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Leytonstone Library, Waltham Forest

Description: Leytonstone Library

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 28 April 2014
Building ID: 1418380

OS Grid Reference: TQ3943387392
OS Grid Coordinates: 539433, 187392
Latitude/Longitude: 51.5682, 0.0104

Locality: Waltham Forest
County: Greater London Authority
Postcode: E11 1HQ

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Listing Text


Public library and shops. Built in 1934 by Leyton Urban District Council to the design of James Ambrose Dartnall (d1985). The builders were AE Symes Ltd.

Reason for Listing

Leytonstone Library is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: an inter-war suburban branch library of considerable architectural ambition, which illustrates the most progressive library practice of the period. The exterior is well composed with subtle detailing and a handsome stone classical centrepiece which lends the building a strong civic presence notwithstanding the retail uses of the ground floor. The original Woolworth’s shop front is now of some rarity;

* Interiors: the library interior is remarkable both in terms of its quality and completeness; the plan has survived virtually intact, retaining extensive original shelving, fittings and decorative finishes; the art deco entrance hall and stair being of particular note;

* Planning interest: a pioneering, possibly the earliest, example of a public library that was conceived as part of a multi-functional building combining both municipal and commercial services.


Opening in September 1934 as Leytonstone Branch Library, it replaced an earlier library at Park House, an early-C18 mansion which was converted with Carnegie funds in 1908 and demolished in 1934. The new library was strategically located in the main shopping area of Leytonstone, by now a burgeoning London suburb. In emerging suburbs libraries often occupied prominent corner sites, and at Leytonstone the entrance was positioned opposite the parish church, which helped to form a civic focus. Internally, the extensive provision of children’s facilities followed the most progressive library practice of the period whereby younger users were allocated dedicated spaces and librarians. The provision of a lecture theatre was also significant, providing a scaled-down version of the public halls that had become a standard part of town hall planning and extending the library’s educational potential.

The building’s entire ground floor was intended from the outset for retail use, a pioneering example of incorporating commercial lets as a means of cross-funding construction and running costs, a practice which became more widespread in post-war library design. This enabled a more substantial building than might have otherwise been possible. The ground floor was originally occupied by a large L-plan Woolworth’s store with entrances on the east and north sides, which operated until the demise of the retail giant in 2009; an electricity showroom on the north-east corner, and two further shop units to either side of the library entrance. Woolworth's, which began to open stores in shopping parades in the late 1920s, often negotiating a deal with the developer before the parade was built, was a desirable retailer for growing suburban locations, acting as an anchor store or a magnet for other businesses. The other main tenant - the municipal electricity showrooms - was an appropriate addition for a scheme concerned with municipal enterprise.


MATERIALS: red brick to street elevations with Portland stone dressings; brown stock brick to rear elevations; steel Crittall windows; pantiles to outer roof slopes with green copper cresting.

PLAN: the building, aligned east-west, occupies a rectangular corner plot at the south-west junction of the High Road and Church Lane, with a central entrance to the north. At ground floor a small lobby leads through to a vestibule and stair which divides into two flights up to the first-floor central entrance hall. The entrance hall is in the shape of an elongated octagon, with corridors to either side and a small lobby area to the south. Described anti-clockwise, the rooms comprise the main lending (originally the adult) library to the SE, a linked study room to the south; a librarian’s office (now a meeting room) and staff room to the SW; a former book stack room to the NW; a former newspaper and reading room to the north (now the computer room), and a junior lending library in the NE corner with a linked ‘juvenile study room’ on its western side. To the west of the library is a lecture hall, accessed via the western corridor. The room at the north-west corner was a ‘girls’ room’ for the Woolworth’s store. The plan survives with minimal alteration, the exception being the removal of the partitions between the former junior and adult libraries, and removal of the issue desk from the latter. The second floor contained a caretaker’s flat.

EXTERIOR: designed in the neo-Georgian style. The long principal (north) frontage has a three-storey 9-bay central range arranged 4-1-4, recessed behind a shallow balcony, flanked by 2-storey ‘wings’ each of three bays. The central stone classical frontispiece consists of a coffered porch with paired Doric columns and entablature, and a balcony above with grouped Ionic columns and a dentilled cornice bearing the borough coat of arms. Steel French windows light the reading room. Windows to the central 9-bay range all have stone architraves, those to the first floor with dentilled cornices; the smaller second floor windows plain. The windows to the 2-storey end-bays are set within shallow recesses; the central windows with pedimented stone architraves, those to either side with gauged brick arches. Stone urns to corners of parapet. The symmetrical 7-bay eastern elevation is similarly detailed and has a stone plaque in the central bay carved 'PUBLIC LIBRARY AD 1934' with the borough arms. The entrance to the former electricity showroom in the canted corner bay has Doric columns and a pedimented window above. False mansard roofs to all street elevations; flat roofs behind.

The ground floor is stone faced with plain piers (some overclad) and fascias mainly with modern signage. The western three bays of the north elevation retain an original bronze-framed Woolworth’s shop front with granite stallrisers, curved glazing (on one side only) and glazed timber doors. This follows the standard Woolworth's design of the period and is now one of about ten known to survive nationally, and thus of some rarity. The remainder of the shop fronts have been replaced and are not of special interest.

INTERIOR: a remarkably complete and coherent suite of interiors in the Moderne style with art-deco details, a recurrent theme being the octagon seen in the shape of several rooms, roof lanterns and decorative motifs, and echoed in the boldly angled corners of door openings and architraves. The octagonal ground-floor entrance vestibule has a coffered ceiling, inset display cases and a board commemorating the library opening. The floors and walls of the vestibule, stair, entrance hall and corridors are clad to dado or three-quarter height in buff terrazzo with black mosaic banding; the terrazzo continues around the architraves of the main doorways leading off these areas. The stairs have ramped brass handrails and horizontal balustrading around the wells. Several doors have splayed timber architraves, some with fluted tympana. The entrance hall is top lit by a lantern above a deep coved cornice, the floor has contrasting terrazzo banding in the centre of which is a bronze-framed display case; all these features octagonal in form. Fluted frieze to entrance hall and corridors.

The former adult and children’s lending libraries have coved plaster ceilings; the original stepped art-deco glazing to the roof lanterns here, and elsewhere, has been replaced with flat opaque glass. Both rooms retain fixed shelving and flush veneered oak panelling, as does the juvenile study room (now the teenage library), which has a tall brick fire surround with octagonal piers which originally contained a log-effect electric fire. The adult study room and former librarian’s room, both octagonal spaces, the former lit by a roof lantern, have flush panelling and shelving. The entrance to the former reading room is set within a triple arcade, a dominant feature of the entrance hall; the outer bays inset with bronze-framed display cases doubling as windows. The reading room has octagonal coffering to the ceiling and half-height flush panelling; a short flight of timber steps with a fluted panelled balustrade leads up to the balcony window. The lecture hall has a segmental barrel-vaulted ceiling, flush wall panelling and fully panelled stage with a stepped splayed proscenium; at the opposite (south) end is a gallery containing a projection box. The library throughout retains many original doors, some with brass and tubular steel fittings, internal glazed screens and windows, plaster cornices, built-in radiator grilles and display cases. The second-floor former caretaker’s flat, and the former Woolworth's girls' room, were not inspected.

The interiors of the ground-floor retail spaces and basement are not of special interest.

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