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Kingston Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery

A Grade II Listed Building in Kingston upon Thames, London

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Latitude: 51.4095 / 51°24'34"N

Longitude: -0.3002 / 0°18'0"W

OS Eastings: 518314

OS Northings: 169197

OS Grid: TQ183691

Mapcode National: GBR 83.T4X

Mapcode Global: VHGR8.RT4W

Entry Name: Kingston Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery

Listing Date: 17 January 1973

Last Amended: 15 April 2016

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1080102

English Heritage Legacy ID: 203114

Location: Kingston upon Thames, London, KT1

County: London

District: Kingston upon Thames

Electoral Ward/Division: Grove

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Kingston upon Thames

Traditional County: Surrey

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: Norbiton St Peter

Church of England Diocese: Southwark

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Kingston upon Thames


Kingston library, 1903, and museum and art gallery, 1904, both designed by Alfred Cox, including the gate piers, boundary walls and early C19 coal post.


Public library, 1903, and museum and art gallery, 1904, both designed by Alfred Cox; the builder for the museum and art gallery was E Chamberlain of Addlestone. The buildings are in the late-C17 ‘Wrenaissance’ style popular circa 1890-1914.

MATERIALS: red brick, laid in English bond, with Bath stone dressings; both buildings have tiled roofs. The buildings retain some lead downpipes with decorative hoppers, those on the library bearing the date 1902. The original windows mainly survive; these include timber sashes, and metal- and timber-framed casements with leaded lights.

PLAN: the two buildings are set on a corner site, with the library to the south, entered from Fairfield Road, and the museum immediately to the north, entered from Wheatfield Way. Both buildings are rectangular on plan, set on a west/east alignment; the library is larger than the museum. The buildings are linked by an enclosed single-storey corridor, dating from the construction of the museum. Extending northwards from the north-east corner of the museum is the 1960s single-storey addition, linked to the museum by a corridor*.


PLAN: the overall rectangular plan of the building comprises the principal southern section, which is of two storeys with attic, and a single-storey section to the north formed of two parallel wings, running on a north/south axis, with a central flat-roofed portion.

EXTERIOR: the south-facing frontage is symmetrical, having a prominent central frontispiece, with four bays to either side, and tall stacks, one at either end of the building and two in the centre. The hipped roof has sprocketed eaves, resting on a modillion cornice with an acanthus moulding; the brick stacks have recessed panels and capping. There are stone angle pilasters, a string course, and a deep plinth, with aprons meet the plinth beneath the ground-floor windows. The entrance is set within the frontispiece - a giant Ionic columned and pedimented doorcase with a rusticated background, reaching just beneath the eaves, with an arch beneath; a plaque on the entablature bears the word ‘LIBRARY’. Above the pediment is a swag, with a central cartouche holding the Kingston arms. With the arch is a porch, with a chequered mosaic floor. The doorway, originally containing a revolving door, has a panelled frame with outer pilasters, and a leaded fanlight. The tall ground-floor windows have flat brick arches with flush brick keystones. The openings hold horned sash frames with nine panes each; the smaller first-floor windows, resting on the string course, have six panes to each sash frame. The three dormer windows have pediments: segmental to the central window, and triangular to the outer windows; the windows have casement frames with leaded lights. At the centre of each of the principal section's side elevations, a tall stack rises from just above the eaves, articulated on the wall beneath by a full-height projection, with stone banding. To either side of this, at first-floor level, is a narrow window. At the south end of the west elevation, near the ground, a benchmark is carved in the stone. On the east elevation, a doorway to the north leads to the stair hall and offices. The south part of the building is ecclesiastic in style, rather than domestic like the principal section: each of the outer wings has a pitched roof and large arched windows. Beneath the eaves is a stone cornice with an egg and dart moulding; the windows are metal-framed with leaded lights. The side elevation of each wing has a pair of round-headed windows, each having an angel head to the keystone, rising above eaves level and with a linking cornice; beneath are projecting aprons against rusticated backgrounds. Flanking circular windows also have stone frames. Each wing has a Dutch gable to the north, crowned by a segmental pediment; below is a large round-headed window in an eared stone frame with a massive keystone. There are angle pilasters to the outer corners, the western being topped by an urn finial; the eastern finial is missing. Between the gables, the roofline flattens, and banded projecting strips are partly obscured by the covered corridor linking the library with the museum. To either side of the corridor is a timber mullioned window with leaded lights; a third originally stood in the place of the entrance to the corridor.

