Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection
The Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection is open to anyone with an interest in the history of house and garden design and interior furnishing in NSW. It supports Sydney Living Museums’ work of interpreting and managing places of cultural significance in NSW and provides a specialist research resource for scholars, heritage and conservation practitioners, museum professionals, designers and tertiary students.
The strength of our collection lies in its wide range of formats, including architectural pattern books, architectural fragments, wall and floor coverings, manufacturers’ trade catalogues and sample books, garden ornament, fittings (including curtain and blind hardware, door and window furniture), soft furnishings and trimmings, personal papers and manuscripts, pictures, photographs, books, periodicals and oral histories.
The library provides access to all Sydney Living Museums publications such as guide books and exhibition catalogues and is the first port of call for those wishing to undertake research about the house museums and other sites managed by Sydney Living Museums.
The library was established in 1984 and renamed in 2004 in honour of Caroline Simpson OAM (1930-2003), after her outstanding collection of Australian colonial furniture, pictures and objets d’art was donated to the Historic Houses Trust of NSW and an endowment established in her memory.
Open Tuesday to Friday
10am to 4pm
Closed Mondays, weekends and public holidays
Planning your visit
Access to the library is free, but we encourage visitors to book with library staff prior to making their visit.
Large format collection items like paintings, prints, textiles and wallpapers can be viewed by appointment only.
Search the Library Catalogue for printed books, periodicals and other documentary material, including reports relating to Sydney Living Museums’ properties as well as pictures, manuscripts and personal papers.
Search the Pictures Catalogue for paintings, drawings and photographs from the collections of all Sydney Living Museums’ properties, including the forensic photography archive at the Justice & Police Museum.
Four material formats can currently be searched through the Collections Catalogue: Floor coverings including carpets, felt, matting, oilcloth, linoleum, felt base and vinyl; Garden Ornament including fountains, urns, planters, sundials and edging tiles; Hardware, also known as builders hardware or ironmongery, including door knobs and knockers, locks, fingerplates and escutcheons; Wall coverings including wallpaper in various formats such as sample books, rolls and fragments. The items in the catalogue come primarily from the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection with a selection of items from the house museums within the portfolio of Sydney Living Museums.
Colonial plants database
The Colonial Plants Database includes more than 11,000 listings of plants known to be available in the colony of NSW prior to the 1870s. The database is compiled from several sources, including Botanic Gardens records, nursery catalogues and manuscript plant lists created by early colonists such as colonial secretary Alexander Macleay.
Digital trade catalogues
A number of trade catalogues related to architectural ironwork, architectural papier-mâche, art metalwork, furniture and furnishings, hardware, household goods, joinery, lighting, linoleum, stained glass, terracotta, tiles and wallpaper have been digitised and can be accessed via our Digital Trade Catalogues page on Internet Archive.
Domestic sheet music and manuscripts
A selection of domestic sheet music and music manuscripts from the collections of Sydney Living Museums’ historic house museums and Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection have been digitised and are now available through our page on Internet Archive.
Alan Spearman Evans Collection
Alan Spearman Evans (1902-1963) was a Sydney-based amateur photographer who spent much of his life recording his houses, gardens and workplaces as well as those of his family and friends. Many of the houses photographed by Evans have survived and a number have been heritage listed. The collection includes over 2000 photographic images taken by Evans between 1924 and 1957.
Marion Hall Best Collection
Marion Hall Best was one of Australia's most important and influential 20th-century interior designers. She was an outstanding figure in the dissemination of the ideas of international modernism in relation to interiors in Australia. The Marion Hall Best collection includes papers, plans, photographs, wallpapers, fabrics and other furnishings related to her career.
Post-war Sydney Home Plans, 1945 - 1959
For architects and prospective homeowners alike, the most seductive promise of the immediate postwar years was the prospect of a clean slate, an opportunity to build new, light-filled, houses appropriate to Australian conditions.
Recorded for the future: documenting NSW homes
The Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection (CSL&RC) has answered this question by commissioning photographs of present-day houses and gardens in New South Wales. Since 1989, a wide range of homes have been recorded - from those designed by well-known architects to simple suburban cottages. Click on the link to see some of these homes.