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Latitude: 51.6608 / 51°39'38"N
Longitude: -3.803 / 3°48'10"W
OS Eastings: 275386
OS Northings: 197315
OS Grid: SS753973
Mapcode National: GBR H3.6L39
Mapcode Global: VH5GN.1JC6
Entry Name: Neath Library
Listing Date: 31 August 2012
Last Amended: 31 August 2012
Source ID: 87652
Building Class: Civil
Location: On the S side of Victoria Gardens towards the western end of the street of that name.
County: Neath Port Talbot
Community: Neath (Castell-nedd)
Built-Up Area: Neath
Traditional County: Glamorgan
Constructed 1904-5 to provide a public library service for the town of Neath. A library had existed at the Mechanics Institute in the town since it was first built in 1847. Initially a subscription library, it later became a free library in 1899 after the Town Council had elected to adopt the 1850 Public Libraries Act which gave them tax raising powers to establish library provision in the town.
The library stock at the Mechanics Institute was damaged by fire in 1903 but with the help of donations and the offer of land the town was able to construct a new free library. The foundation stone was laid on 20th October 1904 by the Mayoress of Neath, Mrs Evans-Bevan and the building was designed by the Borough Engineer Mr DM Jenkins. Construction was by Messers Waring, Cole and Waring of Neath at a cost of £3,646 and it was officially opened on 7th November 1905.
The design and original layout are typical of libraries of this period. The use of a formal classically influenced public façade is intended to give the impression of an important public building whilst internally there was much separation of space with 'light' uses being allocated to the ground floor (the magazine, ladies and news room) and more 'serious' spaces on the first floor (the lecture room and main lending and reference libraries). The librarians were provided with a room at the end of the hallway on the ground floor with a window or serving hatch looked out over the hallway and the stair in order to control movement within the library. As with most libraries of this period alterations have been made to the layout; there is less emphasis on separated use and the presence of the librarian is less obvious.
Library in classical style, of rock faced Pennant sandstone from Dunvant with St Bees dark red sandstone dressings. Windows are plate glass sashes, renewed in part to the rear. Slate covered paired hipped roof. 2 Storey 3 bay façade to Victoria Gardens, central entrance bay recessed with single storey wing set back to left. Large tripartite windows with deep cills and cornices on brackets to both floors, ground floor and central first floor windows have central pediments, outer windows to first floor have semi-circular pediments. Wide ground floor doorway in central bay, with engaged Tuscan columns, entablature and balustraded parapet in line with a solid plat-band and string course to the outer bays. The words 'PUBLIC' and 'LIBRARY' in large lettering to the plat-band. Deep cornice and balustraded parapet above, with piers to each bay and ball finials to the outer corners. Single storey bay to left has a paired window with pediment and balustraded parapet above. Tripartite window with central pediment as before to ground floor of left return with 2 paired windows above, then to rear large semi circular headed stair window, and then three window range all renewed and with modern render wall finish. Elevation to right has a three paired window range with two paired windows below, that to left with central pediment and to right with cornice. Further 3 window range beyond. Rear elevation of 3 paired windows, blind central first floor bay and all set in modern render wall finish.
Altered in part to accommodate changes in the use of the library but retains central hall, main stair and key elements of original floor plan. To the ground floor the original vestibule behind main door has been removed, as have the window and the partitioning of the librarian's room at the base of the stair. To the first floor the central landing has a Baroque doorcase with broad bracket cornice and reeded pilasters to left, this originally lead to a lecture room at rear but this room is now partitioned to form a computer room. Later door created opposite on the landing to former separate lending library and reference rooms at front both now one space. Counter formerly around rear side of landing wall now relocated. Landing partition wall said to retain glazed framing behind later alterations.
Included for its special architectural interest as a significant civic building within the town of Neath. An accomplished and well detailed building, it is also important for its historic interest in displaying the provision of free lending facilities and the ambitious interest in civic improvement during the later Victorian period. The style and layout of the library both externally and internally clearly reflecting the principles behind library design in this period.
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