay slumbering and after searching, plucked it from the shelf.  I was soon joined by locals preparing for a fun run, the Santa Sprint for the Charity CHICKS, but I had kept my promise to find and explore the life and writing of Maria.


An old tattered copy stained by time, the book held a biography, letters and collected works, printed by subscription and headed by Mrs Anna Eliza Bray, a renowned local author of national importance.  The search had started and months of research were to begin…

John_Taylor_(civil_engineer)      37260

The Reading Room is located in the Tavistock Subscription Library, founded in 1799 by four personages of the town.  John Taylor, a 19-year-old engineer from Norwich (above left) who had come to Tavistock to become mine captain of Wheal Friendship and later became an eminent mining engineer and a Fellow of the Royal Society and designer-surveyor-engineer of Tavistock Canal; John Cummins, of about the same age as Taylor, a bookseller whose family had interests in local mining;  Edward Atkyns Bray, son of the Duke’s local agent and a law student who later abandoned law and became Vicar of the town; and Reverend F William Evans, an older man, a non-conformist minister and the owner-master of a school at Kilworthy House, and later at Parkwood House and Minister of the Unitarian Church.

Tavistock Subscription Library

Initially the Library was located in the upper floors of a bookshop, which it soon outgrew. A purpose-built library in the classical style was opened in 1822, nicknamed the Propylaeum. The Duke of Bedford, who owned most of Tavistock and the surrounding area, his family having been given the lands by Henry VIII at the Dissolution, decided to demolish and rebuild the centre of Tavistock, and the Propylaeum, being in the way, was demolished. However, the Duke, in compensation, refurbished Court Gate, one of the old Abbey gates, as a purpose-built library and librarian’s cottage. The Library remains in one room of this building, however the old library and cottage now house Tavistock Museum.

IMG_4411The Tavistock Subscription Library holds several hundred books pertaining to local and regional history and of great use to local researchers and scholars.  The collection includes a rare complete collection of the Transactions of the Devonshire Association along with the novels of Mrs Bray, histories of the Russell family, local industries, archaeology,  and Dartmoor related subjects.  Whilst this is not a complete nor comprehensive list it does give a brief indication of the sorts of books that they have available for members to read. Books are not loaned out nor are members permitted to take books away from the premises but there are sufficient facilities to conduct quiet research at any time.

And on we go…V3z0aAM


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