In my last post, in response to the latest Kirklees Council budget threat to our library service, I wrote about the value of libraries. In this post I look at the early days of my local library, Batley, the services it offered to the local community and their reading habits between 19 October 1908-March 1915.
Batley library’s establishment epitomises the enlightened thinking of late Victorian/early Edwardian Corporations, industrialists and philanthropists. They had the vision to see the immense benefits libraries provided for education, the economy and wider society. From access to books and knowledge for all, irrespective of background and finances; to the realisation that an educated workforce could contribute to industry and the country’s wealth; from the morally and self-improving leisure opportunities they afforded; to the social benefits this offered in terms of crime reduction. These may seem old-fashioned concepts, but they are relevant still today.
The 1850 Public Libraries Act established the principle of free public libraries. A subsequent amendment in 1855 Act allowed boroughs to charge an increased rate of 1d rate to fund the provision. It proved insufficient, with by 1869 only 35 places opening public libraries. This is where philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie stepped in.
The son of a Dunfermline weaver, the Carnegie family emigrated to America in 1848 when he was 13, settling in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Starting off as a bobbin boy, he was fortunate to have access to books as a result of the generosity of a local man who made his library available to local working boys. Self-taught from these books, Carnegie progressed from the bobbin mill, to become a messenger at a telegraph company, then a telegraph operator, eventually moving to the Pennsylvania Railroad where he rose to become a superintendent, age 24. From there his investment and business interests developed, resulting in his steel company. Carnegie’s experience instilled in him the belief anyone with access to books, and the desire to learn, could educate themselves and improve their position in society. Free libraries provided such educational opportunities for those without financial advantage.
In 1901 he sold his company to J.P. Morgan for $480m and was free to devote himself totally to his philanthropic works. His personal experience of the benefits books provided, led him to donate money for the building of 2,509 Carnegie libraries between 1883-1929. 660 of these are in the UK.
In providing funds to establish libraries, Carnegie required the local government to:
- demonstrate the need for a public library;
- provide the building site;
- pay to staff and maintain the library;
- draw from public funds to run the library—not use only private donations; and,
- provide free service to all.
By doing this he felt his grants would inspire communities to take ownership for their libraries and be responsible for looking after them going forward.
Batley did have a couple of libraries: Batley Cooperative Society and Batley Working Men’s Club & Institute, lending around 700 books per week between them. However, neither were free to the general public. Accordingly Batley Corporation approached Carnegie. Lauded as a progressive community, in January 1903 the Corporation received confirmation he was prepared to donate £6,000 subject to the normal rules, including providing a site and adopting the Free Libraries Act and under this raising £400 per year for its maintenance via the maximum 1d rate. He subsequently provided an additional £988 for the clock tower. A transfer from gas rates added another £1,914 16s 6d. Batley’s achievement was a cause of envy for neighbours, and rivals, Dewsbury.
The Ackroyd Trust provided land specifically for a library and the Foundation Stone for the iconic market place building was laid on 18 July 1905. Designed by Messrs. Walter Hanstock & Son, at a cost of £8,902 16s 6d,, Batley’s Carnegie library officially opened on 19 October 1907 with an initial stock of 7,260 volumes. It offered lending and reference libraries, a librarian’s room, news and reading rooms and a ladies’ room. The first book borrowed, by the Mayor, W. J. Ineson, J.P., was the Bible.
The early days of the library are portrayed in its annual reports. In the early years these reports ran from 19 October – 18 October, the 12 month period from the library opening. This changed in 1911. That report ran until 31 March 1913, 17.5 months. Thereafter the year fell within traditional 1 April – 31 March patterns.
The library had a staff of five. The 2nd annual report for the year 19 October 1908-18 October 1909 shows these comprised of librarian Alfred Errington, assistants James H Shaw and Alfred North, and caretaker Alfred Moody. Later staff in the period included assistants Annie E. Newsome, Winifred M. Peel and Evelyn M. Walker and caretakers Nelson Howard and Arthur F Garner. Their hours were long – the reading rooms opened from 8.30am-9.30pm; the work painstakingly labour intensive with many hours spent on tasks such as producing a catalogue of holdings, or repairing books. In the year ending 1914/1915 they installed a small binding plant to allow staff to do more of this repair work in-house, but the librarians had so little spare time it did not receive much use that year!
A few things struck me. Firstly the somewhat bizarre ladies’ lavatory income. In 1908/9 it raised £2 7s 8d, rising to £4 11s 5d in 1914/15, by which time men were presumably being charged to use the facilities, as the “ladies’” element was dropped and the money raised had almost doubled. The library staff were also extremely efficient in chasing up book returns and fines, with personal visits made to those unresponsive to postal reminders. The 1d rate increase was implemented, despite some early dissenters. By 1914/15 this raised £567 towards the running costs of the library. Finally, on the surface to modern eyes, how little things cost. For example a £58 5s 9d payment to Mr W.H. Sykes of Batley in summer of 1913, for cleaning and redecorating, the first refurbishment since the library’s opening. In 1914/15 annual salaries and wages stood at just over £280; electricity, gas and fittings a shade over £40; rates, water and water rents £21 8s; and, reflecting the fuel supplies and industrial heritage, a shade over £16 was spent on coal. At today’s values fuel prices of £56 would equate to just over £4,000.
A common theme of the early reports is the initiatives taken to increase the popularity of the library. The number of borrowers, talks attended, books issued, their range and number attracted much attention. Adaptation, development and improvement featured in those early days, as much as today. The key difference appears to be the store those local government officials put on the value of a library providing a levelling opportunity for all, a theme much in evidence right from the opening ceremony. Maybe that’s the difference between then and now. Back then folk had to really dig in and fight for the basics; today things are taken for granted and consequently undervalued.
