Libraries have played in an integral part in English literary history.
Notable authors and academics have used them as their place of work and research, and they frequently form the hub of the local community. Often housed in grand public buildings, libraries face considerable pressures as heritage buildings.
There are 363 English public libraries on The List, recognised for their architectural and historic importance. We recently listed 6 public libraries in the North of England at Grade II.
Here we take a look at what makes these buildings nationally important:
Beverley Library, East Riding of Yorkshire
This Edwardian public library was funded by a private endowment from successful industrialist and art enthusiast John Champneys. It was built in stages- the core block in 1906 was designed by John Cash in Jacobean-revival style. His son Herbert Cash added a gallery extension and reference library in 1928.
Stockport Central Library, Greater Manchester
Built 1912-13, Stockport is a fine example of a Carnegie library – one of 660 libraries built with money donated by Scottish-American steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. It is characteristed by the striking use of contrasting materials, representing the civic and philanthropic ideals of the early 20th century
Birkenhead Central Library, Wirral, Merseyside
Birkenhead has had a library since 1856, when it was the first unincorporated Borough to provide such a service. Birkenhead Library is a well-designed inter-war public library by Liverpool architectural practice Evans, Gray & Crossley. Built in 1933, it is a large, stripped back neoclassical block. Its traditional style is complemented by a memorial window which commemorates the Fallen of the First World War, thus reinforcing local historic links with war poet Wilfred Owen.
Darwen Library and Theatre, Lancashire
Like many public libraries of the period, Darwen was funded by Andrew Carnegie, and he actually came to personally open this one. His contribution is commemorated through an ornate plaque in the entrance hall, alongside similar features honouring the efforts of civic leaders. The building is strikingly composed in a revivalist Baroque style.
Upton Library, Wirral, Merseyside
Built in 1936, Upton Library is a good example of the ‘open-book’ layout which became increasingly popular in managing the system of borrowing from the 1920s onwards, enabling readers to browse along bookshelves for themselves. The branch library was the first in the Borough to have a dedicated children’s library.
Former Nelson Old Library, Lancashire
Another Carnegie Library, prior to its closure in 1974, Nelson Library was a valued community building. It was voted into existence in 1883 and formed part of a group of key buildings in the area including the town hall and former Technical School. The library was designed as a closed access library in which books were selected through review of a catalogue and then retrieved by staff for the reader. It switched to an open access system in 1925 which permitted borrowers to browse the books for selection.
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