Lynch's letters and ghosts in the library

For this month’s Library Pick we turn firstly to a photograph of staff of the Garden here, taken in 1895. It is one of the oldest photographs in our collection and I recently had the pleasure of sharing it with an enquirer, the great granddaughter of one of the gardeners pictured.
Staff of the Garden in 1895Staff of the Garden in 1895
In the centre of the shot, wearing the bowler hat, sits Richard Irwin Lynch, Curator of the Garden from 1879 to 1919. Lynch appears to have been a meticulous record keeper, and as a result there is great richness and depth to the information we have about the Garden during his long and highly productive curatorship.

As well as an invaluable record of all plant and seed acquisitions, Lynch left us with a number of large volumes containing copies of the hundreds of letters he wrote in the course of his work. These letters provide us with detailed insight into not only the day-to-day business of running the Garden, such as the regular requests for supply of plants and coal, but also the more far-reaching decisions and projects undertaken, including the planning and building of the new (current) glasshouse range in the 1880s.

Thanks to the efforts of our Archive Volunteer Graham, it is now possible to search the contents of these letters, and in doing so I was delighted to discover a copy of the letter of appointment sent to the gardener whose relative had made the earlier enquiry. Writing one evening in November 1891, Lynch offered him the post of “Foreman of the houses” (i.e. the glasshouses), for which he would be paid at first 26 shillings, and find “quite as much to do as [he] could wish”.

Catching a glimpse of the lives of people from the past and connecting them with the present is a thrilling part of my work here in the Cory Library. I could say that the library is full of ghosts. What I really mean is that the collection is alive with traces of the people who have at one time or other been connected with it. In the archive their faces are captured in photographs, their concerns recorded in letters, their working lives documented in minutes of meetings and reports. On the bookshelves their personalities can sometimes be glimpsed in handwritten notes and drawings in the margins, their interests memorialised in bookplates and bindings.

As the only member of staff in the library I am frequently asked, “But don’t you get lonely?” On the contrary! As I go about my work with the books and objects in my care, many of which are decades if not centuries old, there are constant opportunities for making connections and engaging with both the living and the long past.

Jenny Sargent
Cory Library Manager