Cambridge Free Library opens – 1884.

In 1884 a large expansion to the Cambridge Library on the Guildhall site – now occupied by Jamie’s Restaurant, was opened.

Cambridge Free Library was originally housed in on the site of the Friends Meeting House on Jesus Lane.

280104 Friends Mtg House 1888

The founding father of Cambridge’s public libraries was Mr John Pink – photo from the Cambridge Chronicle via the Cambs Collection.

CBG Graphic John PInk Cambridge Library Founder 1900

John Pink circa 1900 from the Cambridge Graphic in the Cambs Collection.

Cambridge’s libraries would also provide local cartoonists and satirists with lots of content to play with over the following century.

650305 Library cartoon380507 Cartoon Ronald Searle Library lending

Above – cartoons from the Cambridge News – the second from Ronald Searle – from the Cambs Collection

The article that follows is from the Cambridge Independent of 21 June 1884 via the British Newspaper Archive here. Note how the article praises the interior architecture of the library, worth going to the restaurant housed in there today just to have a look around.

The New Reading Room.

“On Monday evening, a conversazione was held to celebrate the opening of the new reading room at the Free Library.

Invitations were sent out by the Free Library Committee, in response to which a considerable number of the inhabitants of the town assembled. As the room will this week thrown open for general inspection, it is not necessary that we should enter into any detailed description the room beyond expressing what is the general opinion that the architect has been most successful in making the very most of the space at his disposal.

The hall is of commanding proportions, and the lofty dome gives promise to supply an abundance of that fresh air which was so painfully wanted in the old reading room. The treatment of that side of the hall, where there was an overhanging gallery, has been particularly successful, some ornate windows having been introduced, which have the effect of making that which otherwise would have been a blemish into ornament. The fireplaces, too, were very much admired.

CBG Graphic Free Library Interior 1900 1900

On Monday evening, the rooms were tastefully decorated and the walls hung about with a series of very valuable pictures, which, we understand, were very kindly lent by Mr. H. T. Hall. Amongst them was an Old Crome, a flood scene in the Windsor Flats; a very fine example of George Morland, and several others which attracted a good deal of attention.

The company were received by the Mayor and the members of the library committee, who did the honours of the evening with great success. About nine o’clock, the Mayor made a short statement in which he sketched the history of the Free Library movement from the time when it began in 1855 in a very small way in the Old Friends’ Meetinghouse, in Jesus Lane, until the present time, when opening this new hall, which cost something near £2,000.

The Mayor referred suitable terms to those who had been, to a large extent, donors books and money to the library in former days, mentioning, amongst others, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, his Grace the Duke of Devonshire [then Chancellor of the University of Cambridge], and Mr. H. T. Hall, the donor of the Shakespearian library and other works. It was particularly interesting to see that those who had been the pioneers of the movement and had fought rather an up-hill battle to secure the use of the Free Libraries Act in Cambridge, were able to be present at the opening of this beautiful new room, admirably adapted as it was in every way for its purpose.

Amongst those were, we believe, Mr. Cockerell, Mr. Potts, Mr. Pleasance. and some others. The Mayor also suitably acknowledged the exertions of the library committee, and concluded by thanking the architect (Mr. McDonell) for the manner which he had carried out the intentions of the committee, and Mr. Pink for the energy and courtesy he had displayed in the discharge his duties, and by declaring the building open to public use.

Light refreshments, of a richerehe description, were provided at a buffet; and, after an evening pleasantly spent in conversation between members of different political parties, who, on this occasion, happily met on common ground, the company dispersed with very favourable impression of this new acquisition to the town—an impression which will, no doubt, repeated the case of the general public when they come, not only to inspect, but to use, the new building. We learn that large numbers of persons have visited the new reading room since Monday 1st, and much surprise and pleasure have been expressed at the handsome appearance of the room. Persons who recollect the old premises in Jesus Lane draw comparisons, others point out the beautiful details to their friends, and not a few have been delighted with a sight of the oil paintings lent by Mr. Hall. These will remain on view till ‘Thursday. Borrowers from the lending library which now contains 25,000 volumes—are loud their praise of the alterations made for their comfort.”

There were plans to completely rebuild the library in 1913, but these never came to fruition.


From the Cambs Collection.

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