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Historic Encyclopaedia Britannica unearthed in Halstead
By Oliver Rogers
BBC Essex

Encyclopaedia Britannica
The 18-volumes of the 1797 Encyclopaedia Britannica are in good condition

A set of Encyclopaedia Britannica in Halstead have been verified as the oldest in private hands.

Martin Berry's 18-volume set dates from 1797 and is the third edition of the classic books.

The family purchased the books around 40 years ago and do not know much about the history, other than that they came from a large house in Suffolk.

"They are unusual and very interesting to refer to subjects of that time," said Martin.

Martin Berry
Martin Berry looks through one of the books

"If one looks under salmon, the books tell you the main rivers for fishing were the Trent, the Tyne and the Thames, which aren't the case today!"

The managing director of Encyclopaedia Britannica UK, Ian Grant, presented the family with a set of the latest fifteenth edition.

"The 2010 revision of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is now in 32 volumes," said Ian.

"It has been lovely to see it in such good condition, with wonderful print," he said.

"This one is in 18 volumes; the first edition was in three volumes. There was a huge explosion in knowledge during this period."

Rare encyclopaedia found in Essex

Martin's daughter, Charlotte, enjoyed reading the books as a child and remembers the entry on family planning advice with particular fondness!

"Under the word 'Children', Mr Dereham computes that marriages should produce four children, not only in England but also in other parts as well," she said.

Charlotte continued: "I found this very amusing and now I have four children!"

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