Brighton libraries

Photo:Mr Wright's new library

Mr Wright's new library

Booking in - the early days

By Maureen Brand, North Laine resident

1760: the earliest library

The earliest library in Brighton is thought to be that of Mr E Baker in 1760, on the eastern side of the Steine roughly where St James's street is now. It opened for the season, closing at the end of October. On the death of Mr Baker, Mr Thomas took it on and kept it open all year.

In 1767 Woodgate's library was also to be found on Old Steine, southern side. Later it became Crawfords, and later on Miss Widgett's, Mr Bowen, F Fisher and Mr Shaw.

No place for hush - a place for social gathering

Brighton's libraries today are the source of reference, reading material, research and writing whether by pen or computer. Over the years libraries generally became a place for 'hush' - a quiet place for concentration, but it was not always thus.  In their earliest days, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the library was a place both to take out a subscription but also to announce one's arrival for the season and a place of social gathering. Lists of subscribers were open for general inspection and therefore a source of information on who was in town or newly arrived. There were also subscription books for the Minister of the Parish and the Master of Ceremonies.

19th century

In 1806 Mr Donaldson opened his new library on the Baker site. In 1808 Mr Brown, a visitor to Brighton, describes Mr Pollard's circulating library on the Marine Parade. Mr Pollard dealt not only in books but also in stationery, perfumery, toys, newspapers and magazines. He offered perusal in the rooms and loan of library books at their own houses for the sum of 7/- for one month or 10/- for two months. Mr Brown added that Mr Donaldson's catalogue was larger and he described, when a disguised raffle was drawn, "the delightful 'squeeze' that it is difficult to make one's way in or out, and, when one is got safe up Donaldson's steps, almost impossible either to stir, or to bear the intense Heat arising from the Presence of so many persons collected together, and the number of candles and lamps burning."

Mr Wright and his new library

In the early 19th century Mr T H Wright evidently had an emporium - he talked in an advert of his "Friends, and the Public" and "the happiness for the last fourteen years." He advertised "A New Circulating Library" as being now open at the Royal Colonnade, North Street and New Road, and this certainly appears in street directories of 1822. He offered "Travels, Voyages, History, Poetry, Biography, Natural History, French, Italian etc etc and also a fashionable selection of the most approved Novels, Romances, Tales and Dramatic Works." In addition he offered "a superior Library of Music consisting of several thousand works of the most celebrated authors."

Onward through the 19th century

In 1856 a workmen's library and lecture room was provided in connection with All Souls Church by the Countess de Noailles in Essex Street: "established for the religious, moral and intellectual improvement of working men, in accordance with the principles of the Church of England."

On dissolution of the Royal Literary and Scientific Association in 1861, it handed over to the Corporation its library of 7,000 volumes. In 1873 the eastern court of the Pavilion, once coach houses and servants' quarters, was converted into rooms suitable for the Library, Museum and Art Gallery. The Lending Library with over 17,000 books was inaugurated in 1889 and moved westward for more space in 1902. A children's library was established in 1928 and the music library in 1964.

This page was added on 01/03/2008.

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