Lake District Collection: Special Collections and Rare Books

Explore the extensive holdings of the Lake District Collection which feature materials that depict the life and times of William Wordsworth, and materials related to the English Lake District.

Since the 1750s, English Lake District scenery has inspired writers and artists, and attracted legions of travellers and tourists. The region is most famous for its associations with literary figures like William Wordsworth, John Ruskin, and Beatrix Potter, and has also been the site of repeated conflict over cultural heritage and environmental encroachment.

SFU is home to one of the largest collections of rare books relating to the English Lake District. From its origins as a section of SFU Library’s Wordsworth Collection founded in 1973 by Jared Curtis (professor emeritus of SFU’s English Department and Coordinating Editor of the Cornell University Wordsworth Project), the Lake District Collection (LDC) has grown steadily over the years to achieve a remarkable integrity and uniqueness. Of particular interest are the LDC's many period maps, excellent samples of engraving and illustration techniques and processes, including lithography, chromolithography and photography, as well as ornate bindings.

Illustration of Lake Windermere from travel writer Harriet Martineau's Complete Guide to English Lakes, published in 1876

Illustration of Lake Windermere from travel writer Harriet Martineau's Complete Guide to English Lakes, published in 1876

A map of the Lake District, in Thomas West's Guide to the 3rd edition of Lakes in Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire, published in 1784

Map of the Lake District in Thomas West's 1784 Guide to Lakes in Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire


Physical holdings in the Library's collection

The LDC contains more than 250 illustrated first and rare editions dating from 1709, with a concentration in the 19th-century. It also includes:

  • travel guides
  • landscape books
  • histories
  • travel writing
  • poetry
  • maps
  • and rare postcards

Online collection

Many items have been digitized and are online in SFU Digitized Collections.

Lake District Online

In the early 2000s, the Library and a team of scholars created an annotated online bibliography of 99 selected books from the LDC. Building on this pioneering digital humanities project, the Lake District Online research project, led by Principal Investigator, Margaret Linley, is a MySQL database that collects bibliographical data about writing on the Lake District held by the SFU library’s Special Collections.

By making this data public, searchable and interactive, it provides researchers with the opportunity to investigate the extent to which the book ecology of the local English Lake District is informed by and linked to global geographic space.