The St Bride Library was an integral part of the St Bride Foundation formed, in 1891, through a union of several local London parish charities with the aim of providing ‘social, cultural and educational facilities within Fleet Street and the surrounding areas’.
After opening a printing school in 1894 the Foundation decided to create a reference library to support the school. The Governors were fortunate in being able to purchase the library of William Blades, the printer and bibliographer who had died in 1890, and this formed the basis of the technical reference library. However, they were also in need of modern works on printing, paper making, stereotyping, binding and other allied trades and so approached Passmore Edwards for assistance. He responded within days to say he would ‘cheerfully comply with your request’ offering £500; £400 for works already published and £100 set aside for Technical books published in the future. Sir Walter Besant, the novelist and historian, opened the two libraries, the William Blades Library and the Passmore Edwards Library in November 1895. At the same time, William Blades’ widow and Eleanor Edwards unveiled terracotta medallion portraits of the two men fixed above the doorways to the libraries. When in 1922 the Printing School moved to Southwark to form the nucleus of the London School of Printing (and Kindred Trades), later to become the London College of Communication, the Technical Reference Library remained at the Institute, and was formally renamed the St Bride Printing Library in 1952. The Corporation of London took over management of the Library in 1966, offering both the Library and Foundation financial stability but this support was withdrawn in 2004 and management and ownership of the collections was returned to the St Bride Foundation. There was short time when the library closed and it was thought that the resources might be dispersed but with a successful Crowdfunding campaign the library was reopened. The Library celebrated its 125th anniversary on 20 November 2020.
The Library remains open to the public as the world’s foremost printing and graphic arts library, with its collection of early printed books, typefaces, rare newspapers and an archive covering the history of printing. The original Institute building included a swimming pool which has since been converted to form the Bridewell Theatre, whilst other rooms have been transformed into lecture rooms, exhibition space and meeting rooms, one of which is called the Passmore Edwards Room. A bust of Samuel Richardson, the novelist, was presented to the Library by Edwards and remains in place today, looking down on visitors as they enter the library.
Passmore Edwards’ brother, Richard, was instrumental in persuading the Hammersmith Vestry to take up an offer from the Metropolitan Board of Works for use of Ravenscourt Park Mansion as a Library and Museum, the first Free Library in the District. When the Ecclesiastical Commissioners subsequently offered a gift of a piece of land in Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush, Passmore Edwards offered to give ‘substantial’ assistance in building another library, providing that he was assured that the authority could afford to maintain it. This was achieved by calling on the ratepayers to accept a further half penny rate. Richard had originally asked his brother to help with providing an additional library but Edwards had declined, saying that he would leave the West of London to take care of itself and concentrate on the East of London. When after Richard’s death he was approached again, by a vestryman unaware of the previous request, Edwards initially declined but after further thought decided that there were sufficient workingmen in the area to benefit from his help. Edwards provided £5,000 towards the £6,000 the library cost to build and furnish. The residents of the area showed their appreciation in the welcome they gave to Lord Rosebury, the Prime Minister, and Edwards when the library was opened in July 1896. The Uxbridge Road was decorated with flags, bunting and rustic flower baskets, whilst a handsome maroon and cream banner across the road announced the ‘Welcome’ to the visitors. Both private and commercial property was similarly decorated with banners, flags and floral arrangements. Designed by Maurice Adams FRIBA, the library is in English Renaissance style constructed of red brick with Portland stone cornices and mullions. The front gable carries a life size sculpture representing the ‘Shepherd in the Bush‘. Edwards dedicated the library to the memory of Leigh Hunt and Charles Keene, both of who lived in Hammersmith and returned to the library on two occasions, in 1896 and 1897, to witness the unveiling of bronze portraits of them. The medallion of Keene, an artist and Punch cartoonist, was subscribed for by about sixty of his friends, and unveiled by Edwards whereas Hunt’s medallion, installed on the foyer wall adjacent to that of Keene was commissioned by Edwards himself. Hunt was a poet and journalist.
In 2009 the Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council closed the library after moving the library service to a new building in Wood lane. The Council proposed to sell the Passmore Edwards building and grappled with the restrictions set by covenants in the original deed of gift. There was a strong interest amongst the local community to prevent its loss as a public building and eventually it was taken over for use by The Bush Theatre.
The site for the Dulwich Library was given by the Dulwich College. Passmore Edwards dedicated the library to the memory of Edward Alleyne, the Elizabethan actor and founder of the College
After establishing a Central library and a branch library at Knatchbull Road, Minet, Chief Librarian Edward Foskett planned to build libraries at both Dulwich and Nunhead and wrote to Passmore Edwards for assistance. His response was that he would donate £2,500 for a library at Nunhead or £3,000 towards a library at Dulwich, preferring the latter as he knew the area more. Edwards had lived at Camberwell Grove for a while when he first moved to London as a young man, leaving when the house was demolished to make way for an extension of the railway into London.
