Torquay library

Brief description

From the History of Torbay library services (linked below): “It was not until June 1903 that a reply was received from Carnegie’s Secretary offering £7,500 for the erection of a public library building providing the Act was adopted, and a site provided, the cost of which would not be a burden on the penny rate. The letter was read at the Council meeting of 29th June 1903 and accepted unanimously. The formal adoption of the 1892 Public Libraries Act was made on 1st September….. It was suggested that the library be incorporated with the Town Hall. “

After a competition which attracted 80 entries, the chosen architect was Thomas Davison, from London.

The firm of R.E. Narracott of Stoke Gabriel were appointed as builders. It soon became obvious the £7,500 was not going to be sufficient and another application was made to Andrew Carnegie who gave a further
£1,400. The foundation stone was laid on 14 February 1906 by the Mayor, John Smerdon.

Awarded Grade II listing in 1975 (note – the Town Hall listing specifically includes the former Carnegie library. The new library is also Grade II listed, and that listing also contains details of the Carnegie building.)

Current status: In 1933, the council decided to build a new library on a site closeby. It was opened in 1938. Council departments then expanded into the former library building. The Carnegie United Kingdom Trust donated £700 for books for the new library. Still open as a public library, run by xx (2021)

  • Year grant given (if known): June 1903
  • Amount of grant: £7,500, plus £1,400
  • Year opened: 2 October 1907, by F. Layland-Barratt, Member of Parliament for Torquay

Photo of library in 2020 :

Former library. Photo credit: Oriel Prizeman 2020. Image shared under CC license CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 Cardiff University AHRC Shelf Life project


Old photo of library (postcard):

Nothing in my collection yet


Not yet

Web links:

Plymouth library

Brief description

The architects were Messrs Thornely and Rooke of Plymouth. On Wednesday 16 October 1907 the two foundation stones for Plymouth’s new Free Public Library and the Museum and Art Gallery were laid on a site on Tavistock Road (now North Hill), by the Mayor, Mr J F Winnicott.

Contractors, Messrs Pethick Brothers Limited, also of Plymouth, started work on the site on December 9 1907. The final cost of the work is said to have been £15,627 14s 6d.

There was a dual opening ceremony on Tuesday October 25th 1910, when the Mayor, Alderman J Yeo, together with architect Mr Lionel Thornely, opened the Library and Alderman T Brook, chairman of the Museum and Art Gallery Committee, along with the Deputy Mayor, Alderman R W Winnicott, and Mr Rooke, opened the Museum part of the building.

The building was damaged during the Blitz and subsequently restored.

Awarded Grade II listing in 1975

Current status: Closed as a public library, when a new one was created in a former commercial building in the centre of the city. Plans are to refurbish and reopen as a history centre. (2018)

    • Year grant given (if known):
    • Amount of grant: £15,000
    • Year opened (and by who – if known): 25 October 1910, by the Mayor, Alderman J Yeo, and architect Mr Lionel Thornely

Photo of library in 2014:


Photo © N Chadwick (cc-by-sa/2.0)


Old photo of library (postcard):



I went to Plymouth in August 2018, but refurbishment plans were in progress, and the whole building was shrouded in scaffolding. The new local history centre should open by 2020. A colleague from Plymouth libraries has sent me masses of information about this building. I’ll review and update this entry shortly [Sept 3028].

Web links:

Bideford library

Brief description

The library was designed by Alfred Dunn, of Birmingham, and built by H Glover and Son, of Bideford. The library is a single storied building, next to the town hall – the rear part of which had been built in 1850. Two years after the library opened, a museum was added, although that later moved out.

Awarded Grade II listing in 1973.

Current status: Still open as a public library, run by Libraries Unlimited on behalf of Devon county council. (2016)

  • Year grant given (if known):
  • Amount of grant:
  • Year opened: 7 February 1906 by Mr C.S. Carnegie from Northam, a relative of Andrew Carnegie.

Photo of library today (2010):




Old photo of library (postcard):



Yes, we visited this library, during a holiday in Devon in 2010.

Web links:

Exeter library

Brief description

A compressed timeline:

1909 – grant offered
1911 – grant accepted and new library announced
1917 – scheme reconsidered due to WW1
1921 – returned to idea, funding still available
1924 – council agreed planning could start
1928 – foundation stone laid
1930 – new library opened

Then, 1942 – library bombed and burned out – but restored after the war
1950s – building housed Devon Records Office
1965 – new library built next door
Early 2000s – became registry office
2010 – refurbished: upper floors became student flats, ground floor rented to firm of solicitors

  • Year grant given: 1911
  • Amount of grant:
  • Year opened (and by who – if known): 1930

Photo of library today:



I’ve visited Exeter library several times – in 2015 and 2016.

Web links:

Exeter Memories (which contains a lot more detail on the timeline above)