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High Street, Thurso Heritage Museum (Former Carnegie Library)

A Category B Listed Building in Thurso, Highland

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Coordinates

Latitude: 58.5955 / 58°35'43"N

Longitude: -3.5183 / 3°31'6"W

OS Eastings: 311848

OS Northings: 968504

OS Grid: ND118685

Mapcode National: GBR K6P0.F19

Mapcode Global: WH5BJ.X6SX

Entry Name: High Street, Thurso Heritage Museum (Former Carnegie Library)

Listing Date: 23 June 2003

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 396829

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB49296

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Thurso

County: Highland

Electoral Ward: Thurso and Northwest Caithness

Traditional County: Caithness

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Description

Sinclair MacDonald, 1910. 2 storey, 5-bay, T-plan former Carnegie library (now museum) with large, single storey, former reading room to SE. Near symmetrical with classical detailing. Polished ashlar to NW and SW elevations. Base course, ground floor cill course, continuous string course and freize below eaves cornice. Windows architraved except in centre bays at 1st floor. Random rubble elsewhere with stugged dressings to openings and arrises.

NW (SREET) ELEVATION: centre bays slightly recessed, regularly fenestrated, bays at 1st floor divided by engaged Doric columns. Architraved and pedimented doorpiece with stylised keystone in bay to far right, central square column to aproned bipartite window above; regular fenestration in bay to outer left; pediment and apron to ground and 1st floor respectively.

SW ELEVATION: 2-bay, 2-storey symmetrical gable end with former reading room recessed to far right. Main building; regularly fenestrated, principal and rear elevations returned as giant order pilasters, simple diamond motif centred to gable head. Former reading room; centred bipartite window. Small, square, single storey flat roofed outshot to re-entrant angle of main building with reading room; blocked windows.

SE ELEVATION: former reading room; centred gable end with large segmental headed window, integral lean-to to right. Main building; ground floor window to far right, 1st floor windows to far left and far right.

NE ELEVATION: reading room; 2 windows to right set close to main building, main building attached to Town Hall.

2-leaf timber panelled door. Plate glass timber sash and case windows to NW and SW elevations, upper 6-pane lower 4-pane timber sash and case windows elsewhere. Grey slate pitched roofs to main building and former reading room. Block entablature to slightly advanced 1st and 5th bays to NW elevation with dentil block to central recessed section. Raised corniced skews with large scroll-ended kneelers to SW elevation, corniced gable apex stack. Coped skew to gable end of reading room.

INTERIOR: timber tongue and groove wainscotting throughout ground and 1st floor, timber tongue and groove panelling to all window ingoes.

Ground floor: vestibule; red clay floor tiles, damaged to right, decorative Minton border. Twin-leaf timber panelled door; glazed to upper with lozenge shaped leaded glazing to left panel. Hallway: tripartite timber issue counter; plain architrave with frieze and cornice, timber panelled doorway to left with multi-paned upper section surmounted by tripartite fanlight, timber panelled lower section to centre and right with multi-paned upper sections, timber and glazed display counter set directly infront. Simple cornice to ceiling. Modern timber and glazed fire protection screen to SE dividing hallway from door to former reading room. Tall timber half- turn stair with decorative newel post and balusters. Large room to NE off hallway with picture rail and simple cornice, former reading room to rear. 1st floor: modern timber and glazed fire protection screen to majority of landing, decorative balusters outwith screen running full length of landing. Doorway to NW to small store, doorway to NE leading to large room occupying majority of 1st floor; picture rail and simple cornice to NW and SE, coombed ceiling.

Statement of Interest

On the 25th of January 1872 Thurso Town Council decided to adopt the Public Libraries Act, it was one of the first in Scotland to do so. A library committee was formed in the same year and a small library was set up in part of the Town Hall (see separate listing). At the end of the 19th century the wealthy philanthropist Andrew Carnegie had begun a programme of donating large amounts of money to local communities for the establishment of lending libraries throughout Scotland and America. Dunfermline Library was the first of such institutions to be opened in 1881, due to the fact that it was the birthplace of Carnegie before his family emigrated to America. In 1904 the Thurso Library Committee approached Carnegie with the hope of securing a donation to enable a purpose-built library to be erected. Their plea proved successful with Carnegie pledging #2,000. The committee then set about deciding upon a site for the library, this took some time, however it was finally decided to purchase and demolish a house next to the Town Hall. The John O?Groat Journal records "No better site could have been obtained. It is situated on the main thoroughfare, adjoins the Town Hall, and is in every way suited for a building such as a library." The committee decided upon the architect Sinclair MacDonald, an accomplished architect with a thriving local office. Mindful of its situation, the principal elevation of the library is that of restrained classical with detailing complementing the adjoining exuberant Gothic Town Hall, built in 1870. The library was built predominantly by local labour, taking just under 2 years to build. Its opening on the 15th of September 1910 was a grand affair. Carnegie, his wife, his daughter and a group of friends arrived by rail to be greeted by the town's dignitaries and a large crowd lining the High Street. Mrs Carnegie formally opened the library and was presented with a silver key. After the opening ceremony the Town Council and the Carnegies retired to the Town Hall where an address of thanks was given. The interior of the library consisted of a large room to the ground floor where the books were displayed, and a reading room to the rear. The library possessed open shelves so that readers could browse the books, this was quite a novel approach, as many libraries operated a closed shelf system (there are no shelves remaining, 2003). The 1st floor had a committee room and large hall. Just as the first library outgrew its premises the same happened of this building too, with the library moving to the larger premises of the old Miller Institute in the 1960s, where it still remains, (2003). After the library moved out of the building, the Provost of Thurso, John Sinclair, instigated the setting up of a local heritage museum, the building is still currently used in this capacity (2003). It is of particular note that the former library has retained its original fenestration and much of its interior timber detailing including part of the issue counter.

The former library with the Town Hall dominates the upper end of the High Street demonstrating the civic pride that Thurso attached to these institutions. There are plans for a scheme to modernise both the Town Hall and the Museum, (2003).

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