The Governors of Dulwich College were willing to donate the land required but were legally unable to do so and it took an amendment of the Free Libraries Act to allow this to proceed. Built to a design by Charles Barry & Son, the foundation stone was finally laid by the actor Sir Henry Irving on 24 October 1896 and it was opened a year later by Lord Halsbury, the Chancellor, and dedicated to the memory of Edward Alleyn, the founder of the Dulwich College. By this time Edwards had increased the amount he had given for the library to £5,000. During the 1940 air raids a bomb landed on the north-west corner of the library causing considerable damage but as part of the post war rebuilding an extension was added which included a public hall.
Today, the Dulwich library, one of a diminishing number of Passmore Edwards libraries in London still in use, is thriving. Disabled access has been cleverly fitted into the internal structure of the library giving access to the computer suite and the public hall. To the rear of the library the gardens are well maintained and provide a pleasant relaxation from the passing traffic.
A literary Institute was formed in Acton in 1857 with a reading room and lending library in Mill Hill Grove, which was open two evenings a week. Subscription was 5/- a year. By 1875 the Institute was renting a room in Acton Local Board Offices where Daily and Weekly newspapers were available. The reading room was open throughout the year and had 1400 books in circulation. There were also small libraries in the Working Men’s Clubs at Steyne, South Acton and Acton Green. In 1887 the Acton School Board decided to provide books for older children to borrow.In October 1888 a great storm flooded the Board Offices at Steyne causing the books to be lost and the Institute to close. However, the Acton Local Board was already discussing the provision of a free library. The Public Libraries Acts of 1855 -1889 allowed for the setting up of a library paid for from a 1d rate. There were campaigners on both sides. Acton ratepayers were already facing increased rates to pay for a new drainage and sewerage scheme and for the purchase and laying out of Acton Park. A referendum took place in 1887 and the proposal was lost by a significant majority. The Local Government Act of led to the formation of the Middlesex County Council and from 1895, the Acton Urban District Council, led, from 1898 to 1990 by E F Hunt as Chairman. The Councillors wanted to give Acton some standing as a town. A public Libray fitted the bill well. WC Smith of the Philanthropic Society , who had been instrumental in obtaining a grant from Passmore Edwards towards building a cottage hospital, subsequently obtained a promise from him of £4000 towards the costs of a library. On 4 January 1898 the Public Libraries Act of 1892 was adopted by the Council. They paid £850 to the Trustees of the Baptist Church for land at the corner of Winchester Street and the High Street applied to the Local Government Board for permission to raise loans of £850 and a further £5500 to cover costs. The building was designed by Maurice Adams FRIBA of South East Acton and the firm of Sidney Powell of Woodstock Rd, Acton chosen as the builder. The foundation stone was laid, by Lord George Hamilton, the local MP in December 1898 and on Friday, 3 January 1900, at 3pm, the Amercian Ambasador, the Hon Joseph H Coates opened the Acton Public Library reading rooms, in the presence of EF Hunt, Lord George Hamilton MP, the Bishop of London, their wives and some 1396 Acton people The building, of red brick and Portland stone, was described as being “in the English Renaissance Style”, ” of a solid and chaste appearance”, “an imposing edifice. The total cost was £6690. Lit by gas but wired for electricity ready for when Acton had its own electricity works, the library consisted of a Reference room, a magazine room and a lending library with 10 standard bookcases and a spiral staircase to the upstairs gallery. There were 8000 books, some donated but all new, including “wholesome literature for children” obtained within the limit of the 1d rate. Under the control of the librarian, Herbert Shuttleworth, the lending of books commenced on 2 February, 1900, books available one at a time for a week only and 1d fine for late return.
Passmore Edwards offered to provide a library in St George the Martyr, Southwark if the parishioners would tax themselves to maintain it.
In July 1895, a letter appeared in the Daily Chronicle calling attention to the special need for a public library in the Parish of St George the Martyr, Southwark, but that on account of the general poverty of the parishioners, it was impossible to provide a suitable building and maintain a library by means solely of the penny rate. A In August Passmore Edwards responded, again through a letter published in the Cronicle offering£5000, if the Parish adopted the Acts. The Parish sent a deputation to Passmore Edwards in September and arranged the necessary poll, which taken on 24 March 1896 gave a majority of 1814 in favour of adopting the Library Acts, and a Library Committee was formed. A site in Borough Road was found and secured. During the negotiations it was found that Queen Victoria would be passing along Borough Road during her Jubilee procession. The Committe advanced the closure of negoitaions and were thus able to rent out the site, for £2000, for a temporary stand for viewing the event. Architects C J Phipps and A Bloomfield Jackson were apppointed and the foundation stone was laid by Passmore Edwards on 2 December 1897. Mr Thomas Aldred, former Chief Librarian at Barrow in Furness had previously been appointed as Librarian and whilst building commenced the “Books Committee” worked hard at selecting 4,000 books, mainly second-hand. The completed building was opened just over 12 months later, on 8 February 1899, by Rt Hon James Bryce, MP, in the presence of Passmore Edwards.
Many of the Passmore Edwards offers of a Free Librray acted as a catalyst in providing other municipal facilities directly incorporated or closely linked to the library itself. In Camberwell the choice was made to adjoin the library to a municipal swimming baths, slipper baths and wash house.
