When we proposed our AHRC project on the NW collector, R.E. Hart last year, ‘connecting descendants’ was not included as one of our research aims. This was in fact one of the very pleasing, but completely unexpected, results of our work. As our project drew to a close in December of last year, I received an email from Jennie Holland, the granddaughter of R.E. (Edward) Hart’s youngest brother, Alex. Jennie neé Hart had come across our project blog from her home in Australia, as she and her husband Michael prepared for a trip to the UK. Jennie is the family historian, and she put me in touch with another relative, Bob Gilbertson of Dorset, the grandson of Edward Hart’s eldest sister, Winnie. Although Jennie and Bob had corresponded over the years, the families had never met, so we decided that a meeting in Cambridge, with visits to both the Hart brothers’ alma mater, Pembroke College, and the University Library, would be a fitting place to reunite the descendants of this fascinating family.
We arranged to meet at the Cambridge train station, and Michael agreed to carry a copy of the FT under his arm for easy identification.
Our Cambridge visit was facilitated by the great kindness and generosity of the librarians of both Pembroke College and the University Library. Our first stop was the University Library, where Dr Laura Nuvolini had organized a display of the five block books that Edward Hart had left to the Library. Dr Nuvolini had just completed cataloging the books as part of the Library’s incunabula project, which will conclude in June of this year. Hart purchased these spectacular 15th century books from Maggs just before the Second World War for £25,000, which he produced from a carpetbag in one-pound notes. Maurice Ettinghausen, who organized the sale, commented that, this method of payment took ‘two cashiers some time in counting’. Not a single sigh escaped from the family lips when we estimated that £25,000 c. 1935 would be the equivalent of £1.5 million today.
We then made our way though the Backs to Pembroke College, the alma mater of all the Hart brothers, Edward, Clifford and Alex. Angela Anderson of the alumni office kindly gave us a tour of the College, and showed us the WWII memorial brasses, which were paid for by the generous bequest of £10,000 by Edward Hart to the College in his will of 1946. Hart also left two first edition copies of the Faerie Queene to the College Library. The college librarian, Patricia Aske, firstly showed us the magnificent library, and then took us down to the basement where she had laid out all the College’s pre-18th century copies of the Fairie Queene. By consulting Hart’s will, which Bob had brought along with him, we were able to identify the books that Edward Hart had left to his College. These were the 1590 edition of Book I and the 1596 edition of Book II, printed by William Ponsonbie in London.
Jennie and Bob both brought copies with them of family documents and photographs, which I in turn copied for the Blackburn Museum.
With mysteries solved and relatives reunited, our Blackburn project had delivered once again and in a surprising way. This is becoming something of a habit.