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Bethnal Green Library

A Grade II Listed Building in Bethnal Green, Tower Hamlets

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Latitude: 51.5264 / 51°31'35"N

Longitude: -0.0537 / 0°3'13"W

OS Eastings: 535116

OS Northings: 182632

OS Grid: TQ351826

Mapcode National: GBR J8.H55

Mapcode Global: VHGQV.0WZP

Plus Code: 9C3XGWGW+HG

Entry Name: Bethnal Green Library

Listing Date: 14 January 2005

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1391330

English Heritage Legacy ID: 491805

Location: Bethnal Green, Tower Hamlets, London, E2

County: Tower Hamlets

Electoral Ward/Division: Bethnal Green

Built-Up Area: Tower Hamlets

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: St John on Bethnal Green

Church of England Diocese: London

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Bethnal Green


Bethnal Green Library

Public library. 1921 conversion by borough architect A.E.Darby of 1896 former Bethnal House Asylum. Red brick and yellow stock brick to side elevations with gauged brick and terra cotta detailing; hipped tiled roof to front range with partly glazed ceiling and raised ridge lantern over rear range; wooden sash windows. Late Victorian Classical exterior with inter-war library interior in the mid-C18 Adam-inspired style.
EXTERIOR: 15-bay two-storey facade of red brick with gauged brick flat arches with keyblocks and Ionic pilasters of rubbed brick defining the first floor bays. Central advanced 2-storey frontispiece with segmental pediment, Ionic pilasters flanking central arched window at first floor, and rusticated ground floor with paired terra cotta pilasters under 'PUBLIC LIBRARY' lettering over door. North return elevation has 2-storey semi-elliptical bay fully of rubbed brick, rusticated and with Ionic pilasters and balustrade to first floor. This joins to the main wall with re-entrant oriel, and then secondary entrance bay slightly advanced and with quoins and rusticated ground floor. To rear, similarly detailed and attached to other buildings not included in the listing.
INTERIOR: Library plan form survives. Entrance hall is lined with high quality Classical panelling with Ionic pilasters and pedimented doorcases, here also the plaque commemorating the October 1922 opening. This flanked by 2 main reading rooms at the front (former Newspaper and Magazine Reading Room to south and Juveniles Reading room to north) that retain their beamed ceilings with delicate Adam style plaster and pedimented doorcases. Main lending library to rear entered by curved wickets and barriers ornamented with Ionic pilasters and leaded panes, attached to the main counters; perimeter shelving survives but the original radiating free-standing shelves have been replaced; segemental profile ceiling with oculus to centre below large panels of 25 window panes, that to centre with circular fanlight, and central row with oculi and Classical plaster swags to edge; 4 plaster medallions in curved niche behind colonnade (Richard Wagner, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, and William Morris) commemorate interesting choice of cultural heroes. To north, staff rooms with wide metal baluster stair and librarian's room with fireplace and similar plaster ceiling. First floor Lecture Hall with similar ceiling and small stage flanked by Ionic pilasters with the borough badge. The former Reference room to south has perimeter shelving, pedimented door cases and similar plaster ceiling. Large area of lavatories with tiling and glazed partitions. At top of rear stairs, a Venetian window with War Memorial representing 'Motherhood', 'Peace' and 'Manhood' in the stained glass.
HISTORY: The Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green did not pass the Public Library Act until 1913, subsequently preparing plans for a new library by the borough engineer and surveyor A.E. Darby in 1915. However, WWI intervened and the prohibitive rise in building costs afterwards resulted in their constructing instead a temporary institution in 1919. When soon afterwards deciding to undertake a permanent institution, the borough purchased part of the Bethnal House Asylum Estate, the former male wing that had been built in 1896. A.E. Darby instead designed the conversion of what was a much larger facility, including an Adult Lending, Reference and Children's libraries, as well as a Lecture Hall and Newsroom. It cost £36,000 and was built by Messrs. Patman and Fotheringham, with G.W. Hammer & Co. supplying the furniture. It was opened by the Mayor, Councillor J.J. Vaughan on Oct.13th 1922 who commented that with the new library, 'the Council was handing down to future generations a legacy which would enable them to obtain knowledge and sweep away misery and poverty.' ('Thirty Years: Bethnal Green Public Library').

An unusually intact inter-war London library designed by borough architect A.E. Darby within a converted 1896 asylum building. It retains its 1922 library plan form and high-quality Classical interior, which includes the top-lit reading room with high quality wickets, other panelled and Adam-style plaster rooms, unusual plaster medallions to cultural heroes and a fine War Memorial window.

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, 25 October 2017.

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