Rare books go on display at Yorkshire Museum library

Volunteer Ana San Sebastian Blanco in the newly opened library at the Yorkshire Museum

Volunteer Ana San Sebastian Blanco in the newly opened library at the Yorkshire Museum

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A TREASURE trove of books containing centuries of British scientific history has gone on public display at a York library.

Some of Britain’s pioneer scientists gave their personal editions of their acclaimed work to the Yorkshire Philosophical Society’s collection.

Now, after years of work by volunteers, the library of 42,000 books is open to the public two days a week. Some date back to the 1500s.

Among its books are a 1561 book De Re Metallica about mining and metal extraction in Elizabethan times including detailed diagrams and pictures showing men at work, and books by Gideon Mantell, the first man to discover a dinosaur, William Smith, the father of English geology, who was the first man to draw a geological map of the country, and a first edition of Gerard’s Herbal, a famous botanical book.

Eboracum, by Francis Drake, written in 1736, is one of the very earliest books about the archaeology of York. Others contain beautifully hand-drawn pictures of biological specimens and fossils.

Asla Gladstone, natural sciences curator at the Yorkshire Museum, said the society, which was founded in 1823, was very well connected to the scientific leaders in the 1800s when science was still discovering the variety of the natural world.

She said of the collection: “It shows an amazing part of York culture that isn’t celebrated much.”

Among the books is one by William Buckland, whose discovery of the “hyena den” at Kirkdale Cave near Kirkbymoorside in the 1820s, and whose then-controversial deduction that hyenas had lived in Britain, led to the founding of the Yorkshire Museum. It was created to house the specimens from the cave and elsewhere.

The library is open to visitors on Tuesdays and Fridays from 1pm to 4pm when volunteer historic library stewards will be available to talk about the part the library has played in York’s history.

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