Brain Libraries

Recently I went to a talk about the 1609 Forest Survey at the fabulous Bromley House Library in Nottingham. It was one of a series of talks about Sherwood Forest and its history and archaeology.

Notwithstanding that Sherwood Forest is one of the most notorious ‘non-forests’ in England, it was a wonderful talk. (There are just over 1,000 acres in Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve as it stands now, with not much in the way of really mature woodland, compared to 100,000 acres or so in the 1200s. Even in its heyday, the designation of the land as ‘Forest’ was all to do with Royal laws and hunting grounds, carefully designed to prevent those scurvy commoners from getting their hands on all that nice timber and venison, and not a lot to do with actual trees.) The speaker at our talk was engaging, and we were able to look at interesting old maps that illustrated the changing forest and county boundaries, and the communities within them. The significance to the local people of how the land was designated was fascinating.

Bromley House Library is a very special place. It is a private library in a lovely Georgian building in the centre of the city with a hidden secret garden behind. It is probably the most civilized place I will ever go. Everywhere you look there are books: on shelves, up walls, along corridors – from floor to ceiling in every room. There is a spectacular spiral staircase taking you to even higher levels of books, and amazing ancient attics, including a dark room for an early photography business. Cosy reading spaces with old upholstered chairs allow you to enjoy the books, or maybe some writing, in peace. The members love it, and the building loves them back.

Thinking about the library took my mind on a curved ball path to the art of cataloguing and retrieving information – not only in a library, but in a brain. Recently I was working in the NHS in a project providing support to carers of people with dementia and we received training from a psychologist about how dementia affects memory, and, more to the point, information retrieval. He likened the problems of dementia to having a wonderful filing system with drawers full of information, but the process of accessing this information has become dysfunctional. The information is there, but reaching it, particularly things that have happened in the short-term, is a problem.

My dad, typically of many people who live with dementia, has trouble recalling what he did half an hour ago but an incredibly detailed memory for the events in his past. Although we have to play guessing games as to who it was that invited him to Sunday lunch, I have been learning much more about his years as an apprentice on the steam engines at Swindon and his life as a young man. Sometimes he takes me on detours in the car to look at places he used to work or court his girlfriends, and we have never once got lost. An education indeed!

So I followed my curved ball full circle and thought about the beauty of Bromley House Library and its book-lined rooms, and the corresponding beauty of a life held in memory in the human brain. Whether or not we can retrieve all the information stored there, my dad’s mind is a treasure trove of stories. His dementia, far from limiting our conversations, has made us delve into the deeper recesses and higher shelves of his brain library – to the attic rooms we hadn’t plundered previously – and a whole new adventure in the past. image: Bromley House Library image: Bromley House Library image: Bromley House Library image: Bromley House Library

Find out more about Bromley House Library at:


Late night escapades with my sparkly young friend in Nottingham, and visiting some of the achingly cool (my latest phrase!) bars that I never dared go into before!


Discovering the wonders of reflexology and the marvelous Emma Brown. What she does to your feet is amazing! Check out her website at:

© Anne de Gruchy

2 thoughts on “Brain Libraries

  1. I really wanted to say a special thank you for your blog. So wonderful to read it coming into work this morning. Working here everyday we tend to get blase about our surroundings and we need reminding just how wonderful Bromley House Library is and how fortunate that a provincial Midlands city like Nottingham to have it.

    best wishes Geraldine


    • Thank you so much Geraldine. I’m quite new to this Blogging thing, and it’s lovely to have feedback! Bromley House Library is a very special place…


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