A Labour of Love for Miss Lambert

The story of a very early female music cataloguer at the University of St Andrews

by Dr Karen E McAulay, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland


Prior to her marriage to George Williams, Elizabeth Lambert (1789-1875) produced a handwritten catalogue of the University of St Andrews legal deposit music collection, which was accumulated by legal entitlement from the 1790s to 1836. Elizabeth was paid a nominal sum (one shilling) for producing the first catalogue volume in 1826, and continued adding to it, commencing a second volume which someone else presumably completed after she married and moved to London in 1832. [1]  This youthful involvement with the University of St Andrews’ Library music collection is more significant, and had a more far-reaching effect, than has hitherto been recognised, for her catalogue would have significantly contributed to the use and enjoyment of the University Library’s music collection.  Her subsequent married life in London is minimally documented.

This article would have been added to the Wikipedia Wiki Project, Women in Red, which is promoting entries about women to redress the current male/female balance; however, since the present narrative is based on new research – and there are no books with biographical details of Miss Lambert – it does not fit into the remit of that admirable project.


Born in 1789, the year of the French Revolution, Elizabeth Lambert was the firstborn child of clergyman, Revd. Josias Lambert and Dorothea Lambert (née Rotherham).  She was christened in St Mary’s Parish Church in Lancaster (Lancashire) on 13 June 1789. [2]  Two brothers and two sisters followed in close succession, the youngest being born a few months after their father’s death in 1799.  Their widowed mother sold their Yorkshire home, Badger Hall in Burneston, to Col. W R L Serjeantson that year, [3]  and relocated the family to St Andrews in Scotland.  There, they lived with her brother, Professor John Rotherham, until he died in 1804.

House in South Court, South Street, St Andrews [2016-08-31]
House in South Court, South Street, St Andrews
Elizabeth’s mother originally hailed from Northumbria, but remained living in a house at South Court, South Street in St Andrews until her death in 1839. [4]  Both of Elizabeth’s sisters died at St Andrews in childhood.

1849 South Street House formerly belonging to Miss Lambert for sale by public roup, Fife Herald

Teens and young adulthood

South Court from South Street, St Andrews
South Court from South Street, St Andrews

Elizabeth’s brothers attended the University, making use of the library facilities, but Elizabeth and her mother were also able to borrow from the library through the good offices of professorial friends. Elizabeth borrowed widely:- books on conchology, botany and horticulture, divinity and travel, as well as novels and music, and she continued to borrow on a visit to Scotland after her marriage. [5]

She borrowed sacred and secular vocal music – returning to borrow Mozart’s Masses more than once, and also enjoying operatic arias, and Irish, Scottish and Welsh songs – as well as piano music and piano duets.  Instrumental music seems to have attracted her – one such book that she borrowed contained concertos, harp and guitar music as well a piano instructor by Cramer, and this wasn’t the only instrumental volume to have appealed to her. She also enjoyed a music journal called The Harmonicon, which enjoyed a brief but very popular run from 1823-33, and borrowed a book about Haydn and Mozart.

Elizabeth’s interest in conchology went beyond reading about the subject, for she was cited in several textbooks for having identified a particular shell (Patella elongata) in Professor John Fleming’s cabinet collection in 1814. [6]

Elizabeth built up a shell collection of her own, giving her collection of British and foreign shells to the Natural History Society of Northumbria in 1873 (foreign shells) and 1874 (British and foreign shells).  The Society still has a record of her donation, although the collection has been integrated into their own larger collection and can no longer be identified. [7]

Involvement with the University of St Andrews Library

Elizabeth’s uncle John Rotherham had taken responsibility for organising an earlier book catalogue in the library, though it is unlikely that he would have done the cataloguing himself.  Nonetheless, his interest, added to Elizabeth’s interest in conchology, does suggest a family disposition towards organising and codifying things!

Sederunt Dr Buist Rector, Principal Haldane, Drs Hunter, J. Hunter, Jackson and Briggs. University Library 29th August 1826. “There was laid upon the Table by the Rector a Manuscript Catalogue of the Music belonging to the Library made out by Miss Lambert.  The Rector was requested to convey to her the thanks of the University for the great pains she had been at in making it out.   [signed] Geo. Buist Rector. [8]

It is probably worth noting, as an aside, that 1826 was also the year in which the University of St Andrews published a proper catalogue of the entire library holdings – excluding the music, that is!  See their Catalogus librorum in Bibliotheca Universitatis Andreanae, secundum literarum ordinem dispositus online via the Wellcome Collection website.  (I noticed that the library had the 1788-93 edition of Linnaeus’ Systema naturae, a book which would have enabled Elizabeth to identify that sea-shell in Professor Fleming’s cabinet: “Patella Elongata”, aka “Ansates Pellucida” is none other than a special kind of limpet …)

Although Elizabeth was paid for cataloguing the St Andrews University copyright (legal deposit) music in 1826, the second catalogue book continued to be added to, presumably by someone else and with rather less care after she had married and moved away, until a change in legislation meant that the Library ceased to claim legal deposit books in 1836, instead being awarded a book budget, in common with the other Scottish universities.

Entries in the borrowing registers for 16 October 1827 and 22 May 1828 record Elizabeth taking music ‘to be arranged’, which can be interpreted as an involvement in assembling the music into usable volumes which would then be bound by a commercial bindery. [9]  Different volumes were compiled for instrumental music, piano music, songs, harp music and so on.


