The areas of Haggerston and Hoxton, collectively known as Shoreditch, were, at the end of the nineteenth century, a seething mass of people crammed into slums. Poverty and overcrowding affected almost the entire district and there were few buildings or institutions of an educational character. In March 1891 the overseers of the then parish of St Leonard were asked to adopt the Free Libraries Act. In the all held later that month, 3,154 ratepayers voted for and 2,076 voted against, but only for a maximum of a ¾d rate.
In Haggerston the overseers decided to convert the vacant offices of the Independent Gas Company in Kingsland Road, with a large garden at the rear and a house adjoining, rather than build new. The cost was £4,250 and although a loan was arranged from the Prudential Assurance Company Passmore Edwards came forward and offered £5,000 to cover both the purchase and conversion work, and gave 1,000 books.
The newsroom and reading rooms were opened first but it was another four months before the lending and reference libraries were ready and the building could be formally opened by the Duke of Devonshire on 10 May 1893.The library was an immediate success; so much so that a temporary reader’s shelter was constructed in the rear garden, such was the demand. Opened with 6,460 books in the lending library and 2,346 in the reference library, and 160 newspapers and periodicals in the reading room, 51,000 books were issued in the first twelve months. It was soon decided that an extension was needed with Passmore Edwards providing the £2,000 needed. The extended library was opened on 17 October 1896, and named The Passmore Edwards Library.
In 1975 the library closed its doors for the last time and after standing unused for sometime was converted into residential apartments.