On this day … 26 May 1869

The Preston Guardian reported that work had started on cataloguing the books in Dr. Shepherd’s Library. No small task, for in his lifetime Dr Richard Shepherd, who practised as a physician in the town for many years in the eighteenth century, had amassed an extensive library, which in his will he left to the corporation for the benefit of the inhabitants of Preston. The will included £200 to pay for a librarian, and the rest of his estate (about £1000) he also left to the corporation to be used in buying more books.

And after his death, major contributions were made to the library with, for example, Edward Baines bequeathing all the papers which he had collected in writing his History of Lancashire. The Baines collection gives an indication of the task facing the cataloguers, for his papers, now held at the Harris Library, ‘remain substantially unlisted’.

The bequests were continuing throughout the century, with the Preston journalists Anthony Hewitson and William Dobson agreeing to deposit their works at the library in 1872.

The whole collection is now held at the Harris Library, and some of the delights it contains can be gathered from the pictured engraving made by Elizabeth Blackwell for her book A Curious Herbal published early in the eighteenth century, ‘… one of the earliest publications on botany by a woman. The beautiful illustrations that she engraved and coloured are accompanied by descriptions of the medical uses of the plants.’

It’s an appropriate choice, for Dr Shepherd himself would have cultivated such plants for use in his practice, in the south facing garden at the house he rented from Lawrence Wall in Fishergate. It was remembered that at another house he occupied, ‘in Friargate near the King’s Head Inn’, he ‘was extremely charitable to the poor of this town, for he cultured Angelica, in his garden, purposely to candy, and gave it gratis’.

His library was housed originally in a building next to the old grammar school at the bottom of Stoneygate, giving the names to nearby streets: Shepherd Street and Library Street. Later, it was moved to an upper room in what is now the Harris Institute, then from 1867 it was housed at the Literary and Philosophical Institution in Cross Street (see picture), before finding its lasting home at the Harris Library. One of the conditions of his will was ‘that no book or books be lent or removed out of the library’.

The original site of the Dr Shepherd Library Preston
The site of the library’s original home: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rpsmithbarney/5603244240/

For most of the nineteenth century one family provided the librarians for the library: Thomas Barton from 1836, followed by his daughters the Misses Ellen, Margaret and Mary Ann Barton as joint librarians. They opened at eleven in the morning and closed at 9.45pm, every day except Sunday.

Dr Shepherd was baptised in Kendal in 1694, and by 1724 had set up in practice in Preston, where he remained until his death in 1761. During his time in Preston, he married well, inheriting Merlay Hall, near Clitheroe, by the marriage. He served as mayor of Preston, was elected alderman, and an indication of his politics is that he was also the mayor of the Mock Corporation of Walton-le-Dale, a Jacobite club.

Hewitson’s History of Preston
Lancashire Poor Rate Book 1732
Anthony Hewitson Diaries, edited by Andrew Hobbs: https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0262

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