Passmore Edwards Free Library, Acton 1900

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.


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