INTERIOR: the entrance porch, to the south, leads into a lobby, retaining the original frame and structure for the revolving door; the lobby opens out into the main public library area. This area retains much of its original layout, which was largely open, the different spaces being defined by piers, with some rooms partially enclosed by walls. In the southern section of the building, to the west of the porch, what was originally the boys’ room is now the reference library. This room has a compartmented ceiling with substantial moulded beams. The room retains its original fixed oak bookcases, with brass rods to support ladders, no longer present; the shelving terminates in a cornice which corresponds with the beams. To the east of the porch, the former reference library is now divided into offices and a corridor; at the eastern end of the building is the former librarian’s office. Leading northwards from the lobby is a central colonnade or hall, defined by panelled square piers enriched with a simple strapwork motif, and with a groin-vaulted ceiling, with lunettes. To either side of the hall are roof lanterns with modern covers. The two wings, with barrel-vaulted ceilings, and lunettes with angel head keystones to the inner walls, originally contained the newspaper room to the west and the lending library to the east. These were open to the hall to the south, but walls or partitions to the north separated them from the magazine room which occupied the central space at the north end of the building, lit by a large lantern, which survives intact. The partitions have been removed, leaving piers in place, so that the space within the northern section of the building is now open, apart from a partition screen, erected between the hall and the south end of the former newspaper room. The attendants’ desk was originally placed below the eastern lantern at the entrance to the lending library, with controlled entrance and exit to either side; this has now gone. At the north end of the library is the arched doorway to the museum, with a moulded frame and keystone. Within the former news room, the north window, unveiled in 1905, honours members of the 3rd Royal Surrey Militia who fell in the South African War of 1899-1902; the installation of the window is commemorated by a stone plaque on the wall outside. In the lobby, a bronze war memorial tablet names the men of Kingston who fell in the same war. The floor is now covered, but is believed to be of parquet, with tiling to the hall.

The first floor is reached by a straight stair in the south-west corner of the building; this has a chamfered starter newel with ball finial. The first floor was formerly the librarian’s flat, with a corridor to the north, and rooms to the south. From east to west, the original room uses were: bedroom (with a bathroom to the north), parlour, dining room and kitchen. The rooms have been converted to office use, with WCs to the east; the fireplaces have gone, and the rooms retain few historic features, though the window and door surrounds survive. At the centre of the first floor, leading to the attic, is a steep stair with a quarter turn, having chamfered newel posts; the balusters have been enclosed by boarding. The attic rooms retain their plan but do not have historic features. The building has a cellar which appears to retain its plan.


PLAN: the rectangular two-storey principal section of the museum building is set on a north/south axis, with the large single-storey former lecture hall to the north-east; in the angle between the two is the stair block, with a single-storey section containing offices to the south-east. There is a small mid-C20 toilet block at the south end of the east elevation. Extending southwards from the eastern side of the south elevation is a later-C20 strong room, an enlarged version of the original.

