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Twickenham Library, Richmond upon Thames

Description: Twickenham Library

Grade: II
Date Listed: 23 June 2011
English Heritage Building ID: 1400831

OS Grid Reference: TQ1628773378
OS Grid Coordinates: 516295, 173385
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4475, -0.3279

Locality: Richmond upon Thames
County: Greater London
Country: England
Postcode: TW1 3NY

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Listing Text


Public library, 1906-7 by Howard Goadby

Reason for Listing

Twickenham Library, built in 1906-7 by to designs by Howard Goadby, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architecture: main façade is a lively and accomplished neoclassical composition
* Sculpture: good allegorical pediment group and portrait busts, expressing the institution's cultural significance in both universal and local terms
* Interior: well preserved, with good survival of decorative features.


Twickenham's first public library was established in 1882, following a public meeting and a poll of the district's ratepayers. The town's former private subscription library, in existence since 1844, was dissolved, and its stock donated to the new institution. By 1902 the library had outgrown the available space at the Town Hall, and £6,000 worth of funding was obtained from the Andrew Carnegie foundation to cover the cost of a new building. A site was obtained in Garfield Road, and in 1906-7 a new library was built by the contractor BE Nightingale, to designs by the architect Howard Goadby. This housed a lending library with 25,000 volumes, with room for a further 20,000 in the basement store and 3,000 more in the first-floor reference library; the first floor also accommodated a 110-seat lecture theatre. There have been periodic internal renovations, most recently in 1985 and 2005.

England's public library provision lagged behind that in other European countries in the first half of the C19, with only about 30 substantial free libraries in existence before 1850. A gradual expansion began following the 1850 Public Libraries and Museums Act and its various successors, which allowed towns above a certain size to levy a small rate for the development of library premises; books had to be obtained by other means. The London area, with its decentralised government and numerous existing subscription libraries, was particularly slow to take advantage of the new measures, although a cluster of western suburban districts including Twickenham, Richmond and Kingston adopted the Library Acts during the 1880s. Private endowments from philanthropists did much to make up the shortfall, often producing buildings rich in architectural display. The largest of these benefactors was the Scottish-American steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, whose enormous fortune helped to establish 2,800 libraries worldwide by the time of his death in 1919.


Twickenham Library is a two-storey building, rectangular on plan, with a single-storey wing (containing the main downstairs reading-room) running parallel to it at the rear. Architectural display, in a French-influenced neoclassical style, is concentrated on the main east façade to Garfield Road. This is of five bays arranged 2-1-2. The ground floor is faced in channelled Bath stone ashlar, and the first floor in fine red brick with stone columns and entablature. The ground-floor windows in the outer bays are sashes in recessed round-arched openings; between the left-hand pair is the foundation stone. The first floor has metal-framed rectangular windows set between engaged Ionic columns with dropped pendant decoration supporting an entablature. The projecting centrepiece has paired columns - Doric below and Ionic above - supporting sections of entablature. Stone steps (partly obscured by a modern access ramp) lead up to a round-arched entrance doorway with coffered sliding doors and a glazed fanlight. The stone surround is richly carved, with a bead-and-reel moulding interrupted by raised voussoirs, and a semicircular hood above supported on radiating scroll brackets. On either side are sculpted roundels showing Alexander Pope and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Twickenham's most famous literary residents. Over the first-floor window architrave, and breaking into the triangular pediment above, is a large sculpted relief of female figures writing, reading and painting. An attic parapet with small carved wreaths completes the façade, and a louvred timber cupola crowns the slate-covered main roof. The side and rear walls are of stock brick and are entirely plain. A brick lift-shaft was added to the rear of the building in 2005.

Within the main entrance is a small lobby with a mosaic and terrazzo floor and arched doorways leading right and left to the reading rooms and straight on into the stair hall. The doors themselves have been replaced, but the tympanum to the central archway retains a plaster relief with cherubs and scrollwork surrounding the date 1907. Beyond is the circulation hall, a grand double-height space with dado panelling and a great flying stair rising round it on all four sides. The hall is lit by a large Venetian window with stained glass displaying civic heraldry and motto scrolls. The stair itself is of oak and mahogany, with an elaborate balustrade formed of heavy strapwork panels. On the wall is a marble plaque commemorating Edward Thorne, a local man who 'lost his life making a gallant attempt to save a lady from drowning' in 1916. To left and right are double oak doors leading to the side rooms, their leaded upper lights having curved transoms and painted glass panels inscribed, respectively, NEWS ROOM and MAGAZINE ROOM. Ahead is a large segmental arch (formed from three smaller arches in 2005) that leads to the main reading room, which occupies the single-storey rear block and has a barrel ceiling with a large central skylight. More glazed oak doors lead from here back into the news and magazine rooms. Beneath is a basement store, its ceiling of concrete beams supported by a row of cast-iron columns.

The first-floor landing has two sets of double doors, identical to those downstairs but marked REFERENCE ROOM and LECTURE ROOM. A third door, moved from downstairs, leads to a small staffroom and is marked accordingly. The former reference room has a plaster strapwork ceiling, much renovated in 2005. The former lecture room opposite has a deeply-coved ceiling with richly-moulded plaster pendants; also in 2005, a rectangular enclosure containing staff accommodation was formed in the rear part of the room.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.