History of the Library Movement in Huddersfield (1945)

History of the Library Movement in Huddersfield was published in 1945 by the County Borough of Huddersfield.


  • booklet
  • 30 pages

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History of the Library Movement in Huddersfield.

Public Subscription and Private Circulating Libraries.

One of the most successful types of library in the country established prior to the rate supported public library was the public subscription library. Most towns of any importance possessed one or more of such libraries. In addition there existed private circulating libraries which supplied the needs of some of the book-reading public.

In Huddersfield before the institution of a Public Library various Societies and Institutes throughout the district provided facilities for those of their members who desired reading matter in the form of books.

Honley Book Club.

The earliest private circulating library in the district of which there is a record was the Honley Book Club, founded in 1750. The following is a list of the founders : Rev. R. Rishton, Vicar of Almond -bury; Rev. J. Harrop, Incumbent of Holmfirth; Mr. Battye, Surveyor, Huddersfield ; Mr. Joseph Armitage ; Rev. W. Croft, Curate-in-Charge, Honley; Mr. James Haigh; Mr. W. Thompson; Mr. Learoyd; Mr. Anthony Armytage, Thickhollins; Mr. D. Crosland, Crosland Hill; Mr. Whitacre; Mr. Atkinson. This Club met once a month for 50 years at the George and Dragon Inn, Honley, and in 1800 moved to the Wheat Sheaf Inn, Honley. Several residents in the Borough were among the Foundation Members of the Club and other members resident in the Borough later joined that Club. It went out of existence on the 17th April, 1823, when only seven members remained, and they divided the books equally between them. Interest in the Honley Book Club no doubt waned owing to the rival attraction of the Huddersfield Subscription Library which had in the meantime come into existence.

There is some evidence that about two hundred years ago book clubs were also in existence in Holmfirth, Almondbury as well as Honley.

The Huddersfield Subscription Library.

In 1807 the Huddersfield Subscription Library was founded and consisted at first of 42 members. In 1875 Mr. G. W. Tomlinson published a booklet giving very interesting information concerning the Founders of the Subscription Library. The following is a list of the members in March, 1807 :—

  • Mr. Radcliffe, Miln-Bridge House.
  • Mr. Lees.
  • Mr. Thomas Atkinson, Mould-Green.
  • Mr. Blackburn.
  • Mr. Holroyd, Birkby.
  • Mr. Allison.
  • Mr. J. Horsfall, Thornton Lodge.
  • Mr. Wilks.
  • Mr. Joshua Crosland, Lockwood.
  • Mr. Joseph Armitage, Lockwood.
  • Mr. Joseph Walker, Lascelles-Hall.
  • Mr. Thomas Houghton.
  • Mr. Benj. Haigh, Gledholt.
  • Mr. Joseph Haigh, Golcar-Hill.
  • Mr. J. Sutcliffe, Jun.
  • Mr. Scott, Woodsome.
  • Mr. J. Hawxby.
  • Mr. Woolley, Thorp.
  • Mr. J. Beck.
  • Mr. Armitage, Highroyd.
  • Mr. Rowland Houghton.
  • Mr. Bradshaw.
  • Mr. North, Lockwood.
  • Mr. Whitacre, Woodhouse.
  • Mr. Nelson.
  • Mr. Abraham Horsfall.
  • Mr. Hirst.
  • Mr. Roberts, Longwood House.
  • Mr. Stables.
  • Mr. Allen, Greenhead.
  • Mr. Seaton.
  • Mr. J. Dobson, Jun.
  • Mr. Greenwood.
  • Rev. Mr. Coates.
  • Mr. Hamer.
  • Mr. B. Lockwood, Jun., Coldersley.
  • Mr. James Crosland, Fennay.
  • Mr. J. Lockwood, Storth.
  • Miss Crosland.
  • Mr. Hannah.
  • Mr. Wm. Cooper.
  • Mr. J. Battye.


  • Mr. F. Moon, Bookseller, Corner of Cloth-Hall Street.

The library was under the direction of a Committee, and subscribers or members were admitted by a majority vote at a general meeting. The entrance fee was two guineas and the annual subscription one guinea. For nearly a hundred years the library supplied the needs of those readers in the town and district who could afford to join it. In 1842 the library was housed at Mr. Brook’s, Westgate, and had 4,500 volumes in stock.

In 1899 a deputation from the Subscription Library interviewed the Public Library Committee with a view to the library being added to the Public Library, but the Public Library Committee found themselves unable to accede to the proposal of the deputation. In 1906, on the Subscription Library going out of existence, the Public Library Committee purchased about 130 volumes from that Library, and these were added to the Public Library.

The Friends' Book Society.

This Society came into existence on the 21st August, 1834, at Rastrick when ten Quakers “agreed to form a Society for the purposes of circulating works of general interest among the members”. The Society is still in existence and for many years Huddersfield has been its centre and many Huddersfield citizens have been numbered amongst its members, not all of whom have been members of the Society of Friends.

Huddersfield Mechanics' Institute.

The Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institute had its origin in the Young Men’s Mental Improvement Society, under whose auspices classes were established and a library formed at the British School, Outcote Bank, in 1841. In 1843, as the membership had grown, the Society transferred its activities to Nelson’s Buildings, New Street, and the name was changed to Mechanic’s Institute. Still larger premises being required, the Society was transferred in 1849 to Wellington’s Buildings, Queen Street. In 1860 the Mechanics’ Institute in Northumberland Street, now the Friendly and Trades’ Societies’ Club, was erected. In 1881 the library had 5,000 volumes and subscribed to nearly 50 London and Provincial newspapers and periodicals, both daily and weekly.

