Books and readers in certain eighteenth-century parish libraries
An introductory chapter outlines the provenance, circumstance and background relating to the provision of individual books and libraries within English parish churches since the Reformation. Such sources as private benefactions, endowments and royal and episcopal directives are cited as instrumental in creating the patchwork provision of books that was the inheritance of the eighteenth century, and to which was added the extensive work of Dr Thomas Bray, his Associates, and the various religious societies. A second chapter places within this historical context the specific development of five libraries situated at Wisbech, Doncaster, Witham, Rotherham and Maidstone; each of which, out of different circumstances, was operating a lending library under parochial administration for some period of the eighteenth century. A detailed analysis of borrowers and books at the five libraries follows in chapter 3 and is derived from the extant book-issue records associated with each library. Such aspects as anticipated and apparent demand; patterns and scope of use; borrower status; and the nature of the books loaned are investigated. A further chapter augments the evidence from these five libraries with other parallel or related material. Specific reference is made to diaries, benefaction details, and to recorded loans made from private libraries at Castleton, Derbyshire; Idmiston, Wiltshire; and Llandissilio, Wales. A concluding chapter draws together certain common themes, reading trends and shared administrative features whilst highlighting the differing scope and nature of the borrowing communities, patterns of benefaction and effects of individual and associated philanthropy. Appendix I additionally provides a short-title union listing of identifiable books recorded as borrowed during the eighteenth century conflated from the five main libraries which form the basis of chapters two and three.