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.