An earlier Mechanics’ Institute established in April, 1825, also had a library, and other Mechanics’ Halls in various parts of the Borough had libraries and reading rooms for the use of their members.

Private Circulating Libraries.

There were circulating libraries at the premises of Thomas Kemp, Printer, New Street, in 1822, at Mr. W. Moore’s in New Street in 1830, and one at Mr. Wm. Dewhirst’s, New Street, in 1837.

The Philosophical Hall in Ramsden Street, built in 1837, had a library as well as a museum and laboratory.

The Female Educational Institute, established in 1846, had 800 volumes in its library.

The Model Lodging House, established in 1854, had a library for the use of lodgers.

Sunday School Libraries.

In 1881 there were in the Nonconformist Sunday Schools within the Borough 50 libraries with a total of over 21,000 volumes. The late Mr. L. Stanley Jast, in his book “ The Library and the Community,” said :—

"Libraries of various types, proprietary, parochial, Sunday School, and the Mechanics’ Institute libraries were catering as well as they were able for the awakening book-hunger of the people. The very deficiencies of the services rendered were as effective in their way as the successes attained in creating the appetite for something better. But the demand was as yet rather a need than a demand, and the need itself only half-realized."
"The Sunday school libraries were the means of bringing forward a host of writers who made up for their lack of literary quality by the unimpeachable piety of their tales, so that the term ‘a Sunday-school book’ came to define its characteristic features. But they served their generation, and were the precursors of the juvenile departments of the rate-supported library. The true forerunners of the latter, however, must be sought for in the Mechanics’ Institutes, the first of which was organized by Dr. Birkbeck in London in 1824. Beginning with the limited aim of teaching mechanics the principles of their trades, the scope rapidly widened, and they fostered an intellectual awakening and a spirit of inquiry amongst the general body of the population to which the writers on sociological topics have never done justice. Two of the most important instruments of their work, the reading room and the library, can fairly be regarded as the prototypes of these sections in the public library."

What Mr. Jast said about the origins of the Public Library movement generally is specially applicable to the history and development of the movement in Huddersfield.

News Rooms.

A Commercial News Room was opened in 1829, and had 100 subscribers in 1837. There was also a Subscription News Room at the George Inn in 1830.

Huddersfield News Room.


  • First. — The Annual Subscription shall be Two Guineas; and every Gentleman becoming a Subscriber, shall pay an Entrance of One Guinea. The Subscriptions to be paid, each Year, in Advance, to the Treasurer for the Time being, reckoning the Year to commence on the First of May.
  • Second. — If any Subscriber suffers his Subscription to remain unpaid till the First of June, he shall forfeit Half-a-Crown; if it remains unpaid till the First of November, he shall forfeit Five Shillings; and if at the End of the Year it still remains unpaid, he shall incur a Forfeit of Ten Shillings. — The Fines to go to the General Fund.
  • Third. — Any Subscriber who shall be in Arrear with his Fines and Subscriptions, One Month after the Year expires, having had due Notice from the Secretary, shall be excluded.
  • Fourth. — No Gentleman residing within Five Miles shall be admitted unless a Subscriber.
  • Fifth. — No Stranger shall be admitted, except introduced by a Subscriber, the Name of such Person introduced, as well as the Subscriber’s who introduces him being first entered in a Book kept for that Purpose; and any Stranger (Officers of the Army and Navy, on Service, excepted), attending the Room more than one Month, shall be expected to subscribe by the Quarter.
  • Sixth. — No person shall be admitted a Member of the News Room unless by Ballot; previous whereto, the Name and Place of Abode of the proposed Member, shall have been put up in the Room at least Seven Days. Seven Subscribers shall be present at the Ballot, and Three Black Balls shall exclude any Candidate. The Time of ballotting, for new Members, shall be Twelve o’Clock at Noon, on Mondays only.
  • Seventh. — No Paper belonging to the News Room shall be carried away at any Time on any Account, and if any Person be detected taking any Paper away, he shall be expelled.
  • Eighth. — The officiating Clergymen of the Parish Church and Trinity Church shall be considered as honorary Members.
  • Ninth. — The News Room shall be ready for the Admission of Members at Eight o’Clock every Morning, and remain open till Ten in the Evening, except on Sundays, when the Room shall be closed at the Commencement of the Afternoon Service, for the Rest of the Day.
  • Tenth. — Any Gentleman remaining in the Room after the Time appointed for its being closed, (due Notice thereof being given) shall forfeit One Shilling for the first Five Minutes, and One Shilling for every Ten Minutes so long as he stays afterwards. These Fines to go to the House.
  • Eleventh. — No Gentleman shall allow his Dog to come into the Room.

Cloth Hall.

The News Room in the Cloth Hall was opened on 1st January, 1881, and continued until 31st December, 1929.

Huddersfield Industrial Society.

On May 13th, 1893, the Society opened the first Public Free Reading Room in Huddersfield. A Lending Library was opened in August, 1894, but both the Reading Room and Library were discontinued in 1931.

Library Legislation and The Huddersfield Improvement Act.

The Museums Act, 1845.

The earliest public library in the country to be supported out of the rates was established at Warrington in 1848 under the provisions of this Act which gave limited powers for that purpose.

The Public Libraries Act, 1850.

It was only after a long struggle, and in the face of opposition hardly credible at the present day, that the first Public Libraries Act became law.

The Act of 1850 enabled Town Councils of the larger Boroughs to establish Public Libraries and Museums and repealed the Museums Act of 1845. The Act was an adoptive one and certain procedure had to be followed for adopting the Act.

