In 1903 active local Members of the Council privately approached Andrew Carnegie. They succeeded in securing from him a donation of £7,000 provided that the Council raised a 1d rate (the maximum local tax then permitted by law to be used for public libraries) which produced an operating budget of £610 per annum.
The architect was W Egerton, who designed a building in the ‘Free Renaissance’ style.
The new Erith Library was opened in 1906 at Walnut Tree Road, and an early local guide proudly states that it contained “lending and reference libraries, news, magazines and children’s rooms, and lecture, committee and filing rooms. The first librarian, who lived in accommodation on the top floor, was William Barton Young, who was killed in action in WWI.
The library has been re-modelled internally many times, with staircases blocked up and new ones inserted. A museum was created where the librarians rooms were – and remained until the library closed. The collection was distributed among museums in Bexley. The last complete re-fit was in 2000.
Awarded Grade II listing in 1996.
Current status: Closed in 2009. Remained empty until 2018, when the Erith Exchange project started (see link below). Many original features remain (and will be retained) including stained glass, mosaic, marble columns, the book lift, and amazing turquoise and white tiled toilets. (2018)
- Year grant given (if known): 1903
- Amount of grant: £7,000
- Year opened (and by who – if known): 7 April 1906, by Judge James Alexander Rentoul
Photo of library in 2006:
Photo taken in 2018 – restoration and conversion underway:
There is a mosaic in the entrance hall, which portrays Erith’s coat of arms (in 1906) and reads: ‘Labour overcomes all things’. It also includes red pike (fish), inspired by the coat of arms of the De Luci family – influential Norman landowners. It was covered over for protection during the restoration – so I’ll have to visit again!
Old photo of library (postcard):
Nothing in my collection yet
Yes, in 2006 – before it closed completely, although it wasn’t open the day we visited. And again on Open House weekend, September 2018. Very interesting to see the building with restoration underway, and hear about the team’s plans. There will be a mixture of artists studios and community space, plus a cafe/bar. The focus will be on bringing people together and stimulating creativity – with community involvement at the heart. I think Carnegie would have approved.
Web links and other references:
- Entry on the listed buildings register
- History of Erith museum
- Details about this, and all libraries in Kent found in a 3 part article written by Martin Tapsell: The Hare and the Tortoise – some notable public library buildings in Kent, published in Bygone Kent 2001-02.
- A new phase of life – The Erith Exchange project (also includes a potted history of the library, and photos)