The Armitt Library was founded by Mary Louisa Armitt in 1909 and formally opened following her death in 1912. It was intended as a resource for the local scholarly community and incorporated the Ambleside Book Society founded in 1828 and the Ambleside Ruskin Library, which dates from the 1890s. The reference library on the first floor is free to use and houses a wealth of books on the local area and its history. These include extensive collections devoted to John Ruskin, Beatrix Potter, Harriet Martineau and the internationally renowned artist, Kurt Schwitters. The library also houses one of the best collections of guidebooks to the Lakes dating from the eighteenth century onwards. Peter Bicknell in his 1990 bibliographical study of the scenery of the Lake District 1755–1855 asserted that the Armitt collection of guidebooks was second only to that of King’s College Cambridge. The collection also includes a number of rare and early volumes, a notable example being the Quadruplex Missalis printed in Basle in 1509.
Many notable individuals donated collections of books to the library, including Beatrix Potter and her brother Rupert Potter, Henry Plummer, Herbert Bell (the notable Lake District photographer), Ernest De Selincourt (the Wordsworth scholar) Gordon Graham Wordsworth, Canon Rawnsley, as well as many notable local families.
Beatrix Potter is one of the Armitt’s most important benefactors. Her interest in the library dates from her marriage in 1913 to William Heelis, who was a committee member. Her gifts began in 1933 with 122 books from her late father’s library.
The Library of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club at the Armitt
In early 2014 the Library of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District found a new and permanent home within the Armitt Library.
The Fell and Rock Climbing Club was founded in 1906 at the Sun Inn in Coniston. The first President was the climber and mountain photographer Ashley Abraham and it remains an active club for mountaineers and rock climbers. The Library, comprising over 2000 volumes largely donated by members past and present, represents a historically important collection now reunited with the collection of former FRCC president Robert Files and his wife Muriel and also with the important collection of 17th - 20th century Guides to the Lakes already held at the Armitt. It is of great satisfaction to both the Fell and Rock Climbing Club and the Armitt that these significant and historic collections have come together in the heart of the Lakes and are now accessible to all.