EXTERIOR: the symmetrical west-facing frontage of the museum is of three bays, with a central entrance, the bays being defined by four Ionic brick pilasters, with stone bases and capitals; the base of the pilaster to the west of the entrance is carved to commemorate the laying of the foundation stone on 6 April 1904. At the centre of the building is a timber belvedere with a balustrade, its lead roof topped by a weather vane; this structure is a 1997 facsimile replacement of the original. The hipped roof has sprocketed eaves, resting on a wide modillion cornice. This section of the building has stone quoins, a plat band, and a deep plinth meeting the window aprons. The doorcase has a round-headed arch with a swagged scrolled keystone enclosed by a broken pediment. Above the doorcase is a stone round-headed niche, with an angel head to the keystone above, and below, an apron with guttae. (The Surrey Comet noted in 1904 that it was intended the niche should hold a bust at some future time.) Within the doorcase is a shallow porch; the entrance has a moulded surround, holding the original panelled doors with glazed sections. In each of the elevation’s outer bays, there is a window to the ground floor, and to the first floor, a niche, with a stone pedestal. The original sash window frames were replaced in 1936 by stained glass (see below), which is now protected by dark toughened glass; as a consequence, the frontage has a somewhat blind appearance, having no clear window openings. The side elevations of the principal section each have pilasters to the outer edge, and two ground-floor windows within. On the north elevation, at first-floor level, there is a wreathed terracotta roundel representing a draped woman reading. Further east is the north wall of the single-storey former lecture theatre: this has a central bay, rising above the eaves, defined by pilasters with scallops to the capitals to either side of a round-headed window, with a segmental pediment above; the window has timber casements with leaded lights, the central light having stained glass. To either side of this is a timber mullioned window with leaded casements. The eastern side of the museum building has a more irregular, vernacular look, with gabled blocks at differing heights. The 1970s corridor link* to the extension partly obscures the east elevation of the lecture theatre, but above it is a tile-hung gable with a small window. On the south elevation of the building, beyond the principal section, the stair block of the museum is linked to the library by the enclosed corridor, the west side of which is enriched by banded pilasters, beneath a shallow-pitched lead roof; the east side is plain, with a late-C20 door; above are windows lighting the stair. A plain tall stack rises from the single-storey office section of the building; this is currently (2016) in disrepair and is likely to be rebuilt. Further east of the corridor is another single-storey section, now an office, with a timber mullioned window as on the north elevation. Further east again is the flat-roofed mid-C20 toilet block.

INTERIOR: as originally planned, the entrance hall occupies the entire ground floor of the principal building. There are four archways to the north having moulded archways with keystones. The two doorways have original double doors with fanlights and marginal lights; the southernmost archway is blocked, and behind one to the north-east, originally leading to a cupboard, a lift has been installed. The windows hold early-C20 stained glass brought from the old Town Hall (now the Market House) in 1936, when the Council moved to the new Guildhall; the stained glass was designed by Dr W E St Lawrence Finney, seven-times mayor of Kingston and a keen local historian, in collaboration with Heaton Butler and Bayne. The windows are all connected with Kingston's history; one incorporates C17 glass from the Tudor Guildhall. The hall is now partitioned, providing the shop to the east and exhibition space to the west; the original space is also partially obscured by exhibition cases* and other temporary fittings*. Within the tall former lecture theatre, with its vaulted roof, further large exhibits and cases* have been installed. At the east end was a stage, which was originally equipped with a sink, used in scientific lectures; the stage was in place in 1965, and may survive. Within the stair hall, the archways are of the same design as those elsewhere; one opens to the corridor to the library, which has a barrel-vaulted roof, and is in use as a gallery. Beneath the stair, oak doors lead to the boiler room.

The oak open-well stair has a closed string with turned balusters; there is panelling against the wall. A short additional flight has been constructed, in a similar style, giving easier access between the two different levels of the ground floor in this area. The coved ceiling has an acanthus cornice. The first floor of the principal building is occupied by the art gallery. This has a deeply coved ceiling with arched trusses supporting a rectangular lantern; the central trusses, spanning the lantern, have angel heads to the key-blocks. The two doorways within the gallery (one opening to the lift) have eared surrounds. Around the walls are fixed six strips of moulded picture rail, original to the gallery.

