In the latter part of the 19th century, most of the local towns opened public libraries, which were seen as a way of educating the less well-off sections of society, teaching them to live ‘a good and proper life’, so addressing the moral, social and educational concerns of the time. This became a reality thanks to the Public Libraries Act 1850 that gave local authorities the power to establish free public libraries, providing free access for everyone, to information and literature.

By the late 1870s, many people thought that Tipton was lagging behind some of the local towns by not having a free library. On 16th March, 1877 a public meeting was held to discuss the matter in the Police Court, Church Lane. It was attended by Tipton ratepayers under the chairmanship of James Whitehouse, Chairman of the Local Board of Health. Those in favour of the adoption of the Free Libraries Act included William Lees Underhill, who proposed the adoption of the Act, and Thomas Davies who seconded the proposal. A large majority of the people at the meeting were in favour of the proposal, which was carried by a show of hands.

Unfortunately nothing came of it because the Local Board of Health decided at a meeting on 27th June, 1880 that due to the depression at the time, it was inappropriate to adopt the Act, because its adoption would result in an increase in the rates.

Nothing happened until the matter was discussed at another meeting of ratepayers at the Police Court, on 24th March, 1883. As at the previous meeting, the Chairman was James Whitehouse. The setting-up of a free library was again proposed by William Lees Underhill and seconded by James Solly of Great Bridge Ironworks and supported by Peter D. Bennett, J.P., managing director of the Horseley Works. The proposal was accepted by the majority of people at the meeting and also accepted by the Local Board of Health who decided to adopt the Free Libraries Act.

A Free Library Committee was formed with the following members: James Whitehouse, Chairman; Edward Bayley, Richard Mason, Henry Plant, W. T. Travis, and Reverends S. T. Tozer and William Cornwell. The first meeting was held on 9th June, 1884. At a meeting in September, 1884, the committee received a deputation from some of the most influential inhabitants of the town, including Frederick T. Cox, James Solly, A. S. Underhill and Peter Bennett, J.P., Managing Director of the Horseley Works. They proposed that £1,000 should be raised to help pay towards the rent for a suitable building in the centre of the town that could be used as a free library with a reading room. They were told that if such a sum could be raised, some of the members of the deputation would be co-opted onto the committee to ensure that the money was suitably spent. Although things seemed to get off to a good start, nothing was done for several years.

Finally, in 1890 the decision was made to rent two rooms for use as reading rooms, one at Horseley Heath, and another at Toll End. £250 from the profits of the local gas company was used to fund the project. The room at Horseley Heath was rented from a Mr. Clift at an annual rent of £13, and the larger room at Toll End was rented from Samuel Matthews at an annual rent of £18. In the room at Horseley Heath there were two tables, reading desks, and a gas stove. At Toll End there were three tables, reading desks, and a gas stove. Both rooms opened at 9 o’clock in the morning and closed at 9.30 in the evening. The rooms were officially opened to the public on 9th December, 1890, by Philip Stanhope, MP. During the proceedings he expressed his willingness to contribute £100 for the purchase of books, if a permanent building could be found.

The reading rooms were stocked with the following newspapers and periodicals that were supplied by newsagents Miss Ray and Mr. Meese:
  Band of Hope British Workman
  Cassel’s Magazine Chambers’ Journal
  Daily Gazette Daily Mail
  Daily News Daily Post
  Express and Star Good Words
  Illustrated London News Judy
  Leisure Hour Midland Counties Express
  Punch Standard
  Staffordshire Advertiser Graphic Sunday at Home
  Sunday Magazine  

Over the next few years, reading rooms were established in the other four wards, beginning with Tipton Green. In 1891, Mr. Ryder planned to erect some buildings in Owen Street and offered to allow one of the rooms to be used as a reading room for seven years at a fixed rent. The building would be opposite the shop owned by Daniel Hipkins, Chairman of the Local Board and the Free Library Committee. The plan was accepted, and the new reading room, measuring 22 ft. by 30 ft. was officially opened by Daniel Hipkins on 24th February, 1892.

Other reading rooms soon followed. The Dudley Port reading room opened in Oak Terrace, and the Tibbington reading room opened at Bloomfield. In 1894 the annual upkeep of the five rooms was £195. Before 1894 was out, the Ocker Hill reading room, rented from Mr. Higgins, opened at Lea Brook. Each of the six wards, at last had its own reading room.


Tipton Library in Victoria Road. From an old postcard.

Twelve years later, Tipton finally got a proper library. The Public Library was a gift from Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish born American historian and philanthropist. It stands in Victoria Road, next to the junction of Mayfair Gardens.

It was designed by George H. Wenyon and built in 1905 of red brick with bands of yellow terracotta and a tile roof. It is a single storey building with a tower that has corner buttresses and a domed lantern. It was opened in 1906 by Councillor William Woolley Doughty, who was later Chairman of Tipton Urban District Council. The library was well stocked and had several reading rooms including an adult library, a junior library, and a children’s library. The building was Grade II listed in February 1982. It closed in 2000 when the new Tipton Library in Unity Walk was built. The old library reopened as Sandwell Council’s Occupational Health Unit. On 30th May 2006 it became the Tipton Carnegie Centre.


Another view of the library.

In 1907 the Toll End Branch Library, in Toll End Road opened. It was also a gift from Andrew Carnegie. Another library, Glebefields Branch Library in St. Marks Road opened on 1st January, 1973 and is still in use today.

Tipton’s current library in Unity Walk was opened on 29th November, 2000 by the Mayor of Sandwell, Councillor Mrs Jean Marson. The library includes Tipton Heritage Centre, where items of historical interest are on display. The Heritage Centre opened in September 2006.


A final view of the old library in Victoria Road. From an old postcard.


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