NANTWICH FREE LIBRARY
The Public Libraries Act of 1855 permitted local authorities
with 5000 or more inhabitants to levy a rate of one penny
in the pound to establish a public library. For thirty years
Nantwich took no action.
In 1886 Samuel Harlock,MP,proposed that the town should
adopt the Act - as an essential complement to the 1870 Education
Act which had set up compulsory elementary education. The
people of Nantwich were not enthusiastic. A penny rate would
produce only £65 a year.
Fortunately, a year later, the Local Board discussed ways
in which the town might celebrate Queen Victoria`s Golden
Jubilee. Gradually Harlock`s idea to have a library was taken
up. At first donations were small. Then John Brunner(of Brunner
Mond Chemical Works in Northwich)wired from New York: "Gladly
subscribe £200 Free Library." This generosity was
due to the impression made on Brunner as a young boy when
his father took him to the opening of the Brown Museum and
Library in Liverpool. He was reported to have said: "Perhaps
some day I shall be a rich man and give a free library like
Sir William Brown."
By August 1887 donations had reached £900 and the
Local Board agreed to adopt the Public Libraries Acts 1850-55.
A Library Committee was set up. Lord Cholmondeley agreed to
sell, for £200, some land in Pillory Street. He also
gave £50. Thomas Bower would be the architect and J.Matthew,
of Beam Street, the builder. The cost of the library was estimated
to be £485 but when extras were added the cost rose
to £712. Furnishings would add another £65.
By this time (1888) donations had reached £1220. The
people had accepted the project. They were asked to recommend
books for the collection or to donate any that were suitable
for the reference part of the collection. It was the use of
the books in the Reference Library freely by anyone that gave
the early public libraries the name `Free` Library even though
ratepayers paid for the whole library (whether they used it
or not) and then had to pay a subscription to be a member!
The library of 3,000 volumes, was opened in December 1888
by John Brunner. This date is permanently built into the facade,
high up, and can still be seen, even though the building has
been re-cycled as Nantwich Museum. In the evening a grand
concert took place in the Town Hall (lower High Street).
Miss Annie Jackson was the first librarian. She served for
26 years starting on a salary of £20 per year. She catalogued
the library and the first books were circulated on the 9th
of March 1889.
(Details and later history may be found in "Nantwich
Free Library: the early years" by Allan Whatley
to mark the centenary library building in 1988)
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