In the south-east corner of the building, on the ground floor, is the office area, with a linking corridor to the north. The area retains bolection-moulded doorframes with some original double doors with brass door furniture, cornices and window surrounds. The office, originally the committee room has been partitioned to allow for the extension of the corridor; this room has a chimney stack but no chimneypiece. The room gives access to the strong room. Further east is a room thought formerly to have housed the WCs, before the construction of the toilet block.


The stone GATE PIERS to the south of the library entrance, are, like the library, of 1903. Each one is composed of rusticated blocks, the tall uppermost block bearing the words 'PUBLIC LIBRARY' within a geometric frame. Above is a moulded cornice, and surmounting the whole, a pineapple finial.

The site is enclosed to south and west by a low brick WALL with stone capping, contemporary with the buildings. A stone pier with a lozenge carving between the library and the museum marks the point to which the wall reached before the construction of the library. The iron railings*, with panels of wrought iron, are in the same form as those originally in place, but are believed to be post-war replacements. The gateway to the museum originally had a wrought-iron overthrow, now lost.

Outside the museum to the south of the entrance is a COAL POST – a marker for indicating the point at which coal duty became payable to the Corporation of London. The cast-iron bollard is marked ‘G IV R’ (George VI Rex) and therefore dates from 1820-30. Below the letters is a benchmark.

The STEPS AND RAMP* to library entrance are of late-C20 date.

*Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act of 1990 ('the Act') it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.

This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 30 October 2017.


Kingston upon Thames, historically in Surrey, was an important market town, port and river crossing from the early medieval period, while there is evidence of Saxon settlement and of activity dating from the prehistoric period and of Roman occupation. It is close to the important historic royal estates at Hampton Court, Bushy Park, Richmond and Richmond Park. The old core of the town, around All Saints Church (C14 and C15, on an earlier site) and Market Place, with its recognisably medieval street pattern, is ‘the best preserved of its type in outer London’ (Pevsner and Cherry, London: South, 1983 p. 307). Kingston thrived first as an agricultural and market town and on its historic industries of malting, brewing and tanning, salmon fishing and timber exporting, before expanding rapidly as a suburb after the arrival of the railway in the 1860s. In the later C19 it become a centre of local government, and in the early C20 became an important shopping and commercial centre. Its rich diversity of buildings and structures from all periods reflect the multi-facetted development of the town.

The present buildings of Kingston Library and Museum are the result of a long campaign to provide both services within the borough. The Libraries Act of 1850 gave local corporations the power to raise funding for the development of libraries although only 125 were built between 1850 and 1887, the imposed penny rate often limiting the means of poorer local authorities to build libraries. However Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887 prompted a wave of celebratory libraries, while a further Libraries Act in 1892 made it easier for urban authorities to raise funds. In parallel, support emerged from wealthy benefactors such as Andrew Carnegie, John Passmore Edwards, and Sir Henry Tate, who believed in education for all via access to free libraries, such that the number of libraries expanded rapidly in the late C19 and early C20. The Kingston library and museum were funded by Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), the Scottish-born industrialist who led the expansion of the American steel industry, and owned several newspapers in Britain; Carnegie focused much of his philanthropy on educational projects, particularly in America and Britain, founding 2811 libraries, of which 660 were in Britain.

