Public library, 1900, by local architect Hans Fowler Price (1835-1912) with EJ Wilde and PG Fry.
Reason for Listing
* Architectural interest: a distinctive and elaborate free Renaissance entrance front incorporating classical elements including two sculpted groups of muses, illustrating the building’s use as a place of knowledge and education; the architectural interest is concentrated on the frontage and immediate return elevations.
* Artistic interest: the muses were commissioned from Harry Hems of Exeter, a prolific late-Victorian ecclesiastical stone carver whose work is represented within numerous listed churches;
* Intactness: despite evolving library practice, the building retains a complete exterior and the essentials of its original internal layout.
* Authorship: it is a good example of the work of HF Price, the notable architect responsible for many of Weston-super-Mare’s listed civic and domestic buildings.
The adoption of the Libraries Act and the subsequent erection of a building was being mooted in Weston-super-Mare for much of the late C19. It was given an initial boost by the idea of a commemorative building for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, but ultimately did not get substantial backing until a decade later, in time to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee. The most significant benefactor, donating £1,000 was Mr Frederick A Wood, a successful local businessman and president of the Northern Branch of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. The remaining amount taken on loan.
The architects engaged were HF Price, EJ Wilde and PG Fry. Price was already an established architect within Weston-super-Mare and was responsible for numerous prominent public buildings. The tender of £3,385 from builder Charles Addicott was accepted and the foundation stone was laid in August 1899. The library was formally opened on 3 September 1900 by Sir Edward Fry, the president of the Library Association.
The first phase of the building was around half the size of the present building, and was made up of the stairway flanked by a ladies' room and offices, a reading room and a reference and lending library to the ground floor, with accommodation for a museum on the first floor. Frederick Wood died in 1904 and his collection of some 6,000 volumes was transferred to the Weston-super-Mare library. The library was initially closed access, meaning that books were requested speculatively by customers and provided by librarians if in stock; it changed to open access circa 1930, so customers could browse the collection of books. An extension was added to the rear (south), almost doubling the size of the building. Entrance to this extension was originally through a revolving door on the west elevation, which was subsequently replaced in by fire doors. The ground-floor division between the new and old phases of the building was opened up in 1961. The museum was moved to another building in the town in the 1970s giving extra accommodation for library services. A second rear extension was made in the 1970s and a lift tower was installed in the early 1990s.
MATERIALS: local Cattybrook brick with Bath stone dressings and a slate roof.
PLAN: the building is rectangular in plan and orientated from north to south, with its principal elevation facing north onto The Boulevard. There is a lift tower and a boiler house on the east elevation.
ELEVATIONS: the principal elevation is a symmetrical arrangement of three bays and three storeys with an attic. It has dressings and carvings in Bath stone including drip moulds separating the storeys, plat bands and a dentil cornice; wide pilasters separate the bays. There are two, two-storey canted bay windows, and a canted oriel window at third-floor level. The ground floor has a high snecked stone plinth which includes the inscribed polished granite foundation stone. There is a central doorway beneath a wide arch with glass cabinets on Bath stone bases to either side. Above the arch is a carved panel with dragon motifs, fleur-de-lis, swags and regalia and the text 'PUBLIC LIBRARY & MUSEUM / VR / 1837 - 1897'. The bays each have three windows with eared architraves. To the second floors there are three half-height windows to each bay and two in the centre with alternating arched and pointed pediments with carved crests in their tympana. There is a frieze with shells and foliage. On the central pilasters are two sets of carved muses, by Harry Hems of Exeter. In the centre is a carved console supporting the oriel window above, which has four Ionic columns separating the three windows, with scrolled transoms, keyed arched heads and a sweeping lead roof which rises to meet the egg and dart and dentil cornice at the eaves. On either side is a row of five windows with rectangular leaded glazing separated by Ionic columns. There is an attic storey in the central bay which has a shaped gable above eaves level. It has a central Venetian window with Ionic columns, and a keyed arch, and is surrounded by a central carved crown, foliage, scrolls and a floating pediment. The gable has Bath stone coping and at either side are Bath stone blocks with carved niches containing vases. At the apex is a cartouche carved in the brick. There are Bath stone blocks with niches and domed heads surmounting the pilasters at either side of the elevation. This principal elevation is significantly more decorative and ornate than the others.
The side and rear elevations have two storeys and are also in red brick with Bath stone plat bands continuing the rhythm of the front. The side elevations have a gable to the north with an arched and leaded window in the apex. There is a double doorway with moulded architrave on the west side and the large windows have decorative keystones.
There is a flat-roofed single-storey rear extension, and a lift tower to the east, both in red brick and utilitarian in appearance.
INTERIOR: at the front of the building is an open-well staircase leading to offices to either side. The stairs have painted iron balusters with decorative circular adjoining elements. The offices are modest rooms and retain their original windows in moulded frames, whereas those in the public areas of the building have been replaced. The stair is well lit by the large windows to the front of the building.
The two principal public rooms at the front and rear of the ground floor are large, lofty, open spaces with tall windows positioned high up the walls to allow space for shelving, and are punctuated by cast-iron columns. They are adjoined by a two wide openings in what was the rear wall of the first phase of the building. There are decorative cast-iron radiators and the pitch pine block flooring remains beneath the carpet tile floor covering to the first phase. The second phase has high, wall-mounted radiators. There is a central issue desk and inserted shelving, all of which are late-C20 replacements.
The first floor is publicly accessible only at the front of the building, home to the former museum, which consists of two rooms connected by arched doorways. The rear of the first floor is used for storage and offices and is accessible by a separate stairway from the rear extension. As with the ground floor, there are high windows and similarly modest detailing. It has an inserted ceiling and has undergone some subdivision and rearrangement in the creation of a local history centre in the east side of the front room.
There is an attic above the centre of the first phase of the building. The inserted ceiling below provides extra floor space to the east and west, which is reached by an inserted metal spiral staircase to the north, and an inserted wooden staircase to the south. It is lit by the Venetian window at the top of the principal elevation, and by the arched windows on the gables of the east and west elevations.
The 1970s extension to the south consists of toilet and kitchen facilities and gives access to the first floor.
The 1970s extension is not of special interest.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.