Unlocking the Archive at Blickling Estate

Blickling Estate, built in the early seventeenth century and situated a short distance away from Norwich on the edge of the market town of Aylsham, is a jewel in the National Trust’s crown. It is home to one of England’s most notable country house libraries: containing over 12,500 books, it is the biggest book collection cared for by the National Trust.

With thanks to Kenny Gray (Blickling Estate, National Trust)


Currently undergoing a five year conservation process, the library is also being reinvigorated through a series of exciting initiatives, and UTA is proud to have formed a partnership with Blickling and to have the chance to be part of this new chapter in the library’s history.

Most of the books at Blickling, now housed in the spectacular Long Gallery, originally formed the library of Sir Richard Ellys (1682-1742), and only came to Blickling from London after being inherited by Ellys’ cousin Sir John Hobart after Ellys’ death in the early 1740s. Ellys was intensely interested in theology, writing his own work of biblical scholarship and collecting thousands of erudite works about religion and history which now form the core of Blickling’s collection. Although the bookshelves’ incredible visual appearance now provokes gasps of admiration from visitors, this was a scholarly collection made for use, not ornamentation, and some of the books contain handwritten marginal notes which provide fascinating traces of early readers.

We are thrilled to be working with the team at Blickling to make their library more accessible to visitors in multiple and innovative ways, including through creating a digital rare books training website for Blickling’s volunteers (accompanied by a series of rare books volunteer training workshops which we ran at Blickling in 2019), with the aim of enabling Blickling’s volunteers to discover new ways of presenting these wonderful books to visitors.

From May to October 2018, Blickling was home to the Trust New Art project ‘The Word Defiant!’ – an exciting immersive installation created by innovative theatre company Les Enfants Terribles, which aimed to provoke visitors into thinking about books and their place in the world in new and challenging ways. During this period, the UTA team worked with Blickling’s staff and volunteers to run a series of creative and historical workshops and events inspired by Blickling’s superb library, which gave visitors the chance to interact at first hand with this incredible collection, and deepen their engagement with Blickling’s Renaissance books in imaginative and thought-provoking ways.

In 2019, we ran a further series of public events allowing visitors to interact at first-hand with the house’s magnificent book collection, including Renaissance Book Discovery Days, a Creative Design Weekend and a Family Activity Day. These events ran alongside Blickling’s 2019 Trust New Art project, ‘The Edge of Things’, a series of multimedia installations and live projects designed by the artists Neville Gabie and Joan Gabie, that drew inspiration from books in Blickling’s library.

You can now explore a selection of books from Blickling’s incredible library for yourself at home by visiting our interactive digital resource, Discover Historic Books!