The Mayor, upon the request of the Town Council, was empowered to cause public notice to be given specifying when and where the burgesses were required to signify their votes for or against the adoption of the Act. A two-thirds majority of the votes given was necessary to secure adoption. The Act, when adopted, gave power to the Town Council to purchase or rent any lands or buildings for the purpose of forming public libraries or museums of art and science, or both, and to erect, alter, and extend any buildings for such purpose, to maintain them in good repair, to purchase fuel, lighting, fixtures, and furniture, to appoint officers and servants, and to make rules and regulations, but they had no power to purchase books or specimens. They were given power to levy a rate up to one halfpenny in the pound of annual value, and to borrow money on the security of that rate for the above purposes. Admission to the libraries was to be free of charge. If the adoption of the Act was rejected, no further application for its adoption could be made within the next two years.

Town Councils, however, did not display any undue eagerness to avail themselves of the powers with which the Act entrusted them. This is not to be wondered at when we consider the meagre financial provision made for carrying it into effect. The produce of a halfpenny rate, in the smaller boroughs at least, must have been demonstrably insufficient to provide even a building, to say nothing of the cost of its administration. They were not empowered to buy any books but had to beg for them.

The Public Libraries Act, 1855.

This Act repealed the Act of 1850, but was also an adoptive Act, and if adoption was not carried by a two-thirds majority at a public meeting of the burgesses no further meeting could be called for that purpose for at least one year. It raised the limit of the levy on the rates to one penny in the pound. The intention of the Act was expressed to be for further promoting the establishment of “free” Public Libraries. This was an entire misnomer and much of the ignorance and misconception with regard to Public Libraries and their work which has prevailed may be traced to this misuse of the term “free”. They are maintained out of the rates for the benefit of the community and are paid for by the rate-payers like any other public service.

Huddersfield Improvement Act, 1871.

Under sections 210 and 334 of this Act the Corporation obtained power to erect libraries and furnish and supply them with books without resorting to the provisions of the Libraries Act of 1855, and to pay all expenses without any limit out of the rates. Very considerable foresight was displayed in so early obtaining this wide power, but extreme reluctance was shown to exercising it. It was not, in fact, until the new central library was built that the power to build contained in the local Act was first put into operation. The existence of this Act rendered the adoption of the Libraries Act really unnecessary, but the fear of unlimited expense being incurred led those in favour of a Public Library to seek refuge in the strictly limited expenditure of a penny rate provided for in the Libraries Act if it were adopted.

The Public Libraries Act, 1892.

This is still the principal Act for this country and repealed all previous Library Acts. The method of adoption of this Act was by voting papers only and not by public meeting, and a simple majority could decide whether or not the Act should be adopted. This Act has never been adopted in Huddersfield as the provisions contained in the Huddersfield Improvement Act have been relied upon.

The Libraries Offences Act, 1898.

This Act provided for the punishment of any person who in a library or reading-room to the annoyance or disturbance of persons using the same :

  1. Behaves in a disorderly manner.
  2. Uses violent, abusive, or obscene language.
  3. Bets or gambles.
  4. Or, who, after proper warning, persists in remaining therein beyond the hours for closing.

The Act is still in force, though it is to be hoped that proceedings under it will not be necessary in this town.

The Public Libraries Act, 1919.

This Act is without doubt the most important piece of legislation so far as libraries are concerned that has been carried through since the first Public Libraries Act of 1850 was put upon the statute book. Its most valuable provision was the abolition of the statutory limitation of the rate that might be levied by local authorities for the purposes of the Libraries Acts, a limitation which for three-quarters of a century did more than anything else to retard the progress of public libraries. The measure was not carried without a prolonged struggle and power was still retained to fix a rate limit if a local authority thought fit to do so. The hampering effect of the penny-rate restriction was early experienced by the authorities to whom was entrusted the administration of the Acts, and many progressive municipalities, by promoting local Acts empowering them to increase the amount of the rate to be levied, or to remove the restriction entirely, had found the means of rendering their libraries more useful to their respective communities. As early as 1865 Oldham had got rid of the restriction altogether, and was followed by St. Helens in 1869, and as has already been mentioned,, by Huddersfield in 1871. By the beginning of this century some thirty library authorities had in this way obtained relief from the crippling effect of the penny rate.

Those authorities which had established public libraries had found that under the penny-rate restriction, after providing for the maintenance of their library buildings, lighting, heating, and staffing them, paying sinking-fund charges, insurance, and .so forth, very little money was left for the essential purposes of a library, namely, the supply of new books, the replacement of those worn out, and bookbinding. The additional money provided by the extra penny or halfpenny made all the difference between absolute penury and comparative affluence in the matter of book supply. It was felt, however, that the restriction in the matter of rating for libraries, which prevented authorities from spending whatever they considered desirable for the requirements of the public, was an absurd one. Other municipal undertakings were not subject to such restrictions, and it seemed anomalous that libraries should be debarred from performing their proper functions in this invidious manner. The cost, however, of obtaining parliamentary sanction for increased rating powers was prohibitive in all but the largest towns, and it was felt that the permission to increase the rating power which had been granted to certain municipalities should be extended to all, and that the proper procedure was to abolish the rate limit altogether and allow each community to assess itself to whatever extent it thought necessary for the proper functioning of its library system.

Local Polls on the adoption of The Public Libraries Act, 1850.

On the 8th January, 1881, the first attempt was made to obtain an expression of opinion from the ratepayers of Huddersfield as to whether the initial step should be taken towards the provision of a Public Library for the town by adopting the Libraries Act of 1850 as an alternative to exercising the powers already obtained under the local Act.

