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Bebington Central Library

A Grade II Listed Building in Bebington, Wirral

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Latitude: 53.3499 / 53°20'59"N

Longitude: -3.0043 / 3°0'15"W

OS Eastings: 333245

OS Northings: 384143

OS Grid: SJ332841

Mapcode National: GBR 7YGP.CV

Mapcode Global: WH87L.T2L5

Plus Code: 9C5R8XXW+X7

Entry Name: Bebington Central Library

Listing Date: 23 April 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1422767

ID on this website: 101422767

Location: Lower Bebington, Wirral, Merseyside, CH63

County: Wirral

Electoral Ward/Division: Bebington

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Bebington

Traditional County: Cheshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Merseyside

Church of England Parish: Bebington St Andrew

Church of England Diocese: Chester

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Public library, civic rooms and hall. Designed from 1965, built 1967-71 by architects' practice Paterson, Macaulay and Owens of Bebington; library opened April 1971, formally opened July 1971 by the Duchess of Kent. Reinforced concrete frame on piled foundations, dark blue-brown facing bricks to the lower floors and pre-cast slabs with exposed aggregate surface of white Skye marble on the first floor, ribbed concrete plinth, dark-brown tiles to pyramidal roof light on flat roof of library.


Public library, civic rooms and hall. Designed from 1965, built 1967-71 by architects' practice Paterson, Macaulay and Owens of Bebington; library opened April 1971, formally opened July 1971 by the Duchess of Kent. Reinforced concrete frame on piled foundations, dark blue-brown facing bricks to the lower floors and pre-cast slabs with exposed aggregate surface of white Skye marble on the first floor, ribbed concrete plinth, dark-brown tiles to pyramidal roof light on flat roof of library.

PLAN: the building stands on an open site which slopes down to the east. The library is a large, flat-roofed, rectangular building with a partial lower-ground floor, ground and first floors. Attached at the left-hand end of the south-east long elevation and projecting out at right-angles is the former disabled unit, now the Bebington Suite (not listed). On the north-west side of the library is the two-storey, flat-roofed, rectangular health centre which is aligned at right-angles (not listed). A single-storey link block (not listed) forms an entrance hall and formerly linked the library and health centre.

The library foyer opens off the entrance hall link block (not listed) and provides access to the library and civic rooms, and to the former disabled unit (not listed). The double-height library has open-plan lending and reference collections on the ground and first floors, with a self-contained children's library on the ground floor and a first-floor balcony round the central open well (the ground floor now also contains a Council One Stop Shop).

EXTERIOR: the angular, flat-roofed first floor of the library deeply overhangs the ground floor and is supported on narrow, concrete spurs. The fall of the land means that the spurs on the north-east end elevation and south-east long elevation rise from a deep graded plinth of ribbed concrete pavings, which counterbalance the overhang. The first floor is faced in aggregate slabs with narrow, oblong windows set in continuous bands of eighteen windows in the end elevations. The south-east long elevation from the left-hand end has a band of sixteen windows an adjacent band of seven windows with a single window towards the right-hand end. The north-west long elevation has a band of eight windows at the left-hand end with a band of fifteen windows and adjacent band of four windows towards the right-hand end. The windows have metal frames with two horizontal glazing bars and a bottom-hinged, inward-opening middle light. The ground floor is faced in blue-brown bricks in stretcher bond and is divided into bays by the concrete spurs. Immediately beneath the overhanging first floor is a clerestory band of horizontal, metal-framed windows which open on central pivots. The long elevations each have large, circular porthole windows in the second, third, fourth and sixth bays from the north-east end. The end elevations each have two larger, rectangular windows with opening central sections and deep, concrete lintels. At the base is a thin, string band separating the ground floor from the lower-ground floor, which is slightly recessed with a second clerestory band of horizontal windows lighting the lower-ground floor rooms; these are just above ground level on the north-west elevation and just above the plinth on the north-east end and south-east elevations. Some of these windows have been replaced recently (2015) with uPVC frames. The south-west elevation has a concertina door into a garage area in the fourth bay from the north-east end. On the flat roof is a tiled pyramidal roof incorporating a continuous window band lighting the library well beneath. On its north-east side is the boiler flue in the form of a tall, shaped, concrete funnel, and the rectangular, brick block of the book-lift housing.

INTERIOR: the layout of the library, library foyer, and civic rooms remains largely as built. There is a unity of treatment to all the interiors. Many original fixtures and fittings survive including bookcases, doors and floor coverings. Original doors include over-sized timber doors with horizontal oblong lights and solid timber doors, some with horizontal metal strips. Bold, geometric floor tiles are often used, in a colour palette of green, beige, brown, and white, and grey marble is used as a facing material in various places.

