History in Structure

This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.

Streatham Tate Library and Hall

A Grade II Listed Building in Lambeth, London

More Photos »
Approximate Location Map
Large Map »


Latitude: 51.4317 / 51°25'53"N

Longitude: -0.129 / 0°7'44"W

OS Eastings: 530162

OS Northings: 171956

OS Grid: TQ301719

Mapcode National: GBR FY.G59

Mapcode Global: VHGRC.Q85T

Plus Code: 9C3XCVJC+MC

Entry Name: Streatham Tate Library and Hall

Listing Date: 12 May 2016

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1434186

Location: Streatham Wells, Lambeth, London, SW16

County: London

District: Lambeth

Electoral Ward/Division: Streatham Wells

Built-Up Area: Lambeth

Traditional County: Surrey

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: Streatham St Leonard

Church of England Diocese: Southwark

Tagged with: Public library Library building

Find accommodation in


Streatham Tate Library,1890-1, designed by Sidney R J Smith for Sir Henry Tate, with the adjacent hall built at the same time; the 2014 entrance foyer is excluded from the listing.


Public library, 1890-1, designed by Sidney R J Smith for Sir Henry Tate. The builders were Higgs and Hill. The separate hall to the east is understood to have been built at the same time, and also designed by Smith.

MATERIALS: brick, with Portland stone facing. There are slated roofs, stone stacks, and a copper-domed cupola. The original timber windows, with moveable hopper sections, survive.

PLAN: occupying a corner site between Streatham High Road and Pinfold Road, the principal elevation being on Streatham High Road. The main library is roughly rectangular on plan, set on a north/south axis. On the corner of the two roads is the two-storey block, with a single-storey block attached to the north. The eastern section is of two storeys (but lower than the corner block). Standing slightly to the east, and roughly parallel with the library, is the separate hall. Between the library and hall is a circa 1920s single-storey extension, which projects northwards beyond the older buildings. This has been extended to the south by a glazed entrance block of 2014*, which is excluded from the listing.

EXTERIOR: the building is Classical in style, with Greek ornament, anthemion being the dominant decorative motif. The principal, western, elevation is asymmetrical, being composed of the four bays of the two-storey corner block, with the four bays of the single-storey block to the north. The ground floors of both blocks are consistent, having tall windows between pilasters, with a shared entablature. Each window has a square-headed surround, within which is a scrolled pediment crowned by a shell. There is a balustraded parapet to both sections, with anthemion finials. There is a pediment above the second bay to the south, bearing the inscription ‘TATE / FREE PUBLIC / LIBRARY’. The former main entrance is placed roughly central to the principal elevation, in the northernmost bay of the two-storey block. The pedimented entrance is flanked by pilasters carved with drops in Renaissance style; incorporated in the northern panel are the initials ‘H T’ (for Henry Tate), and in the southern panel, the initials ‘S L C’ (for Streatham Libraries Commissioners). Panels to the bases read, respectively ‘A GIFT / TO THE INHABITANTS / OF / STREATHAM / FROM / HENRY TATE / PARK HILL’ and ‘STREATHAM / LIBRARIES / COMMISSIONERS / 1890’ with the names of the builders and architect. The door opening has carving to the frame and reveal, and anthemion acroteria to the pediment. The external steps have been removed, so the doorway now has a stone block to floor level; the opening is glazed. Above, the rectangular fanlight has stained glass, with the words ‘TATE / FREE PUBLIC / LIBRARY’ flanked by roundels with the initials ‘S L C’ and ‘H T’; the glass has anthemion decoration. The three-panel oak doors remain in situ, with copper paterae, and original letter-box panels, that to the north being inscribed ‘LIBRARY’ and that to the south opening for ‘LETTERS’. In the bay above the entrance the pilasters are divided, with composite capitals, and extra pilasters creating a tripartite window. Above this is the cupola, the copper dome resting on squared columns. The clock projects from the façade in front of the cupola at parapet level, resting on a scrolled timber bracket. The clock case has corner pilasters, a pediment with acroterion, and a crown to the apex; the western side bears the dates of Edward VII. The base of the southernmost pilaster to the single-storey section commemorates the placing of the clock in 1912. The pedimented north elevation of the single-storey section is now almost obscured by the tall building standing to the north. The south elevation of the two-storey section is of three bays, the central bay being blind at first-floor level. Further to the east, the lower two-storey section is of five bays, the western three bays projecting slightly. This part of the building is without ornament, apart from a string course and architrave moulding. The eastern elevation of this section is built of brick, with a tall stack.