Out of 15,035 whose names were on the burgess list, over 11,000 did not think it worth while to record their votes.

The result of the poll was as follows :—

For the adoption of the Act — 1,261
Against — 2,425
Majority against — 1,161

Further information is available showing how the votes in the various wards were recorded :—

Ward For Against Total voted No. on roll
West 175 237 412 1,753
North 126 125 251 1,551
Central 50 73 123 669
East 31 89 120 643
South 712 55 97 538
Marsh (Paddock District) 61 227 288 896
Marsh (Marsh District) 32 66 98 368
Fartown, 187 191 378 1,502
Dalton, Bradley & Deighton (Huddersfield Township) 11 75 86 363
Dalton, Bradley & Deighton (Dalton Township) 19 59 78 367
Moldgreen (Dalton Township) 78 160 238 956
Moldgreen (Almondbury Township) 67 63 130 556
Lockwood (East) 118 154 272 1,073
Lockwood (West) 49 91 140 664
Almondbury & Newsome (Almondbury) 66 148 214 784
Almondbury & Newsome (Newsome) 106 203 309 1,131
Lindley-cum-Quarmby 46 409 455 1,221
Totals 1,264 2,425 3,689 15,035

Among the various reasons advanced by those opposing the adoption of the Act were an objection on principle to public money being spent to provide what was described by some as a public luxury and the contention that the time was inopportune for increasing the rates for such a purpose. Some persons had no objection provided the money was raised by voluntary subscription and an endowment fund created from similar sources. The Library at the Mechanics' Institute was considered by others to be sufficient for the needs of the town. As over £1,250,000 had been spent on public improvements in the 12 years since the incorporation of the Borough in 1868 many of the ratepayers were becoming alarmed at the increase in the rates. The produce of a 1d. rate at that time was £1,000.

On 26th March, 1887, a further attempt was made to obtain an expression of public opinion with a very similar result.

Prior to the poll the following Appeal had appeared in the Borough Advertiser on March 25th, 1887 :—

By your votes to-morrow, you will decide a question of the greatest importance to your town, and I hope the answer that you gave a week since in the Town Hall will be repeated with tenfold force. I am at a loss to understand why it is opposed by people of ordinary intelligence; its advantages are so patent and the cost so insignificant, that there seems no case against it worth considering.
WORKING MEN ; IT WILL NOT COST YOU A FARTHING A WEEK. Do not be misled, study the interest of yourselves, your children, and your fellow-townsmen, by accepting the boon a wise Legislature has placed within your reach. The benefit will not be confined to you; but you will be the greatest losers by its rejection. There is but one answer an intelligent community can give to the question, “will you adopt the Library Act?” that is “Yes.” Attend in your thousands and give that answer, and you will bestow on your town that which you, and even those who oppose it now, will recognise as an invaluable Institution, and a permanent blessing.”

A further printed Appeal was circulated to the extent of 10,000 copies in the same month, in which the author, who signed himself “Socialist,” said :—

“What, then, is your duty in this matter? It is, that you hesitate not for a single moment as to your decision, but that you demand a Free Library as an indefeasible right; that you demand a share in those enjoyments which you so largely help to create. Although I hate this system of capitalism with a hatred intense and passionate, yet I am bound to admit that there are, amongst the capitalists, honorable men who are willing and anxious to grant you this boon; and it is with pain and sadness that I have heard men of your own class trying to persuade you to reject this scheme. With these it is almost useless to argue, for they assuredly ‘know not what they do;' they are, unconsciously no doubt, acting traitorously to the common weal.
“In your hands lies the intellectual destiny of unborn generations, and to you, as the main arbiters in this momentous question, I appeal.
“From my inmost heart, which beats in unison with your own highest aspirations, 1 send this appeal to you to vote, and to vote aright in this matter, and I earnestly and sincerely trust that I shall not appeal in vain.”

In spite of these Appeals out of 17,300 Burgesses, only 1,303 voted in favour of the adoption of the Act and 2,385 voted against it. At that date the debt on the town had grown to £1,830,000 and the produce of a 1d. rate had increased to £1,300. The system of differential rating which prevailed in the various wards of the Borough undoubtedly affected the decision at this poll as well as on the previous occasion, the residents in the outer wards fearing that they would derive little benefit from a library situated in the centre of the Town.

One speaker at a Town Hall meeting held prior to the poll, estimated the cost of erecting a suitable building at £4,000, the purchase of books at £2,000, and the total annual charge on the rates of £900 — the equivalent of a ¾d. rate, or well under the limit allowed by the Act. At the time of the incorporation of the Borough the rates in the central wards of the town were 1s. 11d. in the pound, and by 1887 they had risen to 4s. 3d.

A minority persisted in their efforts to obtain a library, and an interesting pamphlet was printed and circulated in 1897 entitled “In Darkest Huddersfield and one way out of it, or Why we have no Public Library.' The claims of a Public Library were strongly urged, and the author said :—

“This bonny town of ours holds a position of which in many respects we may be justly proud. Few infirmaries are better than ours. I do not know a lodging-house so comfortable as our Model. Where are poor people so cared for as at Crosland Moor? We have two beautiful parks. Our tram Service is second to none in the country. Our supply of water is almost unlimited, and so pure that its very purity is at fault.’’

In fact, though Huddersfield possessed such admirable features it sadly lacked a Public Library. The author then went on to say :—

“The one great objection to a Public Library is a want of confidence in our Corporation. There is a fear that they would be reckless in their expenditure.’’

He was satisfied, however, that such fears were groundless.

