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The Glaisdale Agricultural Library Sale

11th July 2022.

An extraordinary private library of antiquarian agricultural books are to be sold at Tennants on 30th September in the single-owner sale The Glaisdale Agricultural Library: The Private Collection of a Yorkshire Agriculturalist

Martin Henry Burtt was a well-known figure in the agricultural community, who took over the farm at York House, Glaisdale on the North York Moors in 1967, which is now run by one of his triplet sons. Fascinated by farming from childhood, he developed a keen and enquiring interest in the subject and was an innovative and far-thinking practitioner from his early days at York House. Indeed, he was the first to own a Charolais bull in the area and the first to bring in Texel sheep, both of which are now firmly established across Yorkshire farms. Burtt was heavily involved with the National Farmers’ Union for over fifty years, serving on numerous committees including the Dairy Board, the Wages Board and the Hill Farming Committee, which he chaired,  and rising to become the Deputy National Chairman under Sir Ben Gill.  

Burtt assembled his extraordinary collection of books over five decades and was well a well-known figure at auction houses and amongst the antiquarian book trade. The utilitarian nature of the books, and their day-to-day use by generations of agriculturalists often meant that the books were in need of some tender loving care. Burtt took great pains to have his books and their bindings repaired or replaced sympathetically, thus preserving them for posterity.

The collection is strong in books from the 16th to 18th centuries, coinciding with the transition from an era when it was considered dubious to attempt to improve on God’s Creation, to the advent, in the 18th century, of the Age of Reason, with its huge rise in literacy, invention, experimentation and applied rationality. The provenances of the books reflect the abiding interest in the subject by everyone from the aristocracy (the Earl of Ilchester, Earl Fitzwilliam, Earl De La Warr) to smallholders.


The great agricultural writers all appear in the collection, Plat, Mascal, Hartlib, Heresbach, Estienne and Liebault, Markham and others from the early days, through the eighteenth century with Jethro Tull and Arthur Young, and on into the nineteenth century. Each generation of authors built on the work of previous generations, as seen in the first Gervase Markham edited edition, 1616, of Estienne and Liebault’s “Maison Rustique,” which had first appeared in English in 1600 and is also present in this collection in the 1554, Paris edition. Regionally, Yorkshire and Scotland are particularly well represented, but there are also many provincial printings from all over the UK and Ireland (Dublin), as well as one book published in America in 1818.

As well as obvious subjects connected with farming and husbandry, such as breeding of livestock, improvements in land use, crops, developments in agricultural technology, veterinary practices, and recipes, and so forth, there are many other niche subjects covered, from hunting and falconry, to brewing and cheese making, gardening and botany, bee keeping and dogs, and much more. There is even a book about rat catching, written by Princess Amelia’s personal rat catcher in 1768.

Anybody with an interest in the countryside will be able to spend many happy hours perusing the books during the viewing days. With so many agricultural practices being currently reviewed from an environmental and economic perspective, the old books on farming and allied arts have a new currency.


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