Elizabeth married George Williams in Islington in 1832, where they lived with his mother and brothers. [10] They had no children. George died in Halton Street Islington in 1853. [11]   Elizabeth Williams died at 18 Well-Walk Hampstead, Middlesex, 23 years later on 16 February, 1875. [12]   There is very little documentation of her life after her marriage.

Significance of Elizabeth’s Music Catalogue

Elizabeth was clearly not a University employee, but was nonetheless entrusted with the task of compiling this catalogue of the music, listing the contents of each numbered bound volume.  This is very early documented evidence indeed, of a woman being involved in any way with the organisation of a university library sub-collection. Contributing factors are likely to have been the fact that she was a niece of a deceased professor who, himself, had taken an interest in the library, and also the fact that families and friends were entitled to borrow from the entire collection through association with the professors.  Her reading matter shows her to have been an educated woman, and the library’s borrowing records [13] provide ample evidence of both unmarried and married women making use of the music collection – a category in which some of the other legal deposit libraries seemingly took little enough interest for much of the nineteenth century.

Elizabeth’s catalogue was hardly a detailed bibliography, generally listing only composer and title, and sometimes conflating several linked separate publications into one entry. There are occasional spelling errors, which led researcher Elizabeth Ann Frame to suggest that Miss Lambert was dictating entries to another individual.  [14]. This cannot be conclusively proven either way.  Nonetheless, it would have been very difficult for readers to select music with any degree of precision until the catalogue was written, presumably instead reliant on serendipity, or searching out the latest bound volumes back from the bindery.

Indeed, in this context Miss Lambert’s catalogue represents a kind of endorsement of the University of the value that they attributed to their music collection, since the catalogue facilitated the use of the entire music collection by professors, a few quite young male undergraduates, and friends and family of the professors.  There is evidence of the catalogue itself being borrowed by a few keen male borrowers, whether for their own perusal or for consultation by their family or friends, and the music collection was heavily borrowed during the first four decades of the nineteenth century.

  • The present website is that of the British AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) funded postdoctoral network, Claimed From Stationers Hall, which supported further research into legal deposit music collections across Georgian Britain.  This research followed on from the present author’s research at the University of St Andrews Library, which has excellent archival documentation to support a well-organised collection.
  • If you have enjoyed this posting, you might also like to read about another Library reader from St Andrews – Professor Playfair and his family.   He appears in another article about the Claimed From Stationers’ Hall network, on the Library’s Echoes From the Vault website.
  • And there’s more!  A boarding school proprietress, and her three teacher daughters, also made use of the library.  You can read about Mrs Bertram on another network blog, this time curated by EAERN (Eighteenth-Century Arts Education Research Network): Mrs Bertram’s Music Borrowing: Reading Between the Lines.
  1. University of St Andrews Library Muniments UYLY108/1 – Music Catalogue, 1826
  2. See Ancestry.com
  3. British History Online 
  4. Dorothea’s obituary appeared in The Gentleman’s Magazine and the Perthshire Courier.  She was described as the widow of the late Rev Josias Lambert, M.A., of Camp-hill Yorkshire.  South Court, her address off South Street in St Andrews, is now passed by visitors to the famous Byre Theatre.
  5. University of St Andrews Muniments UYLY 206/8 (1821-1832)
  6. Professor John Fleming was a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and was later cited by Darwin (not in connection with shells). ArchivesHub describes him as Scotland’s first zoologist. An ordained minister, he was also appointed as a professor at Aberdeen in 1834.  Edinburgh University holds his papers.
  7. Transactions of the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham, and Newcastle upon Tyne. Vol.5 p.368. [List of donations], A collection of British and Foreign Shells. Mrs Elizabeth Williams, Well Walk Hampstead. 
  8. Senate Minutes, University of St Andrews Muniments UY452/14/145 University Library 29 August 1826.
  9. University of St Andrews Muniments UYLY 206/8 (1821-1832)
  10. 13 September 1832: ‘George Williams, of the Parish of St Mary, Islington, married by Rev Dr Haldane, Principal of St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews’. Old Parochial Register, St Andrews and St Leonards, via Scotland’s People
  11. 25 February 1853. British Newspapers Online at https://www.britishpapers.co.uk/.  NB Halton Street became Halton Road in 1863/65.  See Eric A. Willats, Streets with a Story1986, digital version 2018.
  12. Probate. Effects under £6000.  The Will with a Codicil of Elizabeth Williams late of 18 Well-walk Hampstead in the County of Middlesex Widow who died 16 February 1875 at 18 Well-walk was proved at the Principal Registry by Henry Cardew a Major in the Royal Artillery stationed with his Battery at Newhaven and Thomas Francis Leadbitter of 158 Leadenhall-Street in the City of London Gentlemen the Executors. Ancestry England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, 1973-1995.  https://www.ancestry.com/
  13. University of St Andrews Muniments UYLY206/5 (1801-16), UYLY 206/6 (1814-19), UYLY 206/7 (1817-21), UYLY 206/8 (1821-1832)
  14. Elizabeth Ann Frame, ‘The Copyright Collection of Music in the University Library, St Andrews: a brief account’, in Edinburgh Bibliographical Society Transactions, Vol.5, issue 4 (1985), pp.1-9


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