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Dulwich Library

A Grade II Listed Building in Southwark, London

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Latitude: 51.4488 / 51°26'55"N

Longitude: -0.0746 / 0°4'28"W

OS Eastings: 533894

OS Northings: 173962

OS Grid: TQ338739

Mapcode National: GBR HL.HVQ

Mapcode Global: VHGR6.NVF6

Entry Name: Dulwich Library

Listing Date: 17 March 2016

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1430885

Location: Southwark, London, SE22

County: London

District: Southwark

Electoral Ward/Division: Village

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Southwark

Traditional County: Surrey

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: Dulwich St Clement with St Peter

Church of England Diocese: Southwark

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A Passmore Edwards Library designed by Charles Barry and Son in Elizabethan Revival style and erected 1896-7. The original single-storey north-west wing which was damaged during World War II was replaced circa 1950


A Passmore Edwards Library designed by Charles Barry and Son in Elizabethan Revival style and erected 1896-7. The original single-storey north-west wing damaged during World War II was replaced circa 1950. The building was refurbished in 2013.

MATERIALS: red brick with sandstone dressings, wooden window frames and hipped and pitched slate roofs with brick chimneystacks.

PLAN: an irregular butterfly-shaped plan of two to three storeys and basement. The original plan consisted of a staircase-hall with reading room leading off to the east of the main entrance, book storage to the south-west spanning two storeys, offices on the first floor, a head librarian's flat on the second floor and a single-storey offset wing to the north-west of the main entrance. This north-west wing was replaced following war damage by a two-storey wing with a children's library on the ground floor and a hall above. In 2015 the original part of the ground floor comprised an open access library to both the main rooms and the first floor included staff offices, a wi-fi lounge, a quiet study area and a reference library and offices on the second floor.

EXTERIOR: the north-east elevation fronting Lordship Lane is of three bays and includes three large arched windows on the ground floor with a projected moulded stone sill supported by stone corbels, Tuscan pilaster jambs and segmental stone arches with projecting keystones. The wider panes of glass used here indicate that the lower sections of these window frames have been replaced as the panes originally would have matched the spacing of those of the upper arched section. Between the arched windows are three ashlar string courses which sit between the projecting sill and the spring point of the arches. Between the windows of the ground and first floor is a red brick frieze with the lettering ‘THE PASSMORE EDWARDS DULWICH PUBLIC LIBRARY’ extending across the elevation. Above this is an egg and dart stone carved cornice, followed by a sandstone string course which forms the sill for the windows above. Above the string course each bay contains a mullioned three-light timber-framed window, with stone jambs, lintel and sill all of which are recessed into the elevation. These windows are separated by red brick Tuscan style pilasters which sit between the ashlar string course and a dentillated ashlar cornice above. Above this cornice within the roof line of the building are three red brick segmental gables with scroll carved stonework abutments, moulded sandstone capstones and ball finials. Each of these gables has a centrally positioned oval, timber framed window with a moulded sandstone architrave and projecting keystone. The base of the building has a brick plinth with a sandstone ashlar capstone.

The main entrance of the building faces northwards onto the corner of Lordship Lane and Eynella Road. The first bay is the return to the north-east elevation with similar treatment. Adjoining to the right is a three-storey tower with central moulded stone carving and end acroteria and behind is a louvred wooden cupola with an ogee roof. The lower floors project forwards from the main body of the building forming a canted bay capped with a domed copper roof. The original timber four panelled doors are located in the centre of the bay. Above the doorway is a large sandstone ashlar lintel, with a dentillated cornice and projecting hood moulding. Either side of the lintel is a stone carving, to the left a book, to the right crossed quills, both surrounded by carved laurels. Above the cornice is a clock set within a carved stone surround including a projecting keystone, scrolls and laurel motif, which may replace an earlier window. There are circular windows with projecting brick architraves and sandstone keystones either side of the clock. The rectangular windows on the ground and first floor are similar to those as described in the first floor of the north elevation but the first floor windows are divided by brick pilasters.

The north-east part of this elevation consists of the offset wing rebuilt following bomb damage which is plainer than the original part of the building, as a result of cost and material shortages in the post-war period. It is of four bays, the windows timber framed with more solid brick lintels and stepped stone sills. There are two sets of double doors at either end of the elevation the first of which sits flush with the elevation, has a rectangular fanlight and a more solid brick lintel. The second has a rectangular fanlight with overlapping oval wrought ironwork grille. The door and fanlight are framed by two brick pilasters which support a projecting stone hood moulding.

The gabled west return has three windows, including a circular window in the gable and a round-headed central first floor window.

The rear elevations of the building are of similar materials but plainer than the principal elevations.

