Perhaps I should say something here about the history of Grey Gables Library before Geoff Goodtimes and the government cuts. Hard to imagine there was once an age of learning, philanthropy, sumptuous fund-raising dinners all reflected in the splendour of the library’s pillared hall and stained glass cupola where trompe-l’oeil deities peer over a fake balcony among dangling books and vines. Today the marble is covered with laminated signs including the council logo: “We’re the council that has no logo… Doing everything we can to save money, we do nothing!”
Grey Gables was founded in 1862 by Algernon Rosewood. Rosewood was an Orientalist who built up his enormous fortune by importing ostrich feathers to supply the craze in feathered hats or, as he preferred to term them, ‘confections.’ Rosewood retreated to his villa in Box Hill after suffering a nervous disorder while sketching young boys in Fez.
After his breakdown (he imagined he was being ‘plucked… it as if I inhabit a more brutal place and all of it — unfeathered‘) Rosewood was rarely seen by his contemporaries. He was occasionally spotted collecting ferns in the Mole Valley and drawing the villagers of West Humble. His portrait of Adolphus or Dolly the Stonemason’s Son is considered a minor Victorian classic.
While his business partners stuffed warehouses with rare plumage, Rosewood sold off his stock to rivals and released his gangs of lawless feather collectors who had caused disaster in the Amazon. The trade in feathers declined and he was the first to buy railway shares. Rosewood’s ability to predict the general public’s desires allegedly appeared to him in dreams.
Later, after the loss of his mother, he became interested in clairvoyance. Determined to invest in something ‘more permanent…more humane… and a lot less noisy…’ he scouted around for suitable premises. An abandoned tanning factory in South Kensington was soon to become The Institute of Dreams. Rosewood designed a library to house every variety of dream and also a fernery which would grow among the rolling shelves.
The enormous oak doors were carved with broken scissors and butterflies, emblems of his dream world. Sadly these have been sold off. Although, one large Night Hawk moth is still in the basement, hovering above the remains of the archive.
The dream-archivist was still compiling dreams about ‘anxiety’ at the time of Rosewood’s death. Forward thinking, Rosewood imagined that dreams with their prophetic ability, once filed, may indicate to trained staff where war would next break out in the Empire. Dreams of an erotic nature might also show how marriage was failing so many young men. One of his requests was that the library would be served by naked librarians — men and women fully at ease with their erotic life. This has been quite hard to implement.