Kingston was the second place in what is now Greater London to adopt the Libraries Act – the first public library having been established by the parish of St Mary and St John in Westminster in 1857. A committee was set up in 1881 with the purpose of establishing a public library in Kingston, the idea of a museum being included in the first discussions; in 1882 the library opened in temporary premises in the former Wesleyan chapel, St James’s Hall, moving to the municipal offices in Clattern House (demolished) in 1891. Needing more space, in 1899 the library committee secured a site on Fairfield Road, forming part of Kingston’s historic fair field then used for allotments. A loan of £6000 was raised, and the architect Alfred Cox was engaged to design the building, following a competition judged by Basil Champneys, who had recently completed the John Rylands Library in Manchester (now listed at Grade I). The cost exceeding the estimate, a further £2000 was donated by Andrew Carnegie, then the richest man in the world. Carnegie opened the library on 11 May 1903 and, after being told that the adjacent reserved plot had been intended for a museum, increased his gift by £6400, enabling to the museum to be built. Cox’s plans were approved in October, and the museum and art gallery was opened by Lord Rosebery, the Borough’s High Steward, on 31 October the following year. The founding collection of antiquities had been given in 1899 by Alderman Frederick Gould, first chairman of the library committee, and in 1905 Eadweard Muybridge, the pioneer of motion photography, who spent most of his working life in America but was born and died in Kingston, left an important collection of his work and equipment to the museum. Standing to the south of the library is a portion of a medieval pier, thought to be from Kingston’s Palace of Kings, donated to the museum and library by sometime mayor E Coppinger in the 1920s, and listed at Grade II.

In 1905, Alfred Cox read a paper to the Architectural Association on the contemporary architecture and planning of libraries (published in The Builder, 14 January 1905); his work at Kingston largely exemplifies the principles he expounded, namely simplicity of plan, with all public rooms on one floor where space allowed; lofty and well lit rooms (he preferred not to use lanterns, except when obliged to do so for lack of other light sources, as in the former magazine room at Kingston, which was originally enclosed); and appropriate space for juvenile readers. (The conditions for the Kingston library required a separate entrance for boys, included in the original design, but omitted from the final building; Cox noted that such doorways are not to be recommended, as providing an escape route for mischievous youngsters.) In addition, he argued that walls and glazed partitions should be dispensed with as far as possible in order to give ‘excellent control’, especially with regard to supervision of an open-access system, such as that at Kingston; in this regard he may have been influenced by the designs of the first set of Carnegie libraries in built in Pittsburgh 16 years earlier. Regarding architectural style, Cox observed that the sum expended on public libraries rarely allows for splendour, but that a simple and dignified treatment is appropriate, with the building being ‘of such a character as to elevate the minds and educate the public in the art of architecture’.

The two buildings survive essentially as built, but have received some alterations and additions. A large temporary single-storey extension was erected to the north of the museum in the 1970s, providing children’s library accommodation. The belvedere at the centre of the museum was taken down in 1971, and replaced with a facsimile in 1997. Internally, the use of the spaces has been through some changes. The main library reading room has had some partitions removed and some erected; the rooms above the library, originally intended as a residence for the librarian, have been converted to office use. In the museum, the lecture hall became a library reading room, then a local history room, and is now an exhibition space; the art gallery was the local history room in the 1980s, and the ground-floor gallery was the tourist information office. In the late 1990s large cases and other structures were installed within the public rooms of the museum.

Reasons for Listing

The Kingston public library, 1903, and museum and art gallery, 1904, both designed by Alfred Cox, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: as a dignified and confident essay in the late-C17 ‘Wrenaissance’ style, employed with the intention of providing educational as well as aesthetic enjoyment, and demonstrating harmonious variety in the treatment of the different parts of the complex;
* Historical interest: established thanks to the philanthropy and determination of Kingston citizens, and one of the first English libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie, the group forms a good early-C20 example of a public library, museum, and art gallery complex, surviving in continuous use;
* Interior: the original layout of the main library area remains legible, whilst the area retains features including piers, bookcases, and historic stained glass; the essential plan of the museum remains, with an imposing stair, high-quality joinery, and a top-lit picture gallery complete with integral picture rails;
* Intactness: the buildings survive remarkably intact, both externally and internally, retaining original windows and stacks, as well architectural stonework and terracotta.
* Group value: with the fragment of medieval pier, known as King John’s Pillar, and thought to originate from the Palace of Kings, which stands outside the library, and with a number of nearby listed buildings including the former telephone exchange and head post office, and the former police station.

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