The writer’s description of what in his view constituted a public library shows that he was not very extravagant in his ideas, for he went on to say :—

“Perhaps I had better give an outline of the sort of place a Public Library is. Picture in your mind, a very large well lighted room, one storey roof-lighted is the best. Place a counter the full length of the room, and about one quarter the width from one side, fill the wall on the narrow side with shelves, and the shelves with books, between the counter and the books, place a young lady every sixteen feet of the length of the counter, fill the room, on the broad side of the counter, with as many tables set at right angles with the counter as the space will allow, surround the tables with chairs, get out a catalogue, open the door, and the people will come. A moveable wood rail is found to be quite sufficient as a barrier to keep the ladies, the men, and the boys apart. I do not say all libraries are so arranged, but these are the essential parts, the rest is all detail and shell.”

His demands were certainly modest judged by modern standards.

It was not, however, until the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations of 1897 that the agitation bore fruit and a definite scheme for the provision of a Public Library and Art Gallery was evolved. A tower on Castle Hill and a Public Library and Art Gallery were to be among the permanent local memorials to that event — the latter only after close voting and much controversy in Council, and expressly subject to the limit of a penny rate.

Proceedings of the Town Council.

At their meeting held on the 21st April, 1897, the members of the Council considered and debated at length the following resolution of which notice of intention to move it had been previously given :—

“That in the event of a free library and art gallery being established in the borough by public subscriptions, this Council hereby undertakes to accept the maintenance thereof, at a cost not exceeding a penny in the pound annually.”

On the motion being put to the meeting 19 voted in favour of it and 11 against.

The vote was not taken until nearly 10 p.m., when as a subsequent speaker remarked, the members of the Council were mentally and physically exhausted. The meeting began with 49 members and closed with 30. The nineteen members who had left the Council Chamber were described as having gone away irritated and making their departure as a protest against forcing business through when calm discussion was impossible.

On the 21st July, 1897, the Council debated the following resolution :—

“That, considering that the Burgesses of Huddersfield have not voluntarily provided the sum of /3,000 necessary to the establishment of a Free Library to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, this Council is not justified in proceeding to establish a Free Library without again ascertaining the wishes of the Rate-payers by a Public Poll.”

An Amendment was moved as follows :—

“That in accordance with the spirit of the resolution of the Council of the 21st April, 1897, with reference to the maintenance of a Free Library and Art Gallery, and in accordance with the provisions of Section 210 of the Huddersfield Improvement Act, 1871, that the necessary steps be taken for taking over when ready the Free Library and Art Gallery which is being formed in connection with the celebration of the completion of the 60th year of the reign of Her Majesty the Queen; and further, that upon the transfer of such Library and Art Gallery to the Corporation a declaration be inserted in the Deed of Transfer by the Corporation that the expenditure in connection with the maintenance of such Free Library and Art Gallery shall not exceed one penny in the pound, calculated on the rateable value of the Borough for the time being in any one year.”

On the amendment being put to the meeting 21 voted in favour of it and 19 against.

At a further meeting held on the 18th September, 1897, the Council, for the third time in one year, discussed the question of the provision of a Public Library. On that occasion the matter came before them in the form of the following resolution, of which due notice had been given :—

“That having regard to the following facts, viz.:—
a) The Council having, on the 21st day of April, 1897, by one-third of its members only, voted for aid from the rates being given towards the support of a Free Library and Art Gallery.
b) Having on the 21st day of July, 1897, by one-third of the members only voted for such aid.
c) The burgesses having, on two direct appeals being made to them through the medium of a poll, refused their consent to such aid, and
d) The public having, in response to a circular issued on the 23rd April last, by the Chairman of the Free Library Committee, containing the following appeal, viz.:—
“It now rests with the citizens of Huddersfield to provide the sum of £3,000 or more for the establishment of this institution.”
refused to voluntarily provide the said sum.

That the resolution of the 21st April, 1897, undertaking to accept the maintenance of a Free Library and Art Gallery in the event of one being established; together with the resolution of the 21st July, 1897, providing that in accordance with the resolution above mentioned the necessary steps be taken for taking over the Free Library and Art Gallery when ready and further limiting the expenditure connected with the maintenance thereof to a sum not exceeding Id. in the pound, together with all other resolutions thereon (if any) be rescinded.

And further that in lieu thereof the Council do not proceed with the establishment or maintenance of a Free Library and Art Gallery without first ascertaining the views of the burgesses thereon.

On the proposition being put to the meeting at about 8-45 p.m., after a session lasting nearly five hours, 25 members voted for the motion and 27 against it.

So at last, by a narrow majority only, the Council obtained authority to proceed with their scheme.

To give a lead to the Council, Sir John William Ramsden granted a 10 years’ lease of premises in Church Street at a nominal rent of £50 per annum. Over £1,600 was publicly subscribed in response to an appeal for £3,000 for the purchase of books, and the Library was opened on the 22nd April, 1898, by the Marquis of Ripon. The reading-rooms had been opened to the public on the 14th February by the Mayor, Alderman W. H. Jessop. Sir John, who was present at the opening of the Library, stated that the premises were a temporary measure only, and he hoped that before 10 years were past other and more commodious quarters would be found necessary.

The Library was inaugurated, not at first as a municipal institution, though after a few months’ existence it was taken over by the Corporation in 1898 from the Trustees of the fund subscribed for its establishment.

All departments were open free to the public and the lending libraries have been worked on the open access principle since their inception. In 1898 there were only thirteen libraries in the country of the open access type.

