On this Day 25th February 1739

Lack of Libraries Plagues Cornwall

On 25 February 1739 William Borlase, now engaged in serious study of the natural history and antiquities of Cornwall, wrote to Archdeacon George Allanson at Exeter regarding the lack of libraries in Cornwall:

It is a great misfortune to those in Cornwall, who are at all inclined to learning, that their situation fixes them at a very great distance from the two Universities, London, and the seat of their Diocesan, in all which places they might meet with helps and incitements which at present they are utter strangers to. It is also very much to the discouragement of learning in all, the quite suppression of it in many, that booksellers have within these last few years advanced so much the price of all sorts of books, that really none but persons of fortune and preferment have it in their power to collect a number of books equal to any branch of study.”

Two hundred and seventy eight years later we find ourselves heading back towards a similar situation with a government inspired and local authority directed campaign to close our public libraries.

Clerics of Borlase' day were great students of what was then termed natural philosophy, the study of natural history and related subjects together with history and antiquities. Borlase certainly fits this mould. William Borlase had been educated at Oxford and returned to west Cornwall to occupy parishes in the gift of his family but he also seemed to have a genuine attachment to his home and left infrequently.

His letter received cautious support from Archdeacon Allanson, from Mr Conon of Truro Grammar School and from his brother, Walter Borlase of Castle Horneck. George Conon wrote to Borlase in March 1740 that land near the church in Truro was available and that all that was needed was the interest of some “Gentleman of distinction” and the Corporation would act. But action was not forthcoming and Cornish scholars had to wait until 1792 for their first library in the county – the Cornwall Library at Truro – and the subsequent foundation of the Cornwall Literary and Philosophical Institution (see 5 February 1818) and the Penzance Library (see13 May 1818) in 1818.


P.A.S. Pool, William Borlase, RIC, 1986

See also: On This Day 5 February, The Founding of the Literary and Philosophical Institution of Cornwall

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"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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