We went on holiday to Yorkshire recently, and besides visiting 2 world heritage sites (Fountains Abbey and Saltaire) and spending a day in York, we also fitted in another of my interests: tracking down evidence of Carnegie’s legacy.
This has been a longstanding piece of research, I guess started when I was growing up in Kendal, and my earliest library membership was in a building funded by Carnegie. I was completely unaware at the time, but since then, am enjoying finding out more about how these buildings came to be in the first place, but also, as many reach their centenaries, what has now become of them. The element of my research that involves capturing their status in photographs has become even more urgent this year with the huge scale of local authority budget cuts proposed, which in some areas is threatening libraries to an unprecedented degree. Many others have written about problems in their areas, protest groups are using all means possible to raise awareness and encourage people to make their feelings known – for example the work of Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries, and a map which aims to chart the scale of proposed closures.
Back to my trip though – we were able to see 9 buildings funded by Carnegie: Harrogate, York, Castleford, Keighley, Gainsborough, Ilkley. Pontefract, Shipley, and Normanton – and the good news (for now at east) is that 6 of those still appear to be thriving. All were busy when we visited – and not just with people clustered around the terminals which provide internet access. Harrogate has just reopened after a refurbishment programme that has cleaned it up on the outside, and opened up the inside, and the local studies librarian in Keighley – the first Carnegie endowed library to open in England gave me a special newspaper supplement which commemorated their refurbishment programme, which included restoration of some intricate wall paintings.
Of the 3 which are no longer libraries, Pontefract, which is a beautiful building built in art nouveau style, is now the town museum. Again, busy when we visited, but the lady at reception was extremely helpful, and we were able to find out lots of information from the archive/records room.
Normanton is still in good repair – and when we asked in a local cafe, it was familiar to them and our request prompted another customer to wonder what the plans were for it. There is no signage on the outside, but the door was ajar, and we did speak briefly to the receptionist – who confirmed that the carving above the entrance was the only evidence of its former function which remained.
The last library was the most forlorn. Found by chance, as we approached Saltaire, the former Shipley library stands on a busy junction and is boarded up. Web research reveals it has had a couple of uses since the library closed – including as a dancehall (parallels there with the building in Hackney), but its future is now uncertain. It has been bought, and planning permission given to turn it into flats but there is no evidence of any work.
Apart from this last one, my main memories of the Carnegie legacy in that small part of northern England are of light, airy, busy buildings – and I hope they long continue to be so.
If any readers of this blog know of Carnegie libraries in their town, do let me know. Those I have visited can be found in my flickr set and I have information about many more, but am always hungry for more information.