Library: a large, square, central well means that the interior space rises dramatically through two floors. Towards the corners of the well are four slender square-section concrete columns which turn by forty-five degrees as they rise full-height to support the flat roof. In the centre of the south-east side of the well is the concrete-faced, shaped boiler flue stack. Above the well is the large pyramidal roof light turned at a forty-five degree angle. The lower part is plastered, with a continuous horizontal band of lighting, above which the pyramid is lined with horizontal timber boarding. A straight staircase rises through the well from the ground floor to the first floor. It has low concrete balustrades with grey marble inlaid on the ends and tops and surmounted by raised, square-section, iron handrails. The balcony walls round the well are treated as a continuation of the staircase balustrade with marble coping surmounted by a raised iron rail. The open plan ground floor is flooded with light from the roof light, clerestory windows and the large, circular portholes. The floor is covered with boldly geometric floor tiles of beige and green in a Greek key-type pattern in a white-tiled grid. The area on the right-hand side of the staircase has recently been carpet tiled. Many of the original bookcases remain attached to the outer walls and also around the base of the flue stack. They are angular, timber cases with adjustable shelves and slim, steel strips sandwiched into the vertical elements. At the north-west end of the library, adjacent to the foyer and beneath the reference library, is the enclosed children's library. The thin walls between the foyer and main library have a wide band of internal windows at eye-level with a narrow band of clerestory windows above. There is a solid timber door between the two libraries with a metal rail strip engraved CHILDRENS LIBRARY and a metal door handle. The wide doorway off the foyer has replacement glazed uPVC double doors. Inside, two transverse concrete ceiling beams are supported on square-section concrete columns. There are similar original bookcases at a lower level and rectangular pin boards in wooden frames above on the south-east and north-west walls. The south-east exterior wall also has a porthole window and clerestory windows. The ceiling of the first floor of the library is supported by square-section concrete columns and top lighting is provided by a grid of square, deeply-coffered roof lights with strip lights on the ribs in between. Original bookcases remain attached to the walls and projecting out at right-angles. On the north-west balcony are original peg boards on the outer wall for displaying art work some of which are hinged so they can be opened out onto the balcony.

Library foyer and civic rooms: the library foyer has bold, geometric floor tiles, and a similarly detailed, central staircase as within the main library leading up to civic rooms on the first floor, with a staircase beneath down to the lower ground floor. The wall to each side of the wide library doorway has grey marble facing; the original double doors have been replaced with glazed and metal double doors. On the opposite side of the foyer are two sets of solid timber double doors opening into the civic hall, and at the south end is a wide doorway opening into the former disabled unit, now the Bebington Suite (not listed). The doorway has double doors with horizontal oblong lights and door pulls forming a circle (similar to the original staff doorway in the health centre - not listed). The civic hall has a slightly sunken floor with a stepped podium at the north-west end with a relief coat of arms in a marble roundel set into the wall. There is a metal and timber railing along the north-east side of the room and two square-section columns supporting transverse concrete ceiling beams are faced on two faces with grey marble. On the first floor above the foyer and civic hall are a series of eight meeting rooms and offices opening off a central area, originally used as a coffee bar. The ceilings have deep, square coffering some of which contain roof lights. The floors have original geometric tiling and original doors remain, some now painted white. The original pottery tile wall mural remains on the wall of the former coffee bar.

Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act') it is declared that the inserted modern lift on the left-hand side of the library foyer staircase is not of special architectural or historic interest.


Bebington's first free public library had been established in 1866 by Joseph Mayer, a Liverpool goldsmith, who lived in the town. A growing community meant that it became increasingly obvious that the library was inadequate to meet Bebington's needs. In 1965 the Borough Council commissioned local architects' practice Paterson, Macaulay and Owens to design a new library to hold 66,500 books, and to include a civic hall and rooms, known as the Joseph Mayer Rooms. The hall was on the ground floor of the library building and the rooms were located on the first floor. They comprised seven public meeting rooms and a superintendent's office arranged round a central coffee bar. On the coffee bar wall was a pottery tile wall mural depicting local buildings designed and made by girls of Sutton Secondary School. The complex also included a health centre and a disabled unit provided by Cheshire County Council (not listed). The library was fitted with bookcases, rectangular, square and circular tables, all identifiable by the thin steel strips set into their surfaces, and three study carrels on the first floor. In the 1960s the home of the sculptor, Thomas Firth, which had initially been leased by Mayer to house the original library, was demolished. C18 carved stones, known as the puzzle stones, from outside the house were moved to the new library foyer. Construction work on the complex commenced two years later, in October 1967, and the main contractors were Sir Robert Lloyd & Co Ltd. The library opened in April 1971, but was formally opened in July by the Duchess of Kent The building and furniture and fittings cost £387,000.

Within the library an original pendant light in the well is no longer present, the issuing counters are modern replacements, and the three study carrels have gone. A modern customer lift has been inserted in the library foyer. In 2014 a small area on one side of the library ground floor was fitted out for use as a Council One Stop Shop with modern desks and seating, and a wall was built to enclose the former music area which was originally open into the main library to provide two private interview or meeting rooms.

Reasons for Listing

Bebington Central Library, designed from 1965 and built 1967-71, by architects' practice Paterson, Macaulay and Owens, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: the library is notable for its modernist architectural ambition, boldly taking advantage of the benefits of scale afforded by an open site, and confidently referencing both Denys Lasdun's 1960-4 Royal College of Physicians and Le Corbusier in its form, whilst adding a more local, nautical reference in its use of giant porthole windows;
* Historic interest: as an exemplar of 1960s library planning including lavish provision of other community activities alongside the library in the form of a suite of civic meeting rooms, originally with a coffee bar, and an exhibition space;
* Interior: the main space rises dramatically through two floors to provide an open lending library, conducive to browsing, an enclosed children's library, to minimise impact upon other library users, and a more intimate, first-floor reference library, conducive to studying, all enhanced by the careful and generous provision of natural light to provide a welcoming and pleasant environment;
* Fixtures and fittings: the clean lines of the interior are complimented by the survival of many good-quality fixtures and fittings and the unity of their treatment across the building, including original, angular timber bookcases with thin vertical steel strips, bold, geometric floor tiles, over-sized timber doors with horizontal oblong lights and solid timber doors, staircase and balcony balustrades with grey marble inlay, original peg boards for displaying art work, and a pottery tile wall mural in the former coffee bar, which together combine to imbue the library with a pleasing period feeling in keeping with its architecture;
* Selectivity: while the former disabled unit (now the Bebington Suite), entrance hall link block and health centre were designed as part of the complex, and as such complement and set off the larger library building to which they are attached, they are themselves of less intrinsic interest, in particular the health centre which does not demonstrate any particular innovation in plan form for the building type of this date, and so are not included in the listing.

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