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Whitechapel Public Library, Tower Hamlets

Description: Whitechapel Public Library

Grade: II
Date Listed: 10 December 1990
English Heritage Building ID: 206507

OS Grid Reference: TQ3400781455
OS Grid Coordinates: 534007, 181455
Latitude/Longitude: 51.5161, -0.0701

Location: 77 Whitechapel Road, Poplar, Greater London E1 7QX

Locality: Tower Hamlets
County: Greater London
Country: England
Postcode: E1 7QX

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Listing Text

The following building shall be added:-

Whitechapel High Street
TQ 3381 and 3481
No 77
14 and 15/6012 (Whitechapel Public Library)


Library. Opened 1892. Potts, Son and Hennings, architects, with funding from
philanthropist Passmore Edwards and support from Canon Barnett. Red brick with
terracotta quoining and dressings; slate Mansard roof. Free Jacobethan style. 3
storeys plus attic, and 3-window range.
EXTERIOR: Ground floor has deep terra cotta plinth; keyed semi-circular arched
doorway with winged cherubs to spandrels and flanked by fluted composite pilasters to
central bay; 4-light chamfered mullioned and transomed windows, with octapanel
leaded-lights to upper lights, the window to left has inserted entrance to Aldgate
East Underground Station in lower part; Blue Plaque to Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918),
poet and painter. First floor left bay has Renaissance-style frieze under similar 4-
light window and plain terra cotta frieze with THE PASSMORE EDWARDS LIBRARY in relief
under swan-necked pediment; central bay slightly advanced curved balcony on brackets
all under pedimented 2-light window with Renaissance-style cherub and ornament to
tympanum; right bay has Renaissance-style frieze advancing to base of oriel with
brackets and similar 3-light window. Second floor has pair of sashes to each bay and
continuous terra cotta moulded cornice, below shaped gable with sash over left bay,
central tower with keyed round window set in swan-necked pediment with domed roof,
and festooned panel over right bay.
INTERIOR: Lobby has pictorial tile panel of "Whitechapel Hay Market, 1788". 1891
commemmorative cartouche to hall. Large ground-floor room to rear, forming later
extension, has coffered ceiling, pilasters and piers framing each bay with egg and
dart mouldings to top. Pair of spiral cast-iron staircases to offices over reading
room. Open-well staircase with decorative iron balustrade. Half-glazed door and
partition with octagonal leaded glazing to front
first-floor room with wooden staircases to upper floors; arch-braced queen-post roof
and ceiling lights to rear first-floor room.
HISTORY: One of the earliest public libraries in London, Whitechapel was the first
district in East London to vote for the establishment of a public library by
referendum, for which Canon Barnett led the campaign. It was one of fifteen
libraries in London funded by philanthropist Passmore Edwards and this building marks
the first time this pair collaborated on a building. Various internal
reconfigurations in early-C20 such as conversion to open access in 1922. Bomb damage
in 1940 to second floor. Aldgate East Underground station entrance inserted in 1937.

Listed as a fine example of a Passmore Edwards library with rich Renaissance-style
terracotta ornament, also having strong historic interest and associations with the
adjacent Grade II* Whitechapel Art Gallery (q.v.), both buildings sharing benefactors
Canon Barnett and Passmore Edwards, as well as the purpose of providing cultural and
education resources for great social need in the late-Victorian East End of London.

Listing NGR: TQ3400781455

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

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