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Erdington Library, Birmingham

Description: Erdington Library

Grade: II
Date Listed: 23 February 2012
English Heritage Building ID: 1405552

OS Grid Reference: SP1118792006
OS Grid Coordinates: 411187, 292005
Latitude/Longitude: 52.5258, -1.8365

Locality: Birmingham
County: Birmingham
Country: England
Postcode: B24 9EJ

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Listing Text


A free library, partly financed by Andrew Carnegie and built in 1906-7, to the designs of John Osborne FRIBA by John Barnsley and Sons in an Edwardian Baroque style, which uses an Ionic order.

Reason for Listing

The Erdington Library, Orphanage Road, Birmingham, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural quality: the design of the building is an accomplished essay in an Edwardian Baroque style which shows a clear understanding of the Ionic order and uses this to considerable effect to create a lucid and harmonious design which provides well-lit interior spaces. The fact that the intended central tower and council offices to the rear were not built, makes little difference to the strong character of the building;
* Degree of survival: although elements of the interior plan have been changed - most notably, some internal divisions and the issue desks - the building retains the essentials of its original plans and details such as radiators, doors and door furniture. Its original function is still legible and the building has proved capable of adaptation without undue alteration to the essential structure;
* Group value: the library forms part of a grouping of civic buildings and is set in close proximity to the Erdington Public Baths, Mason Road (Grade II).


The idea for a borough library was first mooted in 1906. A plot of land was given by the council and Andrew Carnegie offered an initial payment of £5,000, which he later supplemented by a further sum to cover extra expense during construction. The building was designed by John Osborne, and opened in July 1907. It seems to have been originally intended to serve a dual function, and one of the architect’s perspective drawings shows that an early intention had been to include a tower above the present portal onto Orphanage Road, and to have a civic centre, including a series of council offices and swimming baths included in the same building which would have extended to the east of the present library, and have continued the architectural theme of an Edwardian Baroque building. The baths were later placed in a separate building.
The first librarian, Mr Neesham, was appointed in 1908, and a photograph of the interior taken in 1915 shows that the stacks were originally placed behind an issue desk. The central, panelled desk with an enclosing superstructure of screens was still in place as late as 1959.


MATERIALS: the building is of red brick with ashlar dressings and a slate and felt roof.

PLAN: of one and two storeys. The ground floor has an entrance lobby and separate, screened area which is now a children’s library. The rest of the ground floor area is now open plan, but traces of the former division into separate rooms can still be seen.

EXTERIOR: the south and west fronts are both symmetrical. The principal front, towards Orphanage Road has a central, projecting bay of ashlar. At its centre is a generous niche framing the doorway, which is flanked by banded Ionic pillars. These support an arched canopy with large, triple keystone, above which is a cartouche which bears the words ‘FREE / LIBRARY’ in relief, set against walling of banded rustication. At either side are four bays, grouped beneath a pedimental gable with Diocletian window. The lateral bays in each of these clusters are set slightly forward with banded, Ionic pilasters to either side of the windows. The windows have moulded stone surrounds with triple keystones to the central pair. The south front, has seven bays, similarly arranged with lateral, projecting bays and five windows to the centre with keystones, as before. Running around the both fronts is an entablature with deep cornice and balustrade. To far right of the south front is a recessed, blind bay, added in the later C20.

INTERIOR: although elements of the interior plan have been changed - most notably, some internal divisions and the issue desks - the building retains the essentials of its original plan, which is still legible, and has proved capable of adaptation without undue alteration to the essential structure. The central area has a panelled ceiling and top-lit space. Two Ionic columns with entasis stand centrally, at either side of the present issue desk. Skylights have been replaced at the end of the C20 and are now arched with metal frames. Original features include doors and door furniture, central heating radiators and fire hydrants, hopper windows and moulded window surrounds.

Source: English Heritage

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