The New Library

By the early 1900s the facilities at Wednesbury’s public library, the Free Library, were becoming inadequate. The library had been in existence for nearly thirty years, during which time the population had increased, and the demand for library services was greater than ever. One serious problem, the lack of space, could not be overcome because there was no room on the site for the building to be extended. The rooms were poorly lit, and poorly ventilated, and lacked modern equipment.

Mr. Thomas Stanley.

The librarian, Mr. Thomas Stanley, could see only one solution to the problem, a new and larger site containing a larger building with up-to-date facilities. The problem as ever, was funding such a project.


In 1902 he approached the Scottish-American industrialist, multi-millionaire and philanthropist Mr. Andrew Carnegie in the hope of obtaining a grant. Initially Mr. Carnegie refused, but Thomas Stanley persevered, and continued to write to him, explaining the library’s difficult predicament.


In December 1904, Mr. Carnegie changed his mind and wrote to the Town Clerk, Mr. Thomas Jones, informing him that he would provide £5,000 for the erection of a new free public library, as he owed much to Wednesbury because it was here that his firm first saw the experiment in the basic open hearth process of making steel.


The Town Council unanimously accepted Mr. Carnegie’s offer. All that was needed for the project  to begin, was a new site.

Finding a new site proved more difficult than expected. By the autumn of 1906 a site had still not been found, and so in December of that year, the Mayor and Mayoress, Mr. and Mrs. Handley, generously gave a suitable piece of land on the corner of Walsall Street, and Hollies Drive to the town. The project could at last begin.

Mr. Andrew Carnegie.


Alderman John Handley, J.P.

Several sets of plans were submitted by various architects, which were assessed by Mr. Guy Dawber, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects. The chosen design had been submitted by Crouch, Butler, & Savage of Birmingham, who became the architects for the new building. The contract for building the new library was given to Mr. T. Elvins of Hockley, Birmingham.


On 22nd October, 1907 the Mayor, Alderman John Handley, laid the foundation stone, and building work quickly got underway. On almost a year to the day (28th October, 1908), Alderman Handley returned to officially open the new library, which at the time was one of the best in the country.


The lovely building in free Renaissance style is a tribute to the work of the architects. It is faced with red Ruabon bricks, and Monks Park stone, and has a domed cupola.


The main entrance in Hollies Drive is richly carved, and was originally filled with a patent revolving door to provide freedom from loss of heat, and draughts.


It is a delight to enter the wonderful entrance hall with its ornate white columns, and beautifully decorated plaster ceiling. The upper floor is reached by a fine stone staircase with an attractive balustrade, and an elegant wooden handrail.


The first floor rooms, like the entrance hall, are beautifully decorated with fine ceilings, and plenty of light from the well-placed windows.

Mr. Thomas Jones, Town Clerk and Hon. Secretary of the Library Committee.

The new Free Library.

The elegant entrance in Hollies Drive.
The lending department.

The entrance hall.
The staircase and corridor.

The news room.

The reference room.

Right from the start the library fully catered for the needs of the local population. By the 1930s around 160,000 books were issued each year. The library is one of the most beautiful buildings in the town, it is still a great joy to enter, just as it must have been when new. It now has the latest technology, and has retained all of its magnificent architectural features. It is a credit to the local authority.

The library in 2013.

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