Spot the difference
They say you learn something new every day, and that’s a good thing, because Knowledge is power.
But today I’m wondering, is there a saying for; Finally noticing something that has been staring you right in your face for over a year, but you were too stupid to even see it?
Well if there isn’t, there really should be!
Over a year ago when I first started on this adventure into the history of Wednesbury, one of the first pictures I uploaded, was a picture of Wednesbury’s free library. And ever since that day I must have uploaded over 40 pictures of that building.
Well, yesterday, (31/10/2013 to be exact”) I noticed something for the very first time.
“The mixture of Library pictures I have aren’t the same building? But not only are they not the same building, they are not even on the same site”!
Yes folks, this is coming from the person who is ‘supposed’ to be: ‘The history of Wednesbury’.
(“I’m not afraid to admit I’m ‘often’ this stupid”)
And before you think “Well, It is probably an easy mistake to make?” Go take another look at the picture above. ….. No contest is there really, I have just won the ‘thicko’ of the week award?.
“So, I shall start again with what I already knew”; The Free Library and Baths opened in 1878 and were built at a cost of £6,700, £1,200 of which was given by public subscription.
“But what I didn’t even think to check was”;
By the early 1900s the facilities at Wednesbury’s public library, the Free Library, were becoming inadequate. The library had been in existence for nearly thirty years, during which time the population had increased, and the demand for library services was greater than ever.
One serious problem though, was the lack of space, and this could not really be rectified because there was no room on the site for the building to be extended. The rooms were poorly lit, and poorly ventilated, and lacked modern equipment.
The librarian, Mr Thomas Stanley, could see only one solution to the problem, a new and larger site containing a larger building with up-to-date facilities. The problem as ever, was funding such a project.
In 1902 he approached the Scottish-American industrialist, multi-millionaire and philanthropist Mr Andrew Carnegie in the hope of obtaining a grant. Initially Mr Carnegie refused, but Thomas Stanley persevered, and continued to write to him, explaining the library’s difficult predicament.
In December 1904, Mr Carnegie changed his mind and wrote to the Town Clerk, Mr Thomas Jones, informing him that he would provide £5,000 for the erection of a new free public library, as he owed much to Wednesbury because it was here that his firm first saw the experiment in the basic open hearth process of making steel.
The Town Council unanimously accepted Mr Carnegie’s offer. All that was needed for the project to begin, was a new site.
Finding a new site proved more difficult than expected. By the autumn of 1906 a site had still not been found, and so in December of that year, the Mayor and Mayoress, Mr and Mrs Handley, generously gave a suitable piece of land on the corner of Walsall Street, and Hollies Drive to the town. The project could at last begin.
Several sets of plans were submitted by various architects, which were assessed by Mr Guy Dawber, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects. The chosen design had been submitted by Crouch, Butler, & Savage of Birmingham, who became the architects for the new building. The contract for building the new library was given to Mr T. Elvins of Hockley, Birmingham.
On 22nd October, 1907 the Mayor, Alderman John Handley, laid the foundation stone, and building work quickly got underway. On almost a year to the day (28th October, 1908), Alderman Handley returned to officially open the new library, which at the time was one of the best in the country.
The lovely building in free Renaissance style is a tribute to the work of the architects. It is faced with red Ruabon bricks, and Monks Park stone, and has a domed cupola.
The main entrance in Hollies Drive is richly carved, and was originally filled with a patent revolving door to provide freedom from loss of heat, and draught’s.
It was a delight to enter the wonderful entrance hall with its ornate white columns, and beautifully decorated plaster ceiling. The upper floor is reached by a fine stone staircase with an attractive balustrade, and an elegant wooden handrail.
The first floor rooms, like the entrance hall, are beautifully decorated with fine ceilings, and plenty of light from the well-placed windows.
So there you go …. I have officially placed myself in that rare but ‘Always to be remembered’ position of being : “Not quite as clever as you thought you was”….
Always a good place to be though …. It grounds you, you know?
The patch of grass you see (top left picture) is where the first library used to be. Top right picture shows both locations of new and old Library & the picture (above centre) is the library superimposed back onto the grass. (One thing I’m good at then?)
Right from the start the library fully catered for the needs of the local population. By the 1930s around 160,000 books were issued each year. The library is one of the most beautiful buildings in the town, it is still a great joy to enter, just as it must have been when new. It now has the latest technology, and has retained all of its magnificent architectural features. It is a credit to the local authority.
All credit for the description & pictures of this new library goes to the historian Bev Parker. An amazing site full of Black Country history.