Passmore Edwards Free Library, Camborne 1895

“The proposal to build a library did not, at first, find favour with the ratepayers and a substantial majority was against it until Mr Edwards came to the rescue with £2000”.


The Building News of 13 April 1894 contained the following report. “Mr. Passmore Edwards, accompanied by Mrs. Edwards, Miss Edwards, and Mr. H.P. Edwards,BA., on Tuesday last, amidst great rejoicing, in Queen’s weather, laid the foundation-stone of this library, being the most recent of many libraries and institutes founded through Mr. Edwards’s generosity in Cornwall. The whole town and district practically turned out to welcome him, with processions of friendly societies, local board, fire brigade, volunteers, bands playing, church-bell, ringing, etc. The building will stand on an excellent site on the Cross, immediately facing the main approach to the railway station, at the junction point of five streets, and will form the most prominent object seen by every one arriving by rail to Camborne.
The local board purchased the former leases of the four tenements that recently occupied the ground,and Mr. Arthur F. Basset, the gentleman has just attained his majority with the ownership of the Tehidy estates, has most liberally granted a 999 years lease on a nominal rental whilst the building is used for the purposes for which Mr Edwards intends it. The shape of the site, as plans show, gave considerable difficulty in design, but led to a picturesque grouping and some prominent features that lend an originality to the building that might not have been so apparent under the ordinary circumstances of a rectangular site. The dimensions of the principal rooms are:-newsroom, 40ft. by 20ft; lending library, 32ft. by 20 ft; porch, 10ft by 5ft; hall, 24ft by 12ft; borrowers lobby, 20ft by 10ft; periodical room and reference library, 41ft 6in by 20ft; general committee room 20ft by 19ft; a book repairing room, a librarian’s room, 20ft by 12ft; and a caretaker’s residence.
The walling will be in pink elvan, with granite and Bath stone dressings; the roofing will be of Delabole slate, the internal joinery of varnished pitchpine. The architect Mr Silvanus Trevail, F.R.I.B.A., of Truro”
An early library existed in Camborne within the Camborne Literary Institute which was founded in 1829 and it is unclear whether Passmore Edwards’ offer of funding for a Free Library was solicited or whether it followed on from the Will of Octavious Allen Ferris who had left his residuary estate to establish or aid in the establishment of Free Libraries at Redruth, Camborne, Truro, Falmouth and Penzance and of which Passmore Edwards was aware.
The decison to build the Free Library was taken as the Local Government Board, for Camborne, was nearing the end of tenure, soon to be replaced by the Camborne Urban District Council by virtue of the Local Government act 1894. At this time the population was almost 15,000 with a rateable value of just over £40,000. In accordance with the transitional arrangements set out in the Act, the appointed Library Committee remained in place, although not members of the new authority. This meant that arangements to oversee the building of the Library, furnishing and supply of books and magazines, as well as the appointment of Librarian and staff, continued without delay so that by the time of the opening, in May 1895, the library, with 2,900 books ready for issue, the Reference Room furnished with a valuable collection of books mainly provided by gifts from private individuals and libraries within the town, and the Reading Room with daily and weekly newspapers and weekly and monthly magazines and periodicals, was ready. The Ferris bequest, of £1947. 1s. 11d, was used for furnishing and largely stocking the library with books, whilst Passmore Edwards. The “caretaker’s residence” in the original plans was never built although proposals to do so were raised from time to time. The low wall originally at the front of the library was removed some years later to make way for road improvements.
The first Librarian was Mr W J (Jacob) Laity of Fore Street, Beacon. By trade he had been a boot and shoe maker and kept a shop in his back garden where the villagers brought their shoes for repair. Described as a “knowledgeable man” he served as Librarian for 14 years, until 1909. (Early Libraries in Camborne by J F Odgers, 1963.).
Although the cost of providing the library had been met without charge on the ratepayers, providing the library service was a different matter, especially at a time when a fall off in mining lead to a diminishing rate return to the new Council. Less than the standard 1d rate was provided to the Librarian and the Library Committee and this was to continue for a number of years.
During the first year 2000 readers tickets were issued and the number of books issued totalled in the region of 45,000 from a stock that had risen to nearly 5,000. The Reference Library for many years depended upon gifts an donations and, in 1901-3, the room was used by the Camborne UDC initally as office accommodation and then as a Committee Room, for which the sum of £10 per year was paid over to the Library Committee. However, by 1931 1,200 volumes had been secured together with numereous objects “relating to art, history, science and industry.
It was not until 1913 that the Museum began to be established when Mr James Thomas, a local postman and amateur antiquarian handed over to the museum his extensive collection of local “finds”.The magnificence of this gift was such that the Council met to accept the gift from Mr Thomas and to provide a large glass case to contain the artifacts. The intervention of WW1 again prevented progress towards establishment of the museum and it was not until the conclusion of WW2 that a Curator was appointed to give separate attention to this element of the Library.
In 1903, William Cox, a Cornish artist, presented the Library Committee with two of his oil paintings to be hung in the Reading Room and in the same year Passmore Edwards presented a bust of Richard Trevithick.
Assistance towards the running costs came in 1902 when the Town’s Coronation Committee gave the Library £55 from the distribution of surplus funds, in 1907 the books belonging to the Literay Institute, which stood in Commercial Square from 1842, were given to the library, and, in 1915, a grant of £20 from the County Council towards forming a Children’s Library. Also in 1915 a gift of 750 volumes was received from the Library of the Smith Wesleyan Institute, founded by Dr George Smith in Camborne. However, with the onset of WW1 the UDC had cut the grant to the Library by £30 “for the duration”. At that time the annual income and outgoings was around £200 per year.
On the resignation of the Librarian, in 1909, William Prideaux was appointed to be replaced, in 1916, by Mr W Jenkin when National Service called upon Mr Prideaux to serve in the ambulance section. Mr Jenkin remained in post for 29 years, resigning at the end of WW2 in 1945.
The period between the wars saw steady progress in the growth of the Library service in Camborne. In 1926 the Tehidy Working Men’s Club, formed in 1872 and at that time occupying premises in Fore Street, offered its entire circulating library to the Camborne Library and in 1927 an application made to the Carnegie Trustees resulted in a grant of £420 spread over 3 years, as well as an additional grant of £50 towards special books on mining. The grant was conditional on the UDC increasing its grant to the full 1d rate, £320 per year, and this was agreed. The stock of books at this time exceeded 9,000.
In 1929 The Town Planning Committee and the Library Committee accepted a proposal put by the Trevithick Memorial Committee to erect a statue as a memorial to Richard Trevithick at the front of the Free Library and facing towards Beacon Hill, up which Trevithick’s locomotive had travelled “up Camborne Hill, coming down” nearly 130 years earlier. The unveiling took place in 1932. Plaques are fixed to the sides of the plinth to commemorate Trevithick’s work.


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