Special Student Tickets, introduced in 1908/09, allowed readers an extra ticket for non fiction works. The reference library boasted a substantial body of coal mining books; textile trade volumes were materially extended in the period 1911-13, all relevant to the predominant local industries, in the hope of attracting Technical School students.
A winter season of half-hour library talks and lectures commenced in January 1908 to attract people to the library. These covered literature, science, art, music and travel, some accompanied by lantern shows. The themes ranged from “A Talk on Elementary Astronomy” and “The Norse Mythology, an influence on the Development of Anglo-Saxon Character”, to “John Milton“, “Individual Responsibility and Social Reform”, “What and How to Read”, and “The Story the Brontës”. Children were catered for too, with Walter Bagshaw giving talks on subjects such as “Peeps into Sunny Italy” and “Reason and Instinct, or, Do Animals Think?” One speaker was Rev Fr John O’Connor from Heckmondwike, a great friend of G.K. Chesterton. “Fr. Brown” in the Fr. Brown novels is based on him. Appropriately one of his talks was entitled “Belloc and Chesterton”. By the end of the 1914/15 season 77 talks has been given. That season saw the highest average attendance, 97. 1914/15 also saw the commencement of talks by the local branch of The Workers’ Educational Association.
Reading circles were established and adapted, moving away from subjects such as Shakespeare’s Henry V to more populist contemporary subjects such as Kipling, to boost participation. Photography, travel and water colour exhibitions also took place, the latter featuring originals by J.M.W. Turner and attended by over 5,000.
In 1909/10, the substantial increase in loans of juvenile fiction led Mr Errington to urge the library committee to extend the privilege to borrow books to under 14s. April 1912 marked the launch of a School Library scheme in partnership with the Education Committee. Initially six local schools participated: Hanging Heaton, Brownhill and Staincliffe CofE, Carlinghow Boys, Warwick Road Boys, Healey Mixed. Each school received 50 books on rotation, and by 31 March 1913 over 8,000 volumes had circulated. By 31 March 1914 four further schools joined the scheme: Mill Lane, Gregory Street Girls, Purlwell Boys and Warwick Road Girls. In the three years to 31 March 1915, 33,287 volumes were issued via the school scheme and a further 37,226 by the Juvenile Section of the lending library. 20 per cent of these were non fiction issues. More schools were applying to join, and head teachers reported the beneficial educational impact of access to good books. However, a formal, dedicated Young People’s Department did not open in the library until 1928.
Another 1912 development was the August introduction of the Open Access system, where borrowers could browse the library. Prior to this they had to ask if a book was available, and wait for the librarian to fetch it. Theoretically the closed system reduced book theft, but did little to encourage reading. By 1915 Mr Errington proudly announced that of 160,000 volumes issued under Open Access, not a single volume had been lost.
The library reports give a wonderful snapshot into the times and community. From the weather, the exceptionally fine summer of 1910 blamed for a decline in the number of books issued; to war, with the average number of books issued per day declining from 221 in 1913/14 (library open 269.5 days) to 219 in 1914/15 (open 280.5 days), due to the numbers in H.M. Forces and overtime in the mills. Noticeably, enrolled women borrowers shaded men. And war saw reading choices shifting to lighter options with loans of fiction, literature, music and juvenile works increasing. The only other category seeing an upturn was sociology, because it included army and navy books. The array of over 20 railway timetables testified to the importance of this mode of transport. The wide range of newspapers and magazines, numbering in excess of 100, in the reading rooms demonstrated the importance of the print media in these pre-wireless and TV days. Their titles illustrated the interests of the time and the local industries, including “Fur and Feather”, “Farm, Field and Fireside”, “Sons of Temperance”, “Weldon’s Ladies’ Journal”, “Colliery Guardian”, “Textile Recorder” and “Waste Trade World”. The library reading rooms for a short time even boasted “Die Woche”, reflecting the area’s textile manufacturing links with Germany. Unsurprisingly, this publication disappeared from the shelves by 1914/15.
And what does this have to do with family history? Well, besides the plethora of family history resources offered by libraries today including local history reference resources (not online), newspapers (not on the British Newspaper Archive/FindMyPast), access to subscription sites like Ancestry, and local censuses and parish registers on microfilm/fiche there is the actual library history. The development and history of a local library itself adds context to the lives and times of ancestors. The annual library reports are name-rich sources. Not only of the great and the good, those on the Committee and those who donated or gave talks. But also the library staff. This is an extract from the report for year ending 18 October 1910 WW1: “James H. Shaw, the Senior Assistant, resigned in June to take up duties in the office of the Borough Accountant…..Mr A. Moody, who held the post of Caretaker since October 1908….had to relinquish his post on account of ill health”. James H. Shaw is one of the Healey residents identified for the Healey Great War project.
For me the library reflects my ancestors’ community, their hopes, aspirations, dreams and lives. I imagine them using Batley library right from its inception. And I thank those enlightened people of the early 20th century. What a great gift to the town.
I’ve timed this post to mark World Book Day 2017, to acknowledge the important role local libraries have played in opening the world of books to many generations. The poster below shows events at Batley library on Saturday 4 March.
- The 2nd- 7th Annual Reports of Batley Library
- A Social History of Education in England – John Lawson & Harold Silver
- Wikipedia – Public Libraries Act 1850 & Andrew Carnegie
- Public Libraries News: http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com/
- Carnegie Corporation of New York, Andrew Carnegie’s Story: https://www.carnegie.org/interactives/foundersstory/#!/
- Measuring Worth – https://www.measuringworth.com/
- Borough of Batley Year Book 1959-60 (thanks to Wendy Storey)
- “The Yorkshire Evening Post” 24 March 1909
- “The Yorkshire Post” 13 January 1903
- “The Batley News” 18 and 25 October 1907