A STASH of saucy literature has been unearthed in the library of the historic Townend house at Troutbeck.

But far from the slushy Mills and Boon tales of recent years, the books lurking in the library’s shelves are more than 300-years-old.

Included in the steamy collection are several extremely rare pamphlets called ‘Chapbooks’, which contain tales of amorous advances, love and marriage.

Sold door to door by travelling pedlars in the 18th century, they were cheap to produce but printed on such thin paper that most failed to survive.

Emma Wright, National Trust Custodian at Townend, said: "We have an amazing and historic library here at Townend which was collected by the Browne family over many centuries. We have 45 books that have never been seen anywhere in the world before on topics like law and religion, but what’s really capturing people’s imaginations are our 'Chapbooks'.

“They often contained rather saucy and even rude tales, which were found to be very amusing by their 18th century readers.”

One tale called 'The Crafty Chambermaid's Garland' details the story of a chambermaid tricking a young man into marrying her.

The picturesque stone and slate Townend house was owned by the Browne family of yeoman farmers for more than 400 years and they ammassed their literature collection over generations.

The property and its 1,500 book library were eventually handed over to the National Trust in 1943.

Mrs Wright said: “We’ve recently learnt that 45 books in our collection are entirely unique and that is incredibly unusual. The Brownes really loved reading and attended book fairs locally and also sent for books from London.

“But they were also an ordinary family who weren’t particularly wealthy and I think the collection at Townend really has to challenge the common misconception that rural people were not literate and engaged in the world around them.”

Visitors to the house can see the originals and read printed copies, and there are also MP3 recordings available.

Mrs Wright added: “A digital photo frame at the house enables people to scroll through various images of the pages of different books we have here at Townend, their titles, illustrations and any interesting details, such as signatures on the pages.”

Later in the year, Townend will host demonstrations by a book conservator working on the collection.

Townend is open Wednesdays - Sundays until October 31.

Extract from The Crafty Chambermaid

Written around 1770, it tells the tale of a London merchant who tries to romantically pursue a chambermaid.

The Merchant he softly crept into the room, And on the bedside he then sat himself down, Her knees through the Counterpane he did embrace, Did Bess in the pillow did hide her sweet face.

He stript of his cloaths and leaped into bed Saying now lovely creature for thy maidenhead, She strug led and strove and seemed to be shy He said divine beauty I pray now comply.