The London Argus of 11 April 1903, gave this account to the building of the Passmore Edwards, Camberwell, Library. Camberwell’s New Library and Baths. An Interesting Building. At an early date an interesting addition will be made to the public institutions of South London, in the shape of a handsome block of buildings in Wells-street, Camberwell, comprising under one roof a public library and baths and washhouses. Erected from designs by Mr Maurice B Adams, FRIBA, of Clement’s House, Clement’s Inn passage, Strand, WC, the structure is a striking example of the effective application of artistic principles to the practical requirements of everyday life. It is also interesting as an embodiment of the modern public spirit, which is covering local London with institutions designed to minister to the comfort and welfare of the inhabitants.
The site- a very fine one- was given by Lord Llangattock, and the cost of the building was borne by Mr Passmore Edwards, who had previously distinguished himself by presenting the public with the public libraries at Dulwich and Nunhead, as well as the Leighton memorial Institute and the art gallery in the Peckham Road. The foundation stone of the building was laid, with considerable ceremony in the presence of the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs, by Lady Llangattack on July 25th 1901. Following the stone laying there was a reception in the evening by the Mayor (Mr Matthew Wallace, CC) and the Mayoress. The general view of the new buildings given on this page will convey a good impression of their character. By the arrangements made a maximum of light is secured for the library, which of course, stands most in need of it. The entrance to the public library is in Neate-street, the porch leading into a top-lighted central hall, where the borrowers’ space faces the vestibule beyond the arch below the dormer gable. To the right is the newsroom, and to the left the reference room, with the lending library to the rear-all these departments being divided by glazed screens. In the basement are stores, staffroom, lavatory, and w.c accommodation for the librarian’s use. The baths make up a very complete establishment. The features comprise a first class bath 75ft long, 30 ft wide and 6ft 9ins deep; a second class bath 65ft long, 30ft wide, and 6ft 6ins deep at the deepest end, 50 slipper baths, and other similar adjuncts. An office placed in a central position enables the ticket clerk to serve all our departments, as well as the laundry.The washhouse accommodates thirty places, and to the front are the mangling room, bonnet room, mess room, and other conveniences. Mr H L Holloway, of Union Works, Deptford, is the general contractor. The elevations are in red brick, with Portland stone and Hopton Wood stone dressings. Glazed brick is extensively used inside, and Brosely tiles for the roofs. Norwegian granite is utilised for the baths entrance. Messrs Beham & Sons did the engineering work, and Messrs Coules & Sons are responsible for the wrought iron work and fence, which is a rather fine piece of work, and executed to Mr Maurice Adam’s large details. Messrs Gunthorpe & Horsman, of Camberwell New Road, were entrusted with the carving , and the leaded glass was executed by Messrs Aldam, Heaton & Co. The metal casements were supplied by Burt & Potts; the baths by Messrs Doulton & Co, and the valves by Messrs Jennings, of Lamberth. The total cost of the block of buildings will be about £24,000. It should be stated Mr Adams has been associated with the work of construction with Mr William Oxotoby, AMICE, the Borough Engineer. No arrangements have yet been made for the formal opening of the building, but it is expected that the ceremony will take place sometime next month. Meanwhile, the Borough Council is advertising for tenders for the erection of further baths and washhouses in Old Kent Road in accordance with plans prepared by Mr E Harding Payne, ARIBA, the architect. When this institution has been erected, Camberwell will be as well supplied with baths as any district in London.
Maurice Adams was given the difficult task of designing the library, whilst the Borough Engineer, William Oxtoby independently designed the adjoining baths and washhouse. The result is an attractive building in red brick and Portland and Hopton Wood stone dressings under a Brosley tile roof. Internally, the library was conventionally arranged, with newspaper reading room, reference library and lending library, together with the normal offices, book rooms and stores. The public baths and washhouse included two swimming pools; a 75 feet long first class pool and a 65 feet long second class pool, a laundry and fifty slipper baths. The Catalogue of books in 1903 contained more than 3600 works, with 400 suitable for juveniles but it was not until 1925 that a separate junior library was opened, utilising one of the basement storerooms. In 1927 this room was decorated with painted murals by Guy Millar, one of the South London Artists, showing local historical scenes and scenes from Peter Pan and well known nursery rhymes. The library survived the Blitz whilst the surrounding area was very heavily damaged and at the end of the war the area was cleared for the creation of the Burgess Park. After the war the children’s services were expanded with Story Hour, including short film clips, painting and essay competitions and, by 1960, a Chess Club. The writing competition in 1960 attracted 1827 entries. But whilst the building survived the bombing it could not escape the march of progress, the public baths closing in 1981 and the library just ten years later.
During the post war clearance of the area a tiled mural of The Camberwell Blue, a rare butterfly first spotted in Camberwell in 1748, was rescued from a nearby paper works and relocated on the end wall of the library. A boxing club now uses the former bathhouse and the library building, listed and safe from demolition, is well looked after by The Friends of Burgess park as a performance safe and community building.