Now, where were we? That’s right, just outside Holborn Central Library.
In my last out and about post, we got half way through the 20th Century Society’s tour of London’s libraries; “Lend us your books, a day ‘in Libris’” and now for the rest…
Having walked past Holborn Library many times, and being a big fan of Festival Style, it was a surprise to have to have this one pointed out to me, but there it was. Designed by the borough architect, Sidney Cook; it was originally conceived in 1955. Building started in 1958 and it opened it doors in August 1960 to be considered the most modern library in England, possibly Europe – and to receive 250,000 people a week.
It’s not surprising that Cook visited libraries in Sweden and Denmark to look at library design from the likes of Holden and Pick, but what is a surprise are some of the more British features of the time; the like of which cannot be found anywhere else outside of the Royal Festival Hall.
The library originally included an aquarium, a children’s theatre and lecture theatre (the latter is still there, but not in use), a book bindery, and lending libraries for gramophone records and paintings.
The influence of Holborn library can be seen at our bonus library of the day (squeezed in because we were running ahead of schedule – the 20th Century Society run a tight ship!), Finsbury Library on St John’s Street – another one that I’ve walked past many times without noticing!
Finsbury Library opened in 1967 and was designed by CLP Frank for the former Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury.
Then, east and back to 1934 to Leytonstone Library. Also designed by a borough architect, this time Ambrose Dartnall.
It has an impressive neo-Georgian frontage, and inside is one of London’s best-preserved art deco libraries.
Rumour has it Enid Blyton did some readings for children in front of an open fire in the former children’s library here.
Slightly sneaking out of the 20th Century’s Society’s era, the next library was previously West Ham Library, now the University of East London, Stratford Campus, Library.
Pevsner describes it as having “a late Victorian ‘free style’ exuberance, with allegiance to forms from the past thrown aside.”
Inside the book stacks tower above you, fittingly intimidating considering the weighty tomes on their shelves. There are lots of fine features including two inscriptions which read: “no furniture as charming as books” and “speech is great but silence is greater.”
Then on to the controversial Chrisp Street Poplar Idea Store, designed by David Adjaye and completed in 2004. In a bid to engage local people with their library, Idea Stores follow a retail model, using bright colours and employing managers instead of librarians.
They have responded to consumer research, which found that word ‘library’ was off-putting (hence Idea ‘Store’), and more computers and fewer books were required. They even have computer consoles where local teenagers can come to play the latest game. This approach has not met with the approval of the old guard, but to its credit it sought to engage the local community and it was the busiest and most diversely populated library I’ve ever set foot in.
Peckham Library was the last stop on our tour and what a finale. It sours up into the sky, a symbol of the regeneration of the whole area.
The brightly coloured exterior (the geek in me loved that the coloured panels were in C,M & Y, although sadly no K) and roof top letters spelling out LIBRARY shout from the roof tops what this building is for, with no pretence or shame.
The pods inside (housing a meeting room, a children’s library and a specialist Afro-Caribbean library) give it a sense of high drama.
Again it was full of young, local people, so something is clearly working.
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