INTERIOR: access through the main entrance leads into the staircase-hall which has round-headed arches and a staircase with a mahogany scrolled handrail leading off. To the left the original reading room retains its huge central fluted cast iron column on top of which two diagonal beams meet. These beams are supported at the corners of the room on scrollwork corbels. There is also a stepped moulded dado rail, cornice and skirting board. The arched windows which surround the room retain their original upper lights and moulded architrave. The door between the hall and the main library rooms appears to be original, although the handles and kick plates have been replaced with more modern examples. Architectural features such as the skirting, mouldings and corbels continue through to the hall and staircase. The large rear room, originally the book store, has a two-storey high ceiling with a rectangular skylight and open gallery on one side.

Arched windows between the children’s room and the hall remain in-situ although the door between the hall and children’s room has been blocked and access to the children’s room is now gained through an inserted door under the staircase.

The children’s room on the ground floor of the rebuilt circa 1950 wing of the building retains few architectural details of interest with the exception of the six bevel-edged columns which support the structural roof beams of the ceiling.

The first floor has a wi-fi lounge, which retains a cast iron fireplace with green tiles, suggesting that the room may originally have been an office. Beyond this is the current quiet study zone. This room spans the length of the principal block and retains some original shelving on legs. Hot water heating pipes would have run underneath and a few of these pipes are visible. The current staff room is situated above the main entrance of the building, but the moulded skirting, cornices and architraves suggest that this area would have originally been publicly visible, if not publicly accessible. The first floor also contains a workroom which has been partitioned off to create two office spaces. These rooms contain fewer architectural details but include a dado rail which matches that in the current quiet study area.

Above the children’s room is a large barrel vaulted hall in the circa 1950 wing. This room retains numerous circa 1950 features, including a stage, cast iron radiators, glazed panelled doors, wall and roof vents, cornice and skirting board. A modern kitchen has been inserted in a small room which sits between the new wing and the principal block of the building.

The third floor contains numerous small offices but was originally the librarian’s flat. The domestic use of these rooms is evident in the smaller scale of the rooms and the staircase that accesses them, the single width doors, the lower degree of architectural moulding and a surviving small cast iron fire surround. In addition to this there are numerous original doors and hatchways which lead to the roof and roof spaces and would have enabled the maintenance and upkeep of the building.

The cellar is accessed by a ladder underneath the stairs on the ground floor. The cellar has painted brick walls, a poured concrete floor and a shuttered concrete ceiling.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURE: on the north and west sides the library is bounded by circa 1896 cast iron railings with scroll-work to both principals and railing sections on brick and stone plinths, gate-piers with moulded stone plinths and alternate bands of brick and stone, capped by stone ball finials and cast iron gates with some scroll-work decoration.


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, 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 and John Passmore Edwards, who believed in education for all via access to free libraries, so that the number of libraries expanded rapidly in the late C19 and early C20.

Dulwich Library is a John Passmore Edwards Library, built as a memorial to Edward Alleyn, the Elizabethan actor and founder of Alleyn's School and Dulwich College. The architect was Charles Barry and Son and the site was donated by Dulwich College. The foundation stone was laid by the famous actor Sir Henry Irving on 24 September 1896 and the library was declared open by Lord Chancellor Halsbury on the 24 November 1897.

The building probably originally operated on a closed access system where books could be selected from a catalogue and retrieved by staff for viewing. The original single-storey wing to the west of the main entrance was rebuilt in about 1950 following bomb damage in 1940 or 1941.

The building was refurbished in 2013.

The architect Charles Barry Junior (1823-1900) was the eldest son of Sir Charles Barry the co-architect of the Houses of Parliament. Amongst other commissions he designed the Great Eastern Hotel fronting Liverpool Street Station, the extension to Burlington House in Piccadilly and the south wing of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. However he is particularly associated with works in Dulwich because he succeeded his father as architect and surveyor to Dulwich College. His works there included the Church of St Peter, Lordship Lane of 1873-5 and 1885 (Grade II), and probably the church hall too (Grade II), North Dulwich Railway Station 1868-70 (Grade II), the new buildings of Dulwich College built 1866-70 (Grade II*) and he also laid out Dulwich Park in 1884.

Reasons for Listing

Dulwich Library, a Passmore Edwards Library of 1896-7, designed by Charles Barry and Son in Elizabethan Revival style as a memorial to the Elizabethan actor Edward Alleyn, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural and design interest: an accomplished design by a notable architect in good quality well crafted brick and stone, with varied elevations and good decorative features;
* Survival of the plan, layout and fittings: the original butterfly plan survives despite the post-war rebuilding of the smaller north-west wing and, apart from most of the original shelving, the interior retains most of its fittings and original room divisions.
* External intactness: other than the loss of the original north-west wing to bomb damage (replaced in circa 1950) the 1896-7 exterior is largely intact;
* Historic interest: the library was built as a memorial to the great Elizabethan actor Edward Alleyn who endowed important local charities;
* Group value: although not geographically adjoining listed buildings it is linked historically to important buildings in the parish erected through Edward Alleyn's endowment, many of which were also designed by Charles Barry Junior.

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