The books in the lending and reference libraries were classified by the Dewey Decimal System so as to enable books on any subject to be easily found.

Arrangements also were made by means of an interloan system with other libraries and by membership of the National Central Library, for the reader to obtain almost any serious book published.

The original tenancy was quickly outgrown, and in 1899 it was necessary to take over an additional room to which the Reference Library was transferred, the News Room being extended into the room it previously occupied. A Reading Room for boys was also inaugurated. Further extensions were made in 1900, the Reference Library being transferred to an upper floor, allowing for an extension of the Lending Library, and an additional Magazine Room was also provided.

Art Gallery.

The Art Gallery was opened on the 22nd April, 1898, by Lady Gwendolen Ramsden.

The nucleus of a permanent collection of oil paintings, water colours, and prints was obtained and the Huddersfield Art Society, the School of Art, and the Huddersfield Naturalist, Photographic and Antiquarian Society used the premises for their exhibitions.

The Committee subscribed to the Contemporary Art Society and the National Art Collections Fund and thereby received occasional additions to the Permanent Collection, which also grew as the result of private donations and occasional purchases.

Schemes and Possible Sites.

For many years the inadequacy of the premises in Church Street was only too apparent, but for various reasons it was not found possible to provide new premises more worthy of the town.

In 1915 an application was made to the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust for a grant towards the cost of new library premises, and in 1917 a conditional grant of £10,500 was offered to the Council for that purpose. In 1924 this grant was increased to £11,550 towards a scheme estimated at £40,000, but the conditions attached to the gift were not acceptable to the Council, and the offer was eventually allowed to lapse.

Among the possible sites for a new building which have been from time to time under consideration was the plot of land in St. Peter’s Street adjoining the Parish Church Grave Yard. In 1921 this site was given to the town by Sir J. F. Ramsden and the Council approved the allocation of it for the purposes of a new library, but later decided to preserve it as an open space and it was laid out as a park. In 1929 the Cloth Hall site was actually decided upon by the Council as the place where a new Central Library should be built, and in January, 1931, instructions were given that as soon as it was known how much of the site would be required for the widening of Market Street an invitation should be issued for competitive designs to be submitted. In two months’ time, however, the Council reversed its decision and granted a lease of the site for the purpose of the erection of the Ritz Cinema. Eventually in 1934 Ramsden Street Congregational Chapel and the adjoining Guildhall in Bull and Mouth Street were offered privately for sale to the Corporation and were acquired at a cost of just over £7,000, and immediately allocated as the site for the new building. A plaque on the first landing on the stairs records the fact that :—


On the acquisition of the site a Library Architect with the necessary staff was appointed. Close collaboration between Architect and Librarian was maintained throughout the period of construction. Members of the Committee from time to time visited many modern Libraries and Art Galleries in different parts of the country, and the fittings, furniture, and services were carefully considered in conjunction with the very latest developments in that respect.

The new building is intended not only to provide for the ordinary readers' needs, but to act also as a distribution centre for local branch libraries and book centres.

Progress of the Scheme.


  • 29th May, 1934. — Purchase of the site.
  • 3rd October, 1935. — Appointment of Mr. E. H. Ashburner, B.Arch., A.R.I.B.A., as Architect.
  • 17th January, 1936. — Estimate of inclusive total cost (£98,235 0s. 6d.) approved by the Finance Committee.
  • 27th January, 1936. — Demolition commenced of the Ramsden Street and Bull and Mouth Street premises, consisting of the Ramsden Street Congregational (formerly Independent) Chapel, Dorcas Room, caretakers' house, and Guildhall.
  • 20th May, 1936. — Design approved by the Council.
  • 17th October, 1936. — Demolition completed.
  • 6th January, 1937. — Tender of Messrs. J. Wimpenny & Co. accepted for the General Contract.
  • 1st February, 1937. — Excavation started.
  • 29th October, 1937. — Foundation stone laid by Councillor Thomas Smailes, Chairman of the Public Library and Art Gallery Committee.
  • February, 1940. — Building completed at a total cost of £102,500 inclusive of the site.
  • 15th April, 1940. — Lending Library, music library, reference library, patent library, temporary children’s library, reading room, ladies’ room, opened to the public.
  • 14th April, 1943. — Art Gallery opened.
  • 17th May, 1945. — Children’s Library and newspaper room opened.

During the early part of the war the lower Ground Floor of the building was used as a Decontamination Post and First Aid Centre, and the Art Gallery was reserved for possible use as an emergency hospital.

General Scheme of The New Public Library and Art Gallery.

The building was required by the Corporation to be set back, and that permitted of a spacious treatment by the Architect of the Main Entrance steps. A fall in the level of Ramsden Street allowed access to be gained from the low level of Bull and Mouth Street to a wide area extending across the front and West side of the building. Access may be had from this area to the Children’s Library and Newspaper Room — departments which it was thought desirable to isolate from the General Reading Rooms of the Library.

A separate entrance to the Staff quarters is provided off Victoria Lane. Branch Library services, book crates, stores, pictures, and refuse clinker from the four boilers are dealt with by a Goods Entrance in the little frequented Bull and Mouth Street.

A possible future extension of the building is provided for. A widening of Bull and Mouth Street is fore-shadowed and an alignment with existing streets on either side of the Market Hall.

Description of the Building.


The building is of steel-frame construction, faced externally with Crosland Hill stone. The modern tendency towards simple massing and plain treatment of wall surfaces has been followed, whilst the general detailing is strongly classical in feeling. A broad flight of steps gives access from Ramsden Street to the Main Entrance Hall at Upper Ground Floor level. This Ramsden Street front is greatly enhanced by the sculptural work of Mr. James Woodford, R.A., which has been incorporated in the design in such a way as to concentrate interest on the Main Entrance door of the building.