Standing at a short distance to the east is the hall, the southern elevation of which is stuccoed, incised to look like stone. A bold shaped gable fronts Pinfold Road, having two segmental-arched windows with keystones; set back from the façade are narrow panels resting on stepped corbels. To the east is a pedimented entrance; the corresponding entrance to the west was removed as part of the circa 2014 works. Between the library and the hall is the new projecting entrance lobby*.

To the north of the buildings, the brickwork is exposed. There is a small lean-to in the corner between the two-storey and single-storey eastern sections; beside it to the east, a cast-iron fire escape gives access from the former librarian’s accommodation. Further east, the circa 1920s extension, with red-brick door and window arches, and a panelled door; the north elevation of the extension is painted. Behind it rises the gabled north elevation of the hall, with a tall narrow stack.

INTERIOR: the original central lobby and vestibule are now opened into a single space, with the former newspaper and periodical room to the north, the magazine room to the south, and the lending library to the east. The hall ceiling is in two compartments, indicating the location of the former partition, and has a coved cornice with acanthus motif. The doorcases have pediments with anthemion acroteria. The roof of the former newspaper room has encased arched trusses, the decorative plasterwork having panels to the soffits and anthemion and scrolled acanthus to the spandrels. Between alternate trusses, to the west, are clerestory windows. On the ceiling between the trusses are ornamental cast-iron vents. At the north end are two lunettes, the leaded panes decorated with anthemion motifs. The window-surrounds have pediments with scrolled anthemion; the window frames have a wave-scroll pattern to the transoms. Stained glass to the upper portions has been lost. The doorway between the hall and the former magazine room is now filled by glazing; the room is entered through an original doorway to the east. The room has moulded beams supported on ornate scrolled brackets with acanthus and rosettes to the spandrels; the plaster frieze has alternate plasterwork wreath and panels. The windows have secondary glazing but the original frames survive. The former lending library originally had a borrower’s lobby entered from the hall, with a counter separating this from the area containing the stacks beyond; the room is now open. The complex roof has a coved lower section, with clerestory lights to the east and panels to the west; in between, arches resting on anthemion corbels rise to meet tie beams, chamfered, with reeding to the central sections. Arches springing from the tie beams form a central barrel vault, with horizontal roof lights set between the coved and vaulted sections. In the south wall, doors open to the librarian’s office to the west and the stair to the east; the doors have been replaced, but connecting doorways between rooms retain their panelling. Above the central door is a blind arched panel. The librarian’s office has a chimneypiece with scrolled jambs and a mantel-cornice; the cast-iron grate with surrounding floral tiles survives. This room has a moulded cornice, and door- and window-surrounds; the door opening to the former magazine room now contains a glazed screen. To either side of the windows is a cast-iron reeded column with a grille to the top, connected with the heating system. The public parts of the library have iron grilles around the edges off the floor, through which warm air originally rose. The entrance hall and the eastern, public part of the lending library were floored with black and white tiles, with interlacing Greek key patterns, whilst the other floors had wood parquet; there is now new wooden flooring throughout.

In the south-east corner of the main building is the open-well stair, rising from the basement to the first floor; the stair has iron stick balusters and a moulded timber handrail. The stair hall is floored with coloured tiles, and there is an incised skirting. A lift has been installed in the south-east corner. The upper floor is much altered, and has undergone some reconfiguration, but does retain three cast-iron chimneypieces in C18 style, one incorporating figurative medallions, as well as moulded cornices and window surrounds. The basement contains a fireplace with a plain stone surround.

The eastern wall of the former lending library is pierced by five openings; formerly windows, these were lengthened to connect with the circa 1920s extension. This extension has a roof lantern running north/south, and at the north end, another lantern running west/east; the lanterns have been replaced. Connecting with the extension to the east is the hall: this is a single space, spanned by arched wooden trusses resting on plain corbels, with a glazed lantern above; the lantern is a replacement. To the south is the 2014 entrance foyer*.

*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.


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 (knighted in 1898), 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. Sir Henry Tate (1819-1899), who made a fortune as a sugar refiner, and established the Tate Gallery (originally the National Gallery of British Art) in 1897, lived in Streatham at Park Hill, and funded a number of libraries in Lambeth; Tate paid £5,000 for the Streatham site and the building.

The architect for Streatham Library, formally opened in 1891, was Sidney R J Smith; Smith designed other libraries in Lambeth, including those funded by Tate –South Lambeth (1888) and Brixton (1892) – as well as the Tate Gallery. The prominent clock by A Brock was paid for by public subscription in 1912, in memory of King Edward VII. At its opening, the library contained just over 6000 books, the shelves having space for about 25,000. The library originally had a closed access section, from which books chosen by borrowers were retrieved by staff, as well as two open reading rooms, for newspapers and periodicals, and for magazines. A flat for the librarian was provided on the first floor.

Standing immediately to the east of the library is a hall, understood to have been constructed at the same time as the library, for use as a lecture and concert hall, with Smith as architect. By 1913 this building was in use as a school, and from 1926 to 1938 it was the South London Liberal Synagogue (the synagogue moved to a former girls’ school in Prentis Road, also funded by Tate and built by Smith). The building is now in library use.

An extension was built, connecting the library building and hall, probably in the 1920s. During recent works to the building, ending in 2014, this was extended to the south by a new entrance foyer on Pinfold Road; the original entrance from Streatham High Road was closed off at the same time. A bust of Sir Henry Tate by Thomas (later Sir Thomas) Brock is now placed in the former entrance; its original position within the library is not known. Other works included the removal of the false ceiling to the former newspaper and periodicals room, the conversion of the former librarian’s residence to meeting space, and the removal of the east entrance to the hall. The library is now entirely open access.

Reasons for Listing

Streatham Tate Library,1890-1, together with the adjacent hall, designed by Sidney R J Smith for Sir Henry Tate, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: as a successful classically-informed library building by the architect S R J Smith, and one of a number of architecturally diverse libraries in Lambeth by the same architect;
* Historic interest: as one of a group of libraries funded by Sir Henry Tate, the sugar magnate, in his adoptive borough;
* Interior and degree of survival: the library retains its original ground-floor plan, with elaborate ceilings, as well as features including stained glass, original windows, and chimneypieces.

External Links

External links are from the relevant listing authority and, where applicable, Wikidata. Wikidata IDs may be related buildings as well as this specific building. If you want to add or update a link, you will need to do so by editing the Wikidata entry.

Selected Sources

Book cover links are generated automatically from the sources. They are not necessarily always correct, as book names at Amazon may not be quite the same as those used referenced in the text.

Source title links go to a search for the specified title at Amazon. Availability of the title is dependent on current publication status. You may also want to check AbeBooks, particularly for older titles.

Recommended Books

Other nearby listed buildings

BritishListedBuildings.co.uk is an independent online resource and is not associated with any government department. All government data published here is used under licence. Please do not contact BritishListedBuildings.co.uk for any queries related to any individual listed building, planning permission related to listed buildings or the listing process itself.

British Listed Buildings is a Good Stuff website.