March 2022

Our monthly meeting at the end of March was held in the Barrow Archive Centre in Ramsden Square. The archivist, Susan Benson traced 140 years of the Public Library Service in Barrow from the opening of the first Free Library in 1882 to the current day.

The Ramsden Square Library that we are familiar with is actually the third site of the town’s library. In 1882 Barrow Free Library opened in a metal building where the Holiday Inn now stands on the corner of Duke Street and Market Street. When the Town Hall was opened in 1887 the Library was relocated there to larger rooms with better facilities, which included a reading room for ladies.

In January 1913 the Borough Council was very fortunate to receive funding of £12,000 from the Carnegie Corporation of New York towards the cost of a new library building. A site on the corner of Ramsden Square was chosen on land owned by the Furness Railway Company. The purchase of the land, which would also involve the demolition of 5 houses in Hawke Street, was completed by the end of that year.

Plans were drawn up and approved by the Council in October 1914. Building work began and the date stone of 1915 can still be seen above the front door, but building work stopped until the end of World War 1. The Library was designed by J. A. Charles of Barrow and is a beautiful example of the Beaux Arts style which was popular for civic buildings at the time. The Carnegie Trust further increased its grant by an extra £5,500 to meet the final building cost.

The Public Library was officially opened in 1922 and is therefore celebrating its Centenary this year.  It was interesting to hear how the building has changed and adapted over that time.  Photographs of the Museum which was opened in 1930 were very nostalgic and were a reminder of many happy hours spent gazing at the collections, which included some quite unusual items.

Susan Benson’s talk included other aspects of the Library Service in Barrow. Extracts from the Borough Librarian’s report in 1903 gave details of four branch libraries: Vickerstown Board School, Hawcoat Board School, Roose Board School and a new Vickerstown branch. A library was opened in North Lonsdale Hospital in 1933 so that patients could “enjoy library facilities equal to their more fortunate fellow-citizens.”

The past century has seen many changes to the Ramsden Square building and recently there has been a major building programme to bring the building right up to date. After the talk, we were able to look round the building and appreciate the civic pride that went into its design. The Archive Centre holds archives collected from the Furness area and is linked to archive centres across Cumbria. We have enjoyed many of Susan Benson’s talks there and hope it won’t be too long before we can go back again.

The next meeting will be at the Trinity Centre, Abbey Road on Friday 22nd April, starting at 2pm. Our guest speaker will be Bill Myers who will be giving an illustrated presentation about “The Changing Face of Barrow.” Admission, including refreshments, is £2.50 for members and £3.00 for visitors.  Everyone is very welcome to attend.

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