Mr. Woodford’s work consists of two figures, flanking the entrance flight of steps, and two low-relief panels, placed between Ground and First Floor windows of the side bays of the elevation. The figures represent the youthful spirits of Literature and Art, listening to the whispering voices of Inspiration- suggested by six small symbolic panels carved on the back and sides of the thrones upon which the figures are seated.

The composition of the panels on the two side bays consists of grouped figures symbolising various Arts and cultural activities. Plaster casts of these panels were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1939 and casts of the two figures at the Royal Academy Exhibition in the following year.



The Lower Ground Floor contains the three Stack Rooms, with book-lift services to the floors above. Here also are the Children’s Library, Newspaper Room, and an Exhibition Hall which will be used for exhibitions, lectures, or the meetings of various appropriate Societies.


The separate Children’s Library, which is an entirely new feature in Huddersfield, is divided into Reference and Lending sections. It provides shelving for 5,000 volumes in all, and table space for readers. An attempt has been made to provide an attractive department, informal in the lay-out of its furniture, and cheerful in the tones of its colour scheme. The inner walls are decorated by a series of mural panels in oils. These panels portray well-known local legends, and are the work of Mr. C. R. Napier, A.R.C.A., and pupils of the Huddersfield School of Art. The centre design depicts an old man telling his friends some of the legends of the Huddersfield district, and the designs on either side show the walling up of the Marsden Cuckoo, the “Slowit mooinrakers,” the Scapegoat Hill band tip-toeing through the village so that they would not be heard at dead of night — but with their instruments in full blast — and the Linthwaite leadboilers.


The Newspaper Room is furnished with news-slopes, arranged as a continuous fitting round the walls. It also provides seating for readers at tables in the central part of the room. Some central libraries have no newsroom in their main building and there has been considerable controversy in some areas as to whether such facilities should be provided. The late Mr. Stanley Jast said that the newsroom appeared as the one questionable feature of the community library as it exists today, and stated that there were indications that it would gradually disappear. As that time has not yet arrived in Huddersfield ample provision has been made to cater for that section of the public which desires for various reasons to have access to newspapers in a public reading room.


The Entrance Hall is at the Upper Ground Floor level and is entered direct by means of the steps off Ramsden Street. The walls of the Hall are lined with San Steffano marble, the floor consisting of a chequer design of Bianco del Mare and Swedish Green, and the ceiling of a simple treatment of shallow plastered coffers.

Adjoining the Entrance Hall, on either hand, are the Librarian’s Room and the Committee Room. Separate entrance and exit doors are provided to the Lending Library which, with its Swedish Green marble columns, and shelf accommodation for 20,250 volumes, forms the main feature of the Upper Ground Floor.


Separate provision is made for the housing of Special Libraries loaned by local Professional Societies, and accessible to the general public. The Library of the Huddersfield Incorporated Law Society is intended to be housed in this room and the books made available for reference by the general public.


The Music Library in the old premises was formally opened on 21st October, 1924, by the late Samuel Firth, J.P., through whose most generous sympathy and support its establishment was made possible.

Many societies and individuals have contributed towards the library, either by money or gifts in kind, and it is now very suitably housed in the new building.


Reference Library.

On the first floor is situated the Reference Library, with shelf accommodation for 5,000 volumes, and seating for readers at individual reading tables.

In the Reference Library special collections dealing with Huddersfield, Yorkshire, Cricket, Textiles and Art have been acquired. A comprehensive file of Huddersfield newspapers from 1850 is available for consultation, together with bound volumes of “The Times” from 1898.

Patents Library.

Opening off the Reference Library is the Patents Library, providing references of Patents dating back to 1855. This Library was transferred from the Town Hall to the former library premises in Julv, 1902. Local Collections Room.

In this room is housed a valuable collection of works of particular local interest consisting of books, pamphlets, photographs, and other items dealing with the history, topography and social activities of Huddersfield and Yorkshire. Of special interest is the collection of books, pamphlets, manuscripts, pedigrees, engravings and maps relating to Huddersfield and district made by the late Mr. G. W. Tomlinson.

Study Rooms.

Small rooms for private study open directly off the main stair landing. Following the example set by the new central libraries at Manchester and Sheffield these small study rooms take the place of the “Carrels” which were a feature of some of the ancient monasteries.

General Reading Room and Ladies’ Room.

A large general Reading Room and a separate Ladies’ Room have been provided. On the wall at the entrance to the Reading Room is a case in which is contained the collection of war and other medals presented in May, 1930, by the late Dr. D. Wilson, of Paddock. This interesting and valuable collection covers the history of Great Britain and the Empire from the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603) up to and including the period of the Great War (1914-1918), and contains examples of the die-sinker’s art which are seldom seen outside of the British Museum.


Art Gallery.

The Second Floor is devoted to the purpose of an Art Gallery. Special attention has been paid to the problem of displaying the pictures to the best advantage, both as regards lighting and colour effects. The source of light is, so far as is possible, concealed so as not to distract attention from the picture hanging-space, and all mouldings and decoration have been subordinated for a similar reason.

The walls in the various Art Galleries are lined with match boarding with a canvas and stout brown paper backing on which is stretched a finishing fabric of cotton and jute in various selected colours.

Recessed metal picture rails are provided for the hanging of pictures and obviates the necessity for unsightly nails or suspension chains.

The Gallery Landing and upper stair-well are lined with Gaboon treated in a series of horizontal bands with walnut division strips. There is also provided hanging space for the larger pictures, whilst a shallow recess, with concealed lighting from above, gives convenient accommodation for the display of small prints, miniatures, or “objets d'art”.

Work Rooms.

Adjoining the Art Gallery is a Work Room with storage accommodation for pictures. From this work room a special picture hoist, large enough to take pictures of a length up to eleven feet, serves down to the Goods Entrance in Bull and Mouth Street. Provision is made on the various floors for Staff Work Rooms, Cloak Rooms, Kitchen and Dining Room.


The general heating is supplied by four sectional, coke-fired boilers with an over-head gravity feed. Heating of all rooms is by means of the low pressure and temperature accelerated hot water panel system, the panels being formed of wrought iron tubing in coils arranged round the ceiling of each room.

Ventilation is by means of a balanced arrangement of air intake and exhaust. In view of the divergence of conditions in the Art Gallery and Library proper, separate and distinct ventilating systems are provided to serve each of these two departments. All ventilation ducts are concealed. The main ducts consist of bricked trenches below the Lower Ground Floor level, and serve to contain the pipe mains, and other services. From these main ducts vertical risers are designed in the thickness of the walls serving to inlet and extract grilles concealed in the tops of the wall shelving.


The Lower Ground Floor Reading Rooms, which are on the solid, are floored with Teak wood blocks. Stack rooms and corridors generally have a granolithic finish, whilst the main reading rooms are covered with cork carpet in selected colours. The Art Gallery floors are of cork tiles laid to pattern and polished.


Particular care has been taken in the arrangement and switching of light points, and special light-fittings have been designed for the main Reading Rooms.

Individual table lights are provided in the Reference Library and to the newspaper slopes in the News Room, flood lights illuminate the main external elevation when this is considered desirable, and an emergency system of lighting serves the Reading Rooms in case of a failure in the supply of current.


Vacuum cleaning apparatus is housed in the Heating Chamber and connects to nozzles arranged on all floors. To facilitate the cleaning of the white glazed brick central area a light traveller, with cradle, is provided spanning the area and working along tracks let into the tops of the side coping walls.


In addition to Post Office Telephone services, an internal twelve-point system gives inter-communication between all departments.


Electric lifts are provided for passengers, goods, books and pictures.

In a recent survey of the libraries in Great Britain made by Mr. Lionel R. McColvin, Honorary Secretary of the Library Association, on behalf of that Association, the Central Library at Huddersfield has been described as one of the best and most workmanlike large library buildings in the country and well worth study. He was particularly impressed by the excellent staff accommodation which is provided.

Huddersfield may now therefore claim to have a Central Library building which judged by modern standards is worthy of the town and adequate for its needs for some years to come, and an Art Gallery capable of housing those pictures which it is hoped will from time to time be added to the permanent collection by gift or purchase. There still exists the need of adequate Branch Libraries and further Book Centres in various parts of the borough.

Branch Library and Book Centres.

The Branch Library at ALMONDBURY was opened on the 24th February, 1906, by Sir Thomas Brooke, Bart. The late Dr. Andrew Carnegie gave a sum of £1,500 to build this Branch on condition that a site should be provided free of all cost to the ratepayers, and further that the sum of money, about £1,000, then in the hands of the Trustees of the Almondbury Mechanics’ Institute and Public Hall Trust Fund should be invested in such a manner as would be a perpetual source of income, which, together with a further sum from the rates annually, would be adequate for the maintenance of the Library. Sir John Ramsden generously provided a site at a nominal rent.

Book Centres have been opened as follows :—

  • LONGWOOD, 23rd October, 1930.
  • LOCKWOOD, 23rd October, 1931.
  • CROSLAND MOOR, 15th October, 1934, by Alderman Albert Hirst, J.P. (Mayor).
  • LINDLEY, 31st March, 1837, by Alderman Thomas Smailes, Chairman of the Public Library and Art Gallery Committee.
  • NETHERTON, 8th July, 1938, by Alderman Thomas Smailes, Chairman of the Public Library and Art Gallery Committee.
  • MILNSBRIDGE, 8th July, 1940, by Alderman Thomas Smailes, Chairman of the Public Library and Art Gallery Committee.

Progress of Central Library.

At Opening 1898 4,890 486
March 31, 1908 22,004 4,909 186,548 691 4,827 1,002 5,631
March 31, 1918 31,483 8,119 225,834 863 7,254 572 7,417
March 31, 1928 45,328 10,987 373,474 1,409 9,412 1,239 11,096
March 31, 1938 70,089 10,941 441,109 1,641 8,174 1,104 9,217
March 31, 1945 92.207 12,480 788,831 2,951 7,047 1,461 15,281

STATISTICS, 1945-46.

  • Issues per 100 of population — 783.1
  • Borrowers per 100 of population — 14.27
  • Annual expenditure — £16,730
  • Expenditure per head of population — 2s. 8d.
  • Library rate — 3.88d.


  • 1897 — Alderman J. L. Walker.
  • 1897-1901 — J. E. Willans, Esq., J.P.
  • 1901-1906 — Alderman O. Balmforth, J.P.
  • 1906-1917 — Councillor G. Thomson, J.P.
  • 1917-1924 — Alderman F. Lawton, J.P.
  • 1924-1931 — Alderman Walter Halstead.
  • 1931-1945 — Alderman T. Smailes.
  • 1945-current — Alderman J. L. Dawson, J.P.


  • 1897-1909 — A. G. Lockett.
  • 1909-1925 — F. C. P. Cole, F.L.A.
  • 1925-current — H. Goulden, F.L.A.