British Listed Buildings

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Carnegie Library, Portsmouth

Description: Carnegie Library

Grade: II
Date Listed: 21 December 2011
English Heritage Building ID: 1402233

OS Grid Reference: SU6509400703
OS Grid Coordinates: 465095, 100703
Latitude/Longitude: 50.8022, -1.0776

Locality: Portsmouth
County: Portsmouth
Country: England
Postcode: PO1 5JJ

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Listing Text


Public library. Built 1905-6 by Portsmouth Borough Council to the design of A E Cogswell.

Reason for Listing

The Carnegie Library, Fratton, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: a handsome and ornate Edwardian library funded by the Carnegie Foundation and designed by a notable local architect, A E Cogswell, which demonstrates the quality which some of the smaller endowed libraries of the late-Victorian and Edwardian period achieved as expressions of civic pride
* Interiors: the interior has undergone remarkably little alteration, retaining its original plan, stair, issue desk of c1920, and most notably the elaborate glazed partitions; public library interiors of this intactness are now uncommon


England's public library provision lagged behind that 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 Public Libraries and Museums Act (1850), which enabled towns above a certain size to levy a small rate for the development of library premises. Increased literacy in the wake of the Education Act (1870) meant a larger reading public, and the Libraries Act (1892), which made it easier for urban authorities to raise funds, provided a major boost to library provision. The other major source of funding came from private endowments from philanthropists, the most significant of whom was the Scottish-American steel magnate, Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), whose enormous fortune helped to establish 2,800 libraries worldwide by the time of his death. Carnegie libraries, often rich in architectural display, became integral to the fabric of many of Britain’s town centres. Most public libraries operated on the closed access system whereby borrowers consulted a catalogue to select their books whose availability was displayed on a series of indicator boards. This system was phased out by the 1930s. An important provision was a reading room for newspapers and magazines, and most libraries had a reference room.

Fratton remained a village until the arrival of the railway in 1847, after which the area developed rapidly as a suburb of Portsmouth. Fratton Library was built in 1905-6 by Portsmouth Borough Council with funds from the Carnegie Foundation. It was designed by Arthur Edward Cogswell (1858-1934) of the Portsmouth architectural practice Rake and Cogswell, who provided his services free of charge. The library opened on 12 September 1906. The library changed to the open access system in 1920. Cogswell designed a wide range of buildings in the Portsmouth area, but is best known for his elaborate pubs.


PLAN: the library consists of a two-storey frontage and a single-storey rear block with a flat roof. A vestibule leads through to the entrance hall and stair; to the right is the former newspaper room, to the left the magazine room, and to the rear an enclosed lobby giving access to the lending library. To the rear of the lending library is a former librarian's room and book store. The upper floors comprise two large rooms to either side of the stair, originally the main book store (to the right) and ladies' reading room (to the left), and a lavatory to the rear which would have served the ladies' reading room. The external area to the side (south) is a sensory garden.

MATERIALS: red brick and buff terracotta; clay tile roof.

EXTERIOR: Frontage of three bays designed in the ‘Wrenaissance’ style with art nouveau details. The central projecting frontispiece is surmounted by a tall segmental pediment with a panel inscribed 'CARNEGIE LIBRARY' flanked by draped urns. At ground floor the entrance bay breaks further forward and has a curved hood carried on consoles; the panelled door has art nouveau stained-glass lights. On the wall above the entrance are the badge of Portsmouth (a crescent moon and star) and keyed roundels to either side bearing the date ‘19’ and ‘05’. Above this is an egg-and-dart cornice and a balustraded parapet with a central decorative panel. The outer bays have canted bay windows with egg-and-dart cornices and curved parapets. At first floor is a central Palladian window lighting the stair with terracotta enrichment to the spandrels and flanking pilasters. To either side are Serlian windows whose heads are raised though the eaves. The roof is hipped with sprocketed eaves, a deep timber bracketed cornice and a small timber cupola; the cast-iron rainwater pipes have art nouveau hoppers. The side elevations have two windows per floor. Windows are generally timber sashes. The front area is enclosed by low walls with a pair of gatepiers to either end; railings and gates have been removed.

INTERIOR: The vestibule, lending library lobby and rooms leading from the entrance hall are enclosed by elaborate full-height timber partitions with art nouveau stained glass. Doors are similarly glazed and have curved hoods and gold lettering denoting the rooms' respective functions: 'Lending Library' etc'; most retain curved brass handles. The interiors have beamed ceilings with scrolled consoles. The lending library originally had an enclosed counter with indicator boards to either side. The curved timber panelled issue counter with Tuscan columns and mahogany top, and low timber walls to either side, which would have had wicket gates, are likely to date from 1920 when the open-access system was introduced, but the glazed screen at the front appears to have been reused. The interior is lit by a central octagonal timber lantern and pitched lanterns to either side. A pair of panelled doors at the rear lead to the former librarian's room and book store (these rooms have no features of special interest). The stair has terrazzo treads, an ornate cast-iron balustrade, a mahogany handrail and a turned newel with a gadroon design. The stair window has art nouveau stained glass depicting climbing roses. The upper-floor rooms are simply finished with moulded plaster cornices.

Source: English Heritage

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