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On Dr Shepherd's shelves ... in the Oxford DNB

Richard Shepherd; portrait by Hamlet Winstanley. Harris Museum and Library

Dr Richard Shepherd, physician and former mayor of Preston, bequeathed his library to the people of Preston after his death in 1761. His collection—which includes works of literature, theology, law, science, and medicine—is now housed in the town’s Harris Library.


To mark the 250th anniversary of his death in 2011 a selection of Dr Shepherd’s books is now on display at the Harris Museum and Library, Preston.


Many of the authors in Shepherd’s book collection have entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the national record of 58,000 men and women who’ve shaped British history. To find out more about a few of those on Dr Shepherd’s shelves, click on a portrait or name to read the Oxford DNB biography.



Browse the shelves

Samuel Johnson

Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) is one of one Britain’s greatest literary talents, best known for his Dictionary (1755), a pioneering work in this now familiar genre. Johnson was also an essayist and a biographer, remembered for his Lives of the Poets. Away from his desk he enjoyed the company of the writers and artists, including James Boswell and Joshua Reynolds, who made up his prestigious Literary Club.


As a medical man, it’s not surprising that Dr Shepherd also owned works by the physician William Harvey (1578-1657), now known for his discovery of the circulation of the blood, pumped by the heart. Developed and debated over several years, Harvey’s findings were published as De motu cotus in 1628.


Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was another read by Dr Shepherd. Thought by many to be the greatest-ever scientist, Newton was a mathematician, astronomer, physicist, and theologian whose Principia Mathematica (1687) laid the foundations of ‘modern’ science. In the words of his memorial: ‘Let Mortals rejoice That there has existed such and so great an Ornament to the Human Race’.

William Harvey Isaac Newton

James Bruce

Travel writers in Shepherd’s collection include the Scottish explorer James Bruce (1730-1794) —whose travels in Africa led to his discovery of the source of the Nile in 1770—and Robert Knox (1641-1720) whose study of Ceylon (published in 1681), influenced later writers such as Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe.


Visitors to the library will also find works by eighteenth-century women writers, including Elizabeth Blackwell (1707-1758), whose Curious Herbal (1737-9) was one of the first works of botany written by a woman.


If you’d like to see pages from books by these—and other authors—then follow this link to the Lancashire Lantern Image Archive.


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More about Dr Shepherd

Richard Shepherd (1694-1761) was born in Kendal and studied medicine at the University of Cambridge. He settled in Preston sometime before 1724, when he was admitted as a freeman of the borough. Early eighteenth-century Preston was a market town and resort for Lancashire’s gentry and Dr Shepherd had many well-to-do patients. He lived in Friargate and took an active part in public life, twice serving as mayor, in 1747-8 and 1755-6.


In his will Shepherd bequeathed ‘my Books of what kind or Nature soever … for the benefit of the Mayor and Aldermen of this Borough.’ He gave money for fitting up and shelving an appropriate room for the library, and directed that no book ‘shall be lent or removed out of such library but shall always remain to be there read’. He also left endowments to pay for a librarian and to purchase books.


Since Shepherd’s death his library has had several homes, including the Literary and Philosophical Institution in Cross Street, and the Harris Library from 1895. The architect James Hibbert provided room for 14,000 volumes, though the library contained only 8,300 at the time. Many of these had been added to the